A phrase we hear commonly in horses – progression is not linear.
I completely concur with this statement, and I can vow the number of times my riding has taken dips and turns that have felt like regression, but overall have shifted me into a more complete and capable rider.
I was killing time before getting on Q today and decided to watch the lessons at the ring. I love doing this, and it reminds me of my high school days when I had no hurry and could spend an entire day watching my trainer’s lessons. I rarely get to do that these days, so it’s a treat.
This time, I did not watch my own trainer, but another trainer who rides out of the facility. This woman is an accomplished rider, and while her style can at times be eccentric, I do respect her greatly.
Why are you hedging, you might ask?
Well, I did notice a specific and very common trend with this trainer. This trainer to student behavior is one that I have seen and repeatedly been the recipient of when I was growing up.
During a young teen’s lesson, this trainer was being hard. Her commands were tough, shouting, and exacting. I did not disagree with her corrections, but the manner of them would certainly be on south end of pleasant.
Then, the parent comes to pick her up.
And rather suddenly, the entire tone of the lesson changes. Rather than a laundry list of corrections, the trainer moves to asking exploratory questions and notes of praise. “You cannot jump until you correct your hands” to “You are doing so well with this young horse.”
Again, not disagreeing with earlier phase of instructions, but merely observing how the one parent can alter the color of the conversation.
To a certain extent, it’s expected that a parent presence will elicit a change in the trainer. When your *real* customer shows up, you have to reinforce that they are not spending hard-earned money foolishly.
I remember this as a kid very distinctly, mostly because my parents did not often stick around to watch my lessons. When they did have a weekend day free and would watch a lesson, the flip-flop was stark. I disliked when they watched. My trainer acted oddly. Maybe even disingenuous.
Until this weekend, I had yet to witness this phenomenon as a bystander, and I do think it exemplifies how much of a people business this is. Yes, it’s about getting the right horse flesh in your barn, managing and bookkeeping, and ensuring you have a well-trained staff.
But the horse industry is customer service. And until kids pay for lessons themselves, the parent will always be an ultimate decision maker.
I wish parents stuck around for lessons more. A partnership with horses is so rarely understood outside of horse people, and the more exposure, the higher the likelihood that a parent will “get it”.
Moreover, I wish trainers were more consistent. If you are going to be the tough yeller, own it. If you are going to be supportive and flowery, own that. Admittedly, trainers need various tools to work through diverse issues. That includes a spectrum of approaches – soft and hard.
The distinction lies in addressing the same core problem. To vary the tone of instruction within the span of an hour smells worrying. Especially if that change occurs after parental company arrives. That’s fishy.
I had a situation at work recently that called into question my authority. I am not a hierarchical role-based person, so I laugh off most of this behavior and allow others to worry more deeply about it.
But it did (as life-events often do), make me think of horses.
There are horses that question your authority regularly. These are one that trample you in-hand, resist pressure, and act more predatory. This questioning of leadership can be dangerous for us horse lovers, as the 1,000lbs animals must submit to a level of respect in order for us coexist and work together.
Horses follow other parts of my life in that they are treated delicately when possible. Rather than be an aggressor, I prefer to work with the animal and coax them into performing / behaving to my expectations. Much of consists of positive reinforcement and soft touches.
My stance intensifies though once a line is crossed. The line is strict, if a horse is endangering me or someone around me (by biting, not respecting space, bucking, rearing, etc.) the answer must be swift and certain.
All this contributes to higher authority. If there is no hard line on behavior, a horse can toe across the line and act outside our established guardrails.
Oftentimes, this reminds me of a halflinger who I used to teach lessons on. This pony was beautiful, the type of Barbie horse you dream of with a palomino body and feathers on her legs.
But she was lazy as all heck. And her behavior was not outright dangerous, per say, but she would not at all respect a leg aid from someone shorter than 5 feet tall (which was hilarious, because she was a medium pony, at best).
We’d call her dull to the aids if it were just that she was slow to transition upward. But this mare would, at times, just refuse to move then would act offended when you finally did convince her it was a good idea to move forward.
She was clever, and many students ended up red in the face and frustrated due to this pony insolence. The pony did not respect her riders, and while it is a light-hearted example, it shows relationships complimented with a healthy amount of authority are more… successful? Advantageous?
Biddable horses are willing. They trust you. They want to please. Their natural state is to join their goals to yours.
So while I do not like to demand and decree in my professional life, I admit its importance in my horse-loving life.
What are some times when horses have pushed the boundaries with your authority?