Rule 1: Don’t annoy your horse!

Training   23rd March 2021     2 Comments

One of my early teachers proposed a stunningly simple set of guidelines for riding horses;

Rule 1 – don’t annoy your horse

Rule 2 – if you catch yourself breaking rule 1, then stop it!

Rule 3 – see rule 1…

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yet we all know in practice things are more complicated than that. Especially since, much of the time, what we’re told to do in mainstream riding lessons seems to go directly against those principles.

While it’s all too easy to go through life noticing problems and pointing them out, finding an alternative that actually works can be a long and frustrating journey.

In 40 years of coaching, I’ve learned there is tremendous power in assuming that people always do the best they can with the resources they have in the circumstances where they find themselves.

That doesn’t always mean that what they ‘do’ is a good idea, of course. Just that whatever they did, however bizarre and unhelpful it might seem, it was the best they could manage at the time.

When Jo and I created the Schooling Made Simple programme last year, we were very conscious of how often we’d broken rule 1 ourselves, often just by doing what we’d been told or following accepted wisdom.  We also knew how hard we’d had to search to find methods and answers our horses actually approved of and how many mistakes we’d had to make along the way.

So my point, I guess, is this – if you find yourself annoying your horse and you don’t know how to stop doing it, start off by being kind to yourself. Whatever you did, it’s probably not your fault, it’s just the best you ‘know’ right now.

Do the best you can for now and when you know better, then you can do better.


PS:  If you think you might be breaking rule 1 and would like to know more about the horse-friendly methods of riding and training we’ve uncovered on our own journey, we’ll be sharing some of what we’ve learned in a FREE masterclass on April 9th.

Click here to join us 

2 responses to “Rule 1: Don’t annoy your horse!”

  1. How interesting to see you hand feeding on the post about not annoying your horse.

    I have a different rule 1. Don’t do things that make horses get in trouble!

    Hand feeding doesn’t just get horses in trouble with people, but I have often noticed it also gets them in trouble with other horses, and furthermore, it annoys horses! Not always, but often! Because they want more, so they “mug” you, and get annoyed that you haven’t given them another treat; and they get aggressive with each other. Added to which, we are often not hand feeding them something really good for them.

    Having said that, we had a horse we used to feed from our mouths, she never mugged us, never hurt us and she was aggressive to many other horses even when she hadn’t been fed like this for years. But as a blanket rule, no hand feeding is a good idea. Especially if you keep horses in a group.

    All goes to show how we all have different perspectives and the different horses and circumstances we keep them in, plus our innate and enormous capacity for self delusion (which I notice is something so many other people suffer from, but fortunately this doesn’t apply to me*) makes us more and more certain we are on the right track.

    *self aware sarcasm alert

    PS Talking about annoying, and I know you didn’t design this blog hosting facility, but how annoying that I have now had to put in my name and email to the damn thing three times in the last 5 minutes! Does this rule 1 apply to weblog hosting???

    • Derek Clark says:

      Hey, great to hear from you, Adam. Yes, hand feeding is one of those things that tends to flush out polarised opinions… My experience has been that it comes down to how it’s done, especially the horse’s first few experiences.
      Where did the page ask for your email 3 times? Have we got you so hooked that you’re mugging us for more stuff already? 😉
      I do like your alternative rule 1!

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