I typed “why does my horse” into the Google search bar and had a look through all the things that people commonly search for. There were a few searches for health related questions, but also quite a bit that had to do with horse behaviour. Questions like “why does my horse paw the ground?” and “why does my horse throw his head?”.
I also am a member of a number of horse-related groups on Facebook, and regularly skim through the posts in these groups. All of these things have informed me of something quite specific: Many horse owners don’t know much about horses. Asking about which bit will make a horse stop is an indication of an under-educated horse person who has not developed an effective understanding of horse behaviour.
Don’t get me wrong – we all had to learn at some point, there’s nothing bad about being a newbie. Sometimes people don’t have the option to have a teacher to guide them through the basics of horsemanship and care taking. However, in this age of information, these reasons are seldom valid. We can so easily reach out and learn 100 different ways to do something, or a 100 different explanations for one specific behaviour. Yes – it is overwhelming at first, and when you don’t know anything, how are you supposed to know which advice is actually good? I’m not saying it’s simple, however, with a little common sense and keeping an open mind, we can quite readily develop a pretty decent horse-sense.
What’s great about the questions I come across is that these questions show that there are people who want to learn and who are willing to let go of how they’ve always thought about something in order to consider different perspectives. It’s truly fantastic, and might I add, it takes guts to put yourself out there in the often cruel world of internet comments.
Unfortunately, there are just as many people who have no interest in doing things differently, even when they are consistently getting signs from their horses that their approach is no good. Horses that develop behavioural (and even some health) issues are not doing that because it’s natural for them, they’re doing it in response to the completely unnatural ways they are being forced to comply to their human handlers (including where and how they are kept).
I have witnessed plenty riders and horses in top level competitions where the rider so very obviously does not have horse-sense, but they have a great seat and can ride a test beautifully. Just because someone rides well doesn’t mean that they are a good horse-person.
Horses throwing their heads are often trying to avoid pressure – though many people respond to that behaviour by applying even more pressure in the form of more tack to try and force the horse to keep their head low. Now the horse is unable to voice their frustration, pain, and/or discontent (and yes, their body language is their language). When I am unable to voice myself, I get even more unhappy and often try find different ways to be heard. So now a horse that used to throw its head but can’t anymore might resort to some other type of behaviour, like bolting and pushing through pressure (not stopping in response to rein aids).
We need to be asking more questions and learning more about our horses and their behaviour. The moment we think we have the answer for something and refuse to ask more questions is the moment we do our horses the greatest disservice. There is much we can learn from them, and from each other. Never stop learning, be a student always – this is the path that will take you to true mastery.