The Right Way vs. The Easy Way
The other day, this video came across my Facebook feed. . .
And it got me thinking about a choice we so often have when working with horses (or animals in general): the right way vs. the easy way.
I know this isn’t a horse training blog, and I would by no means call myself a horse trainer, but to shed some light on this topic, I thought I’d share a little about my own experience of starting three young horses.
A number of years ago, I was interested in getting a “project” horse, so my husband (who never does anything small) decided he would surprise me by bringing home three practically untouched fillies. I was a little overwhelmed, but this was back in the days before I had human children, so I had plenty of time on my hands. I wasn’t in a huge hurry to do much with my new horses, but during the first few days, handling them became necessary after they went over a fence and one of them managed to get a serious laceration on her face. Another filly sustained several cuts on her leg, but they didn’t appear as serious. I was able to get them into stalls where I could spray medicine on their wounds, but haltering them was still a different story.
Of course when you’re young and somewhat inexperienced in working with young horses , plenty of people are willing to share their advice. First, a farrier friend suggested roping the filly with the cut on her face, and using a method known as “choking” until she submitted to a halter. I’m extremely sorry to say I allowed him to do this. It worked, but it was traumatic for both the horse and me. When I was trying to halter the filly with the cut leg, some other horse friends suggested roping her back leg to hold her still (in the stall) and then haltering her. This sounded better than “choking” the horse, so again, I allowed it. We were able to halter her this way, but the rope burn she received on her leg led to excessive tissue granulation (proud flesh) which became worse than the initial cut from the fence. I later had to have her fully sedated at the vet clinic in order to have the granulation removed.
For the third filly (who hadn’t been injured at all), I decided I wasn’t going to take anymore bad advice. I planned to halter her without hurting her or endangering myself. So after getting her in a stall, I spent some time with her each day, just trying to get her accustomed to my presence and touch. I gradually worked my way up to her head and was able to place a halter on. My method was slow. It took time and patience, but I truly believe it was best for the horse. I vowed that everything else I did with these fillies would be “my way”.
When the three fillies were ready to start under saddle, I took my time. We learned quite a bit together, and I’m sure I made a few mistakes along the way. But the result? I had three horses who never once bucked, reared, or did anything “naughty” during the entire process.
Lee Lee is the only one of these three mares I still have today. I’m happy to say she has always been well behaved.
So many times, I see people get in a rush to get things done with horses. They want the easy way, which usually means overpowering, intimidating, or even hurting the horse. I’ve seen it with trailer loading, training, getting “soured” horses into the arena, and in many other scenarios. Unfortunately, the easy way only teaches our horses to fear us. Not to mention, it can also lead to dangerous situations where people or horses may get seriously injured.
There’s a quote that I love by an author named Steve Maraboli: “The right thing to do and the hard thing to do are usually the same.” This advice is applicable to many parts of our lives, but it’s especially true when working with horses. We all lose our patience from time to time, but next time you’re tempted to take the easy way, consider if it’s really what’s best for your horse.