Ah, COVID – there have been some benefits, haven’t there?  Among them have been the leaps that people have taken to get their business online.  I think I have attended more CPD (continued professional development) days in the past two years then in the 10 years previously, because with the amount I travel far away, I simply couldn’t plan many in before.  It’s more accessible, easier and far cheaper, when you think of transport and hotel costs.  Awesome.

Sadly, it’s also raised some seriously “interesting” content…  One particular course that I bought left me scratching my head…  (The horse appeared lame in his right foreleg…  The expert body worker was talking about how lame he was in the near (left) fore, and then proceeded to treat the off (right) fore….  It went downhill from there…  Whether he was tongue tied being on film or confused between the terms near and off….  Who knows?  But, it just shows, you can’t believe everything online, or know the quality of content before you begin.

I started to do more online too, I now regularly teach lessons via Zoom, and although not as fun as real life, it still works.  But, I’ve been hesitant in setting up courses, until now.  Now, I’ve figured out (with help, it’s not my clever thinking) what my hesitation was…

I follow a guy online who I think is awesome.  He’s not horse related at all, is about running an ethical business, green ideals and helping people.  And he was chatting about a mentorship program that he had been running.  One of the participants had been chatting to him, and said how grateful she was, that she felt he hadn’t seven-stepped her.  Huh?  What does that mean?  She explained that so many courses, mentorships, workshops, were, she felt, seven steppers.  A lot like following a recipe – here are 7 steps…  Beat the eggs, warm the milk, sift the flour, mix together, add the heat, enjoy your cake….  They treated everyone as if they were starting from the same place (Island A) and would end in the same place (Island B) just “by following these seven simple steps”.  And guess what?  Life isn’t like that, it doesn’t work…  And yet, so many coaches only work to push their seven steps.

Indy was really scared of going to the beach – the sight and sounds of big waves, the odd smell and the skidding sand…  Clicker Training was a massive help for him.

Just from my personal perspective, no one, no one, horse or human, is following the same path or having the same lessons.  Every time I meet a new pair, I will immediately be thinking about what is possible and the definite no’s.  The first thing that pops into my head is clicker training.  For some horses, I love clicker training.  It’s brilliant for horse with fears and phobias…  The horse who is so head shy you can’t put on a bridle; the ones who are scared of clippers or farriers; deworming syringes, injections, and wind surfers (yes, we did need a fix for a beach horse who was scared of wind surfers in the sea).  It’s the best way to get shut down, abused or worried horses out of their shell, thinking and interacting with humans, and great for teaching relationships and body language to kids.  BUT, I’ll only use clicker training with, maybe 25% of horses who I work with.  Why?  Because for many horses, it stops them being able to be still; to just park their feet, still their mind and stand with a human.  They are constantly treating their human like a squeaky toy, or even worse, a cash ATM, and get aggressive or resentful with the human doesn’t come up with a carrot for performing their repertoire of tricks.   I’m also not a huge fan of teaching “tricks” because often they become unwanted behaviour.  (One client taught her horse to paw / hold her hoof up in the air for a treat.  Do you know how many issues that caused – wearing out her feet when tied up waiting for some one by scrape, scrape, scraping the ground.  Striking out with her forefoot when you were busy saddling, grooming or handling her…  not standing for the farrier, the list was endless).

Having a friend along for the outing, such as Lady here, can be a massive help for some horses, while others prefer to lead the way.

There is one very famous Natural Horsemanship course that guides you through steps – you have to play the games in order, to get the badge, win the tick, and move to the next level.  It seriously is seven stepping you.  And, it creates so many issues when novice owners rush through the games to get to the end, often leaving horses confused by the vague things that they have been taught, or scared by the hurry, or shut down by trying to understand and being shouted down.  It can be a great tool in the right hands, with the right trainer, and it can create destructive havoc if done poorly.

On a simpler note – I was googling how to prune my mother’s elderly lavender bushes.  I read through the steps, following the instructions and got to the point saying this must be done in April.  Damn, I thought, totally missed that bit.  Until, I thought about it a few hours later, and checked up – English website.  Meaning that it must be done in spring, before the summer growth begins.  Which is perfect since I’m sitting in the northern hemisphere, and spring is about to be sprung…  The steps still apply, but if a course is made to be country specific, again, you run into confusion.

For me, personally, being a self-confessed techno-phobe, that really is where I have found myself being seven stepped…  open this window, pull down this list, click the tab, and ….  The Damn Bladdy thing still doesn’t work…

And this is why I have started, stopped, started, stopped, struggled with putting together courses and plans – in person, I can meet the horse, chat to the owner, see the living conditions and we can formulate a plan together.  There isn’t, and in no way can there be, a seven-step program that will work for every horse, every rider, every owner and every caretaker.

My advice for owners, riders, horse keepers?  Know that somethings will work for you and your horse, and some things really wont…  Learn your tools, figure out clicker training, liberty training, natural horsemanship, equitation science, classical in hand work, take what is relevant, file away what isn’t, and enjoy your horse.  Seven stepping him?  It won’t work, he hasn’t read the book…  And, the only person who can protect him is you…


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