Are training methods in the equestrian industry outdated? Thoughts on the welfare of horses.

In light of World Animal Day taking place on the 4th of October I did a little research behind the holiday so I can share it with you.


The mission of world animal day is to raise the status of animals in order to improve welfare standards around the world. Involvement is growing at an astonishing rate and it’s now widely accepted and celebrated in a variety of different ways in many countries with no regard to nationality, religion , faith or political ideology. If you’d like to learn more about world animal day you could visit worldanimalday.org.uk 

I am a avid follower of a woman named Tara Davis also known as @unbridledgoddess on Instagram. Being that World Animal Day focuses on improving the welfare of animals I figured this would be a great time to share some thoughts on her methods when it comes to working with horses. Her website https://unbridledgoddess.com/ describes her methods as “a state of mind, a way of thinking about working with horses in a different light. In this way, we recognise the horse as needing to be a willing participant in the relationship – without desire to engage, the subsequent partnership cannot truly flourish. Unbridled is about finding the spark that fuels the movement and connection so that both horse and human can participate in an authentically healthy way.”

When it comes to working with and training horses it is important to keep both their physical and mental well being in mind. Tara says it best in one of her Instagram Posts : “In horsemanship across all disciplines, I think there is a huge fear of in-authenticity. A fear of not being able to get the desired outcome of their own merit, through their own skills. That, to me, feels like the biggest barrier to people’s willingness/unwillingness to use food rewards OR incorporate more positive reinforcement in their training (not all R+ is food). The most common thing I hear when people are first introduced to how I work with horses, is apprehension about the motivation of my horses – “Wow, they must really want that food!”, “Anything for a cookie!”, “Food is a powerful motivator.”. 99% of the time, that apprehension goes away as they get deeper into the training with me and understand the reality, but I find it so telling that I encounter this so frequently.

I believe the root of this apprehension is a fear that an exterior motivator somehow makes every encounter inauthentic. That it is no longer YOU that is the reinforcer, and that means that it isn’t actually YOUR merit, or YOUR skill. And we, as horse people, are deeply afraid of that.

Yet no one says, “Well, fear is a powerful motivator.”, “Anything to escape an aversive!”, “I’d listen if I had a metal rod in my mouth and at my side too! (or a lunge whip or a carrot stick or any number of other exterior motivators commonly used)”. Because we have normalised the exterior motivators that we use in traditional horsemanship – taken them in as extensions of ourselves. We have forgotten, or have never really learned, the science behind how traditional horsemanship practices work in terms of learning theory. Again, we have taken in the practices and internalised them, as extensions of ourselves. Do you see the danger in that?”

Methods of working working with horses are evolving as our community leans closer to understanding the language of the horse whilst putting their physical and mental well-being as a top priority. I want to end this post with a quote from a woman I look up to, founder of ‘Missy Wryn Horsemanship‘: “98% OF THE PROBLEM AND DANGEROUS HORSES THAT COME TO ME FOR TRAINING ARE IN PAIN!  FROM PHYSICAL TO EMOTIONAL PAIN WE MUST GET TO THE SOURCE OF BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS BEFORE ARBITRARILY TRAINING THE HORSE.  I WILL NOT BE SWAYED FROM MY POSITION THAT GENTLE AND BITLESS HORSE TRAINING METHODS MAKE FOR A SAFER MORE RESPONSIVE HORSE, AND A RELATIONSHIP YOU’VE ALWAYS DREAMED OF BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR HORSE. TO THE STATUS QUO HORSE INDUSTRY THAT USES FORCE, PAIN AND FEAR I SAY “WAKE UP THE CHANGE IS HERE! UNDERSTAND THERE’S NO COSMIC OR WOO WOO ABOUT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF GENTLE HORSE TRAINING. WE STAND UNITED AND WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE THE INHUMANE ABUSES.  MY MOTTO IS PROBLEMS ARE NOT ALWAYS TRAINING ISSUES!

Something to think about…

🙂

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