Horse riding and questioning the status quo – how it'll help you and your horse

Some traditions in the horse world are so old, that they've become rules that we don't think to question. This is not necessarily a good thing for us or our horses.

Ask "why"

There are MANY experts in the horse world. If you ask 10 people about a specific problem – you are likely to get at least 15 opinions – all of which are absolutely convinced they are right. I would like to give some advice in this respect: use the word 'why' a lot. Much of the horse world is filled with tradition and these traditions have become ‘rules’ – that are really no longer relevant. You may give your instructor a hard time with all your questions, but for the sake of the horse... please ask “why”, and if you’re feeling brave “how does that work?”

A few examples:

  •  Always mount from the left. Why do we do that? This stems from the days when mounted warriors wore their swords on the left. They mounted from the left so that they could swing their right leg over the horse's back, without the sword  getting in the way. I don’t know about you – but I haven’t worn a sword for a long time (ever, to be exact!).

Mounting from both sides is a really good idea. This helps keep the horse balanced as well as the saddle. If the saddle is always pulled to the left every time someone gets on – it’s going to twist. Similarly the horse has to brace every time we mount (especially some of us less perky people) so it cannot be good for them to always have to brace one way.

Another advantage for us – is that mounting from both sides will encourage us to think more and become more flexible. If you’ve always mounted from the left (as I always did) when it comes to mounting from the right, you really have to think about your legs and how it’s all going to work. Try it!

  •  The horse wears a flash noseband. Does he really need one? At least 80% of the horse clients I see have a flash noseband when ridden. The answer I usually get is “I dunno – that’s what we got”. It's true that it is hard to buy a bridle which doesn’t have a flash noseband. The purpose  of the flash is to keep the mouth closed. If horses are having difficulty performing – they may open their mouths – and this is not a “pretty” sight – so we crank their mouth closed.

Personally I would like to see if my horse is having difficulty with something – so that I may make it easier for him. If I don’t know – I won’t do anything about it. This means the horse may have to escalate the behaviour to get my attention. I’d prefer not. Another disadvantage is that when it is done up tightly – on some horses it may interfere with the nasal passages too – so limit breathing. Try putting a tight band around your nose and see how well you perform.

Is the gadget really necessary?

These are just two very simple examples of ‘rules’ or ‘traditions’ that don’t always make sense. I will always give the person a chance to explain the reason why – and if it makes sense I’m happy. All these gadgets (and there are a LOT of gadgets) were invented for a reason. We just need to be reasonable and work out whether this reason is actually applicable to a particular horse with regards to what you are trying to achieve. So when you get an answer to the “why” – feel free to ask “how does that work?” Most people are happy to share their knowledge. If it makes sense – great, you’ve learnt something new; if it doesn’t, keep asking.

Remember: each horse is an individual, so not every piece of equipment is suitable for every horse. Look at the horse you ride – watch carefully for signs of discomfort and ask “why?” and use the policy of less is more.


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