I’m writing this in a state of disillusionment. For a while, something has been bothering me, and only during a recent online workshop that I worked out exactly what. The thing that floated back into my mind was the real sadness of teaching a lesson a little while ago. Let me explain…
The lady I was teaching was a new pupil, never before met, and quite new to riding itself, only having had about 15 lessons. She was riding a horse who I know reasonably well – I have taught quite a few riders on him, and in his youth, he was a real high flyer, competing at a reasonably high level. The gradual decline of a horse – from young and talented, in much demand, to becoming a schoolmaster for a junior, to riding school horse for the advanced weekly rider, to beginner’s quiet plod. Sad enough for a starting point. Anyway, he seems happy enough in his little world, to plod along. This rider was keen and sweet, but was very unbalanced and wobbly, leaning back, getting left behind and pulling the poor old boy in the mouth at regular intervals. Every time she accidentally socked him in the teeth, he’d stop, sigh, wait for her to get organised and plod off on his way again. We spent much time in walk, re-arranging how she was sitting; getting her legs under her in a more effective way; explaining that his mouth is at the other end of her reins and every time she pulls, he feels it and stops. She was lovely, very teachable, keen to learn and implemented the changes well. When we got into trot, we worked on the correct leg aids and how to keep her balance – and our gentle soul of a schoolmaster picked up some speed, put himself in a beautiful rhythm and started to carry himself. Oooh, she said in excitement, this is so different. Wonderful, I replied, why? Well, it’s so springy, she said, and he is going fast, forwards and easily… I don’t have to whip him. After the lesson, as we were closing up, she said she was so happy, she doesn’t like whipping her horse. I asked her, do you whip him often? Oh yes, came the reply, my instructor (who I also, sadly, know) sits in the corner and yells, whip him, whip him, whip him harder, to try to keep him going. He tells me the horse is slow, stubborn and old, and will only go if I make him, by whipping him.
Minute by minute, my heart fell a little more. This sweet, kind, gentle horse, doing his best to listen to his rider when she pulled on his mouth and keep her safe, was being whipped, whipped, whipped to make him go. Would this happen in a dog training class? Your dog won’t sit? Whip him harder. And yet, it’s ok in a riding lesson. Your parrot won’t talk? Whip him. Your cat won’t stay off the table? Whip him. Your horse is stopping when you accidentally ask? Whip him. Logic, right?
So, this is an isolated incident? No. I see this again and again. Lazy teaching, “instructors” simply directing traffic to pass the time. Riders who, instead of being helped and taught, are put on tied down, miserable, shut down horses. Buyers being given bad advice by advisors who will get back hander from horse sellers. Greedy yard owners overworking horses (and instructors). Lame horses being sold or used for riding. Horses, and novices, being taken for a ride, literally.
It’s a global issue. The governing powers that be, are turning a blind eye to much abuse in the competition world, and that seems to trickle down through the ranks. Whats the fix? Honestly, I don’t know. Better teacher training? Better pay so that instructors don’t work the long hours and become stale? Better vetting of instructors and yards? Really, I don’t know where the change is going to come. More novices being asked to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them?
I do what I do because I actually like horses – something that seems to be in short supply in the horse industry at the moment. I want to make a difference, to improve that horse’s life, but also to educate the human with them, to improve the lives of all of the future horses that human will come into contact with. But sometimes, like now, I get tired. Disillusioned. Fed up with swimming against what seems a tidal wave of cruelty and misunderstanding. I know it’s not only in my industry – school teachers are giving up teaching due to spoilt brats who are over entitled and not disciplined by their doting (or lazy) parents. Animal charity workers committing suicide over the never-ending deluge of unwanted, over bred, abused or mistreated lost souls. Environmental activists who simply give up and vanish. Many, many of us are in the same boat and wonder how (and why) to proceed.