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Avoiding Flavor of the Week Syndrome

Published: 10/8/2014
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She teaches at Bay Harbor Equestrian Center in Michigan, riding English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

With the rise of urbanization and technological advances, using horses for work has become a thing of the past.

Sadly, the traditions of horsemanship and a real understanding of the horse are quickly fading. Horses are becoming animals of hobby. For many, they no longer plow fields, pull carts, or gather cattle, but simply entertain weekend riders. As a result, horse people are increasingly uneducated to the ways of the horse and lie at the mercy of their peers, hired professionals, and the media (books, magazines, DVDs, Internet, etc.) to get along with their horses.

Newer horse people today seem very susceptible to fads in horsemanship. Professionals have capitalized on these newbies by offering “paint by numbers” programs – with everything broken into neat little levels, with one stage leading to the next. To top it off, they'll sell you all the tools you need to train the perfect horse.

After a bit of this program not working, the new rider may grow frustrated and move on to the next, nurturing a “flavor of the week” mentality. With no traditions or real knowledge to fall back on, American horse people are often found drifting from one “program” to the next.

With Facebook forums, Google searches, and DVDs, it can be awfully confusing. Everyone spouts advice. The up-and-comer is overwhelmed. I liken the phenomenon to shopping for breakfast cereal: so many choices, so many advertisements claiming their superiority, yet so many loaded with fillers, sugar, and fluff.

There is no One Way in horsemanship. If it is to be meaningful, then it truly must be about feel between you and your horse. No program can sell that to you. What works for me may not work for you. What you see on a DVD may not represent what you and your horse are experiencing.

Don't take my word for it. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it either.

  • What do YOU want?
  • Do you know?
I am writing with the assumption that readers want what is best for their horses. But to help some of the “greenies” out there, here are some tips to go by:

  • Know yourself and make a realistic assessment of your skill level
  • Know what you want out of your interactions with horses. Your goal should be unique to you, not what your friends want or what your trainer wants. (Want to just trail ride? Want to make it to the Olympics? Want to learn to rope? Want to gallop off into the sunset?)
  • Find a program, philosophy, or riding style that reflects your goals. Search for good, reliable and honest help. Be wary of Internet forums, the barn busybody, and everyone and their dog who was once around a horse.
  • Take advice with a grain of salt.
  • Find out if it works for your horse and for you. Be alert, aware, and use your eyes, ears, heart, and mind.
  • Have a general idea of how to get to your goal and how long it will take there. But bear in mind: It can be hard to predict how long learning will take. Learning is never as linear as we think it should be. Don't expect your horse to carry a green rider down the trail and be unflappable in a month. Don't expect yourself to be jumping tomorrow. Be patient and realistic.
  • And lastly, give yourself time to learn. Forgive yourself and your horse for making mistakes. You may go down some roads that don’t work. Your horse will forgive you. Turn down a better road and take your horse with you. Develop humility. If you feel you’re already humble, humble yourself more.
The instructor, the DVD, or the advice givers are not always right. The horse always is. Learn from him above anyone else. Enjoy your journey to a better connection with your horse - after all, nowadays we have the luxury of riding for fun!

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10/9/2014 Beth
Great advice! I had my young mare started with a Natural horsemanship trainer, who then spent time training me. He was hired to start colts in another state so I ended up at a different barn with lessons included. This trainer was kind and gentle,mnute knew nothing of the natural horsemanship methods. Over the corse of the summer, I watched as my horses attitude changed and everything fell apart. She refused to move forward, and started to buck. I'm back to the original methods, and I have my willing, sweet mate back. Stick with what works, put the relationship with your horse first, and pay attention to what they are trying to tell us.
10/9/2014 Pam
What a great article. As a new "on the horse" person but an old "off the horse" person I can tell you how true this is. I have seen horses that have been trained by every method under the sun and it is those that have been trained with gentle, regular, healthy methods that respond the best. Don't look for the newest fad - horse training isn't a diet. This is a heartbeat you are dealing with. Make sure your horse doesn't have pain or a health problem before making them work through something that they are doing wrong or that they don't understand. Thank you, Amy, for being the voice of the horses.
10/9/2014 Sigrid
Great insights! A working partnership with a goal. Most animals, not all, realize the energy of "something important" to be done. Thanks Amy, you are the greatest!
10/13/2014 Amy
I think if the everyday weekend horse could speak, he would say he'd love to have a job. Doesn't have to be fancy, or even that involved, but I would love to see more people ride their horses with a purpose, and a purpose that suits them. Too much lollygagging around and hoping the horse will just carry you around makes for a rude, frustrated, or lost horse, and that describes a good majority of the horses I see daily. I heard Buck say at a clinic this weekend, "if people found more success in riding, they'd enjoy themselves more, and they'd probably find they have more time to ride than they thought they did." I really think most people just need a little direction and they'd latch on to these better ways of working with horses. Thanks so much for your interest and comments!

"Anyone who is concerned about his dignity would be well advised to keep away from horses." - Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh