Sometimes It’s Not What We Are Asking But How We Are Asking It


By Norman Thelwel
By Norman Thelwel

Have you ever been that person in school or at work, that no matter how your teacher was telling you, you just didn’t understand what was being asked. You tried and tried but kept getting the wrong answer and the more you tried and the more you were told “no” the more frustrated you got until you did nothing but give up or explode into a rage?  Then you get that one person who leans over and goes “Have you tried it this way?” and suddenly it just clicks. That light bulb moment just goes off and you wonder how you didn’t see it in the first place?

The more I work with horse the more I realize that like us each horse is as much an individual as we are. Some learn faster and some learn slower. And the more I see each individual personality the more I wonder why we have such rigid training systems. Every rider wants to know “how do I do this? Or get my horse to do that?” and  much like doing math they expect A+B=C and it should be that easy and that perfect all the time, with every horse.

But we are dealing with sentient beings (If you don’t think that’s true you really shouldn’t be dealing with horses)  so what makes us think that by giving half halts and holding contact, and giving that perfect leg aid is going to translate into the same response each time to every horse?  That every horse is going to understand it exactly the same way and we will reprimand them until they get the right answer?

I’m obviously not saying everyone is this way. There are MANY “out of the box” thinkers out there. But if you prescribe to dressage, or equitation or hunter/jumpers the majority of trainers seem to fall into the same lines when teaching (unless you have that 1 in a million trainer. Then hang on to them with both hands and maybe handcuff yourself to them to be sure they can’t run away)

The more I trust my horses and the more I allow them to find the right answer on their own in their own time and praise, praise, praise them when they get it right and just ask them again when they are wrong, the more I see their personalities coming out. The more I see them being excited and willing to do what I’m asking. The better partnerships I end up having with my horses.

I don’t want to be a dictator to my horses. I don’t want them scared to misstep and fearful for a whack with the whip due to a misunderstanding. (There are surely times it’s needed but they are fewer then people realize) But just like those olympians who got disqualified for excessive use of whip and spur. When does the wish to Win prove too much for partnership and we let it slide into dictatorship?

The more I watched the olympics the more that lack of partnership showed. Those words we tout to everyone. Partnership.  And yet how few people let the light of their steed shine through to showcase their best strengths in the best way possible? Instead they work them in false frames and through the use of gadgets to get that perfect look regardless to the pain and silent suffering of their so called partners. Again I’m not saying everyone is like this but there are enough in the lime light to show a startling trend.

How many of those horses would prove to be better then Valegro, if they had just been given a different phrase to the same question? How many of those would be pushing 90’s in dressage or jumping Grand prix even faster?  If a bit of patience and willingness to let the horses figure out a question on their own first before forcing the horses into a moment or over a jump, maybe we would have an entirely new standard of riding and enjoyment.

So out of this long tirade, If you are having problems with your horses. If you’re frustrated and unsure of how to continue and you just want to throw in the towel. Stop and remember what it was like when you couldn’t do something right until someone else gave you a different way to view the problem. Think how you’ve been asking what you want from your horse and maybe by just a bit of tweaking the question you can get that lightbulb to go off for your horse. Don’t forget that if you want that true shining and amazing ride you have to do right by your partner and they will do right by you!

Until next time

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