I'm not a psychologist, phsychiatrist or mental health professional so my word isn't law. I am, however, a bit of an insomniac so I'm often awake at 4am thinking about other people's problems. This was last night's topic of choice. This isn't offical advice, or medical advice, or anything of that nature. It's just my thoughts on the subject, but hopefully will help some of you.
Conflict and criticism is becoming more an more of a problem, especially with "online instructors" (who 999/1000 are not actually instructors) everywhere on Instagram and TikTok.
There are two key points that I want to make
1. How we view training approaches
2. How we view criticism
How we view training approaches
Almost all horse riders, and owners, are genuinely passionate and really do care for their horses. And by almost, I am meaning the vast majority. I would think that only a very, very small % of the riding population knowingly harm horses; everyone else is just doing the best that they can with the knowledge they have at the time, and where they are on their journey. But, because we all care about our horses, everybody wants to be right because if you're not right, you must be wrong! And if you're wrong, does that mean you've been harming your horse? And then it gets really emotive. That is why the subject of training and horse welfare is such a contentious issue, and why discussions often gets so heated. Everybody wants to be right, because they are scared of being wrong, because wrong = bad.
With the exception of those very few, who do really harm horses (and I mean really - Rolkur for sustained periods, beatings that result in blood, abuse that requires veterinary treatment, electric spurs, bits with spikes on like in the olden days), it's best to think of training that there's no right or wrong. There's just different. It might be more to your taste, or less. It might be more you cup of tea, or less. It might align with you, or it might not but it isn't wrong, just different. Think of it as a horizontal sliding scale. You put your personal training system wherever you think it should go, and everyone else's training systems sit somewhere on that scale too. Theirs might be very close to yours, it might be at the end. Being at either extreme is fine, as is being anywhere on the line between them.
How we view criticism
So the best way to think about criticism is don't - it isn't criticism, they're just sharing their training method with you. You might say to me "I really like running for fitness, it makes me feel great and it's helped me lose weight". My response might be "I don't love running to be honest, my preference is swimming". We've shared training. You've shared what you do, and I've shared what I do. Nobody has bashed or criticised anyone, we've just both shared our respective training systems. The same is true with comments in the equestrain world, but because it's so emotive it might not come out in such a civilised way (because they want to be right, because they don't want to be wrong). You will, therefore, need to translate what they are really trying to say. When you get a comment that says "You don't know how to ride", what they are actually trying to say is "You're training methods are the opposite end of the scale to mine". When they say "You need to put your hands forward", they are trying to say "You're training system is different to mine, In mine, I put my hands forward more over the fence". Their comments are a reflection of their training system and beliefs, not yours.
Don't view it as criticism. Take the right and wrong out of it, and translate what they are really trying to say. This translation is almost always, "your training sits somewhere else on the scale to my training method and in mine, this is what I do." It's just sharing done badly, out of fear of being wrong.
I hope this helps some of you.
Okay, so this is a big, important, personal one. I guess it's a 'get to know me' story...
At the time, I was training for my British Horse Society Stage 3 exams. For those of you who don't know, in order to take the exams, you have to get 'signed-off' by a coach who holds a higher qualification than the one you are working towards. In my case, that would have been at least a BHS Stage 4 Coach (BHSII in old money). As I was horse-less at the time, I had no option but to go down the riding school route. There are surprisingly few centres that can accommodate this. You don't realise how many riding schools are run by BHSAIs/Stage 3 Coaches until you try to take the Stage 3 exam yourself and suddenly find that nowhere can sign you off for the exam!
I essentially had one place semi-locally that could help me. It was a fairly ordinary, stereotypical riding school, but better-than-average. To start with, I really enjoyed riding there. If I'm honest, before riding at this particular training centre, I used to ride in a way that I am not proud of. I didn't know any better, I did what my coach did, and I didn't have anyone to show me a better way. I did the best I could with lack of knowledge, skillset, and support I had at the time, as almost everyone does. But. because I'd ridden in the way that I had, I was quite okay with how I was being taught to ride at this training centre. I should add, I was aware of classical training at this point. I was slowly taking some time to learn a little more about it, but didn't really have any kind of firm opinions on it, for or against. I was just "aware" of it. As time went on, I was being coached to "get the horse rounder", all the time. Everything felt like a battle. The horses felt tense and upset, and I was increasingly not enjoying my lessons. I was learning more about classical training, but still hadn't given it a huge amount of thought - just enough to confuse the situation, which made everything that little bit harder to process. I was getting off horses, at the training centre, feeling miserable, but I wasn't really sure why. In reality, I was using strength, and a "kick, pull, and shove" approach to "get them rounder". I was even praised for sawing the poor horse in the mouth at one point. That was the breaking point. The horse I had been riding had felt resistent, heavy and unhappy, I'd been encouraged to saw him in the mouth, and yes, he became lighter, but he didn't feel 'good'. I won't pretend to know what a horse thinks or feels emotionally; I'm a coach, not an equine spiritual healer. But, I think he felt sad, betrayed, and disappointed - or maybe that was just how I felt. I suddenly understood why I had been feeling out-of-sorts in my riding. I got in my car to drive home, an hour drive. and I was on the brink of tears for the whole journey.
I decided that I wouldn't be part of that again. I wouldn't do that to a horse again. I wouldn't do that to myself again. I decided that my morality was more important than passing BHS exams, more important than riding at all. I said to my dad "If I can't find somewhere that trains in a better way, I won't ride until do - or until I get a horse that I can train in a way that I can get behind and agree with". I meant it too, every word. I was genuinely ready to throw in the towel, and give up riding for as long as it took to find the right place.
Thankfully, it didn't take long. A quick google later, and I found the place. I went for my first lesson, and it was a breath of fresh air. I didn't really use my reins for anything - not for steering, stopping, flexing, bending. I just held them. The horse was happy, I was over-the-moon. It was really hard to start with, a completely different way of riding. I had some doubts about whether I could stick with it. Every lesson, however, I got off feeling better. My instructor was (is) amazing, and re-introduced every aspect of riding really gradually. After a month or two of lessons, I actually started to use my reins again, albeit in a very different way than I had before.
I went to a job interview a few months later, and had a lesson with their yard manager, who is a very successful event rider. I hated it. It was all shoving and pushing. It was then that I realised I absolutely wouldn't go back to the 'old way' of riding. Due to a new instructor joining the team there, I gave the training centre one last try, because I still wanted to get my BHS exams. It was even worse than before. I was crying before I'd even gotten off the horse. Heartbroken didn't even cut it.
So now, I put my morals and the horses first. If I have to sacrafice personal career goals, or competition success, or whatever else, that sits okay with me. My whole life changed through finding classical riding. It has limited my job options, as a lot of riding schools don't teach people to ride in that way. It has changed my personal goals with horses. But it's also opened my eyes to so many more opportunities, around the world at that. I've found my tribe, and I'm happy, as are the horses I ride. I really got my love for horses, and my passion back. It's driven me to be there for the 'mini-me's, to help stop them from falling down the rabbit hole - been there, done that, it's awful. I want to help the riders, riding school clients and horse-owners alike, who currently feel how I felt; out-of-sorts, disappointed, guilty, unworthy, like they are betraying their horse, or are unable to 'get behind' how they are being taught. I want to help them feel a bit better about their riding, their partnership with horses, and have more confidence that they are doing right by their horse.
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You can read more about it here
For a long time this actually confused me, until I heard Philippe Karl expalin it. So now, I'm going to try and explain it in even simpler terms.
A little anatomy is required for this, but I'll keep it brief!
The horse's body is not attached to the shoulder by bone - we all know the horse doesn't actually have a collarbone like we do. The body and the foreleg are held together, relatively loosely (comparative to a boney joint), by the muscles of the Thoracic sling.
Think of the shoulder as a fixed point, with the body suspended between the shoulders; in the same way that a child's swing hangs suspended with the frame either side. The swing can go backwards and forwards, up and down, independently of the frame that it's attached too. Or suspension in a car; the wheels can bounce up and down over bumps, moving up and closer to, or down and further from the bottom of the car whilst the car stays level and a relatively fixed point.
I am a dressage trainer and general equestrian coach in Surrey, Sussex, and Berkshire. I teach dressage lessons, and hold a range of riding and equestrian clinics around the UK, and use my blog to share horse training tips, advice, and resources.