Brian Byrne of Four Oaks Horsemanship Discusses Confidence Versus Tolerance
When it comes to horsemanship, I filter my approach by asking myself if the horse has confidence in what is being asked of him, or is he simply tolerating what is happening? To my mind, and that of other horsemen, there is a huge difference between the two. When asking a horse to do something, are we doing it for the horse, or are we doing it to them?
If we spend some time educating ourselves on how horses think and feel, we can develop a better understanding of them, which in turn helps us develop them physically as well as mentally and emotionally. This in turn helps them move correctly with softness and flexion. When we work at comprehending the natural instincts of the horse such as flight or fight, and a high sense of self preservation, this also allows us to adapt our approach when working with individual horses, as in order to teach them well, we must understand them.
Horses show a great amount of faith by putting their trust in people. Over time, if you approach things in the correct way, you can build confidence through consistency. The problem that often presents itself is that a lot of people dominate their horses and end up with a result that they mistake for confidence, but in fact, the horse has just learned to tolerate what has been asked of him. It can be sad to see a horse’s dignity being diminished like this and the life that they once had, being dulled into submission to ‘behave’ the way the human expects them to. The same can be said for humans who have been guided through life by a similar hand.
In my experience, some neglect to notice this until the horse has had enough and starts to express himself by exhibiting unwanted behaviours. The other example that illustrates when this is most prominent is with young horses and green riders, or very sensitive horses that will not give in to dominance. This can manifest in such ways as the horse that refuses to do anything and will then nap, rear and/or buck etc, and the horse that bolts and shies/spooks at everything. There are lots of variations in between, but these are examples of the most common unwanted behaviours. A lot of the time in these cases horses are sent off to be ‘fixed’ by various trainers. Usually, this does not work out well, or it is successful in the short term and it is not long before the undesirable behaviour returns and the pattern of behaviour continues with the owner, or the horse is subsequently sold on and the cycle repeats itself. This is very difficult and stressful for horses and we must come to realise there is no quick fix to these problems. The only way to help the horse, is through self-development and becoming the best human you can be for your horse, by arming yourself with knowledge and surrounding yourself with mentors you can trust and learn from.
It is my belief that 99% of horse owners have the best intentions. The key is to take responsibility and galvanise these good intentions with good habits in your horsemanship. Again, this is often not the case, as it easier to us as humans to excuse undesirable behaviours when your intentions are good. The difficult part is becoming aware enough to change your behaviour to line up with your ideals. When you do, horses are intuitive and receptive to this change in your energy and will gain confidence from you in the process. It is a win/win situation, that helps in all other areas of life as well.
One of my life goals is to help horses and people as much as I possibly can. It does not matter what level of rider you are or what horse you own. From the happy hacker to professional equestrian, I feel I have a lot to offer you in developing your horsemanship and riding. I want to play my part in expelling the myth that horsemanship does not have its place in the equestrian world. My advice is to try out a few different approaches and professionals and see if one of them fits in with your own system and beliefs. I personally seek out high level mentors who have a vast knowledge and experience of horses, but also understand the high level of riding required to help a horse develop in all different disciplines. I look forward to being able to help you and your horse again in 2019.