Sunday, March 28, 2010

The great debate

tonight's sunset

Since I'm still feeling sick, I have done my best to stay quiet and let my body do its thing...which means no horse time. I did get to talk with Mark Mottershead of Horse Conscious on Skype today. We started off by watching this clip. It truly brought home the differences between what people say and what they do. As usual, we batted about our different ideas and approaches to what we could offer the horse community to help it along the way from dominance to partnership.

The best way I can sum up our difference of opinion is this:

I believe that the best step is to do what Alexander Nevzorov has done which is first, walk his talk of no pain, punishment, force, and nothing which isn't in the horse's best interest, even if that means no riding. Secondly, to educate himself and anybody else who is interested about the horse's physiology so he has the scientific facts to back up his claims.

Mark thinks (Mark, correct me if I'm wrong here) that it's too big of a leap for most people to make. He wants to create a forum led by people who are headed in the direction away from humans exploiting horses to considering the horse's view on their relations with humans. Along the way there are many different points. To use a bit or not? Liberty training? Punishment versus reward...of course all good questions for people to consider and answer for themselves.

One of the things that both of us want to have happen, is for more people move down that road. Will that happen through discussion and debate, or an individual making a choice for herself? For me, it was the ability to see that what Alexander does with his horses, and their state of being as a result of it was something that I had never seen before. Then, I took his word (through the website at first) that in order to achieve that relationship I had to stop using bits, shoes, competing, punishing, forcing, and nearly all riding. Yes, this was a price I paid. I could no longer make a living giving lessons, I was no longer in demand across the country as a judge, and honestly, for the first couple of years I felt more like I was an incompetent child around horses rather than an accomplished horsewoman.

Yet something in me kept pulling this direction.

I suspect it will be this way for others too.

No amount of convincing or debate from other people could have inspired this change. It came from my feelings when I was with the horses themselves and the things I would see myself do, and be supported in doing by other trainers. What was required for me, was first to admit that the current relations I had with my horses and those of my students was not what my heart longed for. Secondly, I had to meet that person who was able to show me without a doubt that the relationship I wanted was a real possibility. Once those two elements were in place I put myself in a position of following the steps that this person laid out. Now that I'm 4 years down the road of adhering to NHE guidelines, they are no longer rules that I'm experimenting with, I see them as essential pieces of creating the type of relationship I want with my horses.

What the crux of the debate between Mark and I may hinge on is that he sees that people still want to own horses for the purpose of riding them. When the purpose for having a horse is to ride, the rest of the elements have their logical places. In that case I can understand the use of bits, shoes, whips, spurs, martingales, halters and punishment-based training. And, yes, even if that is the case there is also the possibility of achieving that in more "horse conscious" ways which would take into consideration the physiology and feelings of the horse to some extent.

Would you get rid of your dog if you knew you'd never be able to ride him? Of course not. You never had any expectations of riding your dog, therefore, your relationship is not based on that. Would you get rid of your horse if you knew you'd never be able to ride her? What is the difference? The only differences I can see are our conditioned expectations, (i.e. that being ridden is a horse's purpose), and the fact that it does appear that we can ride horses without causing them undue harm, and that it appears that sometimes they even enjoy it. The first difference would be relatively easy to let go of if the second two differences were proven to be false.

I wanted both. I wanted a great relationship with horses and to be able to ride. It was hard for me to believe at first that those couldn't exist together. Now, I see it as obvious. If, as research shows, a horse's physiology never evolved to carry a load from above, and that by being subjected to such a load for more than a few minutes at a time, the horse will experience numbness, pain, and other scientifically proven consequences then there is only one thing that will induce her to bear that load...a greater pain from other sources...or a huge love for the human involved.

Herein lies the heart of the "horse conscious" dilemma. If a person does choose more horse conscious ways without at the same time learning about a horse's physiology and the signs of discomfort and pain, the horse will probably allow herself to be ridden. It us up to us to understand the costs of this.

So, I will state right here and now that if the most important reason that you have your horse is to be able to ride her, then this blog is not for you. Riding may happen as a result of putting the relationship first, as it has with one of the three horses I work with, but there is no guarantee, nor even a likely possibility that your relationship will include riding to any serious extent.


  1. So, vice versa, this blog is for me (and many, many others!!) and this blog is truly a gift for all of us!

    I posted that same video a week ago to a finnish forum where people are supposed to be "different" (forum's name is something like "horsing differently" in english) and I got a long reply on it from one of the admins, saying things like: this horse was really dangerously pushy and it is not better to make it clear at once, rather than do it little every day... it is not so bad as many other things with many other people in many other places...

    He also thought that this was better learning material than for (his) example Hempflings edited videos "where you get the idea that the man just dances and everything solves by itself"...

    It made me so sad to read it that I had to come and read through your blog once again, it calms me down and gives me strength and hope <3

  2. Correction; it was of course supposed to say "it is better to make it clear at once, rather than do it little every day"

  3. Stormy -

    In giving up your livelihood for the sake of following a better path, you have done so much more than the rest of us!
    I'm glad you felt like an incompetent child because that's exactly how I feel nowadays!
    Question: Does Nezvorov only ride for very short periods at a time?

    The thing that stands out in that horrid Parelli video is that the humans are paying precisely zero attention to the horse's reactions at all. They're just standing there flapping like idiots and talking to each other. If that horse was truly dangerous, as some people claim, they should've taken all the tack off and worked in a large-ish enclosed area.

  4. And then you have some of Spilker's horses who actually ask people to ride sometimes.

  5. Wonderful blog, Stormy, you address a fundamental question that could well be applied to most anything - balancing between principles and the actualities of living life with a rich variety of characters and critters.

    Cookie, on those becoming rare occasions when I do hoist myself on for a ride, will deliver me to the mounting block for a dis-mounting when she's had enuf (as Nezvorov, I think, stated somewhere, about 20 mins into the ride)...I listen to her...20 mins seems to be her comfort level...course, my having RA, that's also my comfort level...Cookie is a smart girl...maybe she's taking care of me :) We do far more on the ground liberty play than riding...we enjoy graze/hiking together. What, I think, we have to remember is that different folks are on different consciousness evolution trajectories...What I hope and pray is that folks will open their hearts to a "mingler" - teach by example - be as kind and considerate to folks who hold to an opinion other than yours as you would be to a horse who holds an opinion other than yours.

    Stormy, my "mingler" reference is from another horse enthusiast blogger "Equine Insanity" and her post "Thinking Outside the Box" Jan 21, 2010 - and I quote:
    "The world needs people like Sam, who live like they believe and set an example for others. But just as much the world needs people like me, people who mingle in the “mainstream” equestrian activities and quietly plant the seeds of change. Neither life is easy, as we all are swimming upstream battling thousands of years of “know how” and questioning hundreds of years of equestrian knowledge." - Katarrina

    I am soooo excited to be taking Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Ritual Insider's Circle class this spring, eager to learn Cookie's language and her liberty dance - Carolyn's approach *just* *feels* *right* me. I am so grateful that I stumbled across your trailer for TPOTH on You Tube, where you introduced me to Carolyn and the others. Thank you for your kindness in sharing your horse book reading list with me...I am still working on it.

    Initially, I was drawn to Parelli - Natural Horsemanship was a gateway for me...not enough, but a starting place. I am not willing to "throw the baby out with the bath water." I DO believe the Parelli's are well intended...many roads to Rome...they are learning, too. I think a lot of horses are better, *better* off for the Parelli's efforts...but for me, after a bit, their approach, while saying all the right words, just seemed formulatic and mechanical - to me.

    It's like ... managers can read and quote Steven Covey's "7 Habits" book...but find it hard to walk the talk at the actual workplace. But exposure is a baby-step.

    And the Universe knows, just ask my Observer, that I'm not perfect even in my desire to be the best human for Cookie and any other horse or human that crosses my path...I make mistakes - hopefully I learn from them.

    I just got Spilker's book "Empowered Horses" - think I'll go read it to the herd :)

  6. Old mare recently passed away at age 35. We adopted her when she was 22. At the time she was quite arthritic and stiff, although she greatly improved with joint supplements and exercise. When i first started riding her she would tell me she wanted to stop after about 10 minutes - she would go into the center of the arena and halt. I always let her decide when to stop. Once she got less stiff and fitter, she would sometimes go up to an hour without asking to stop. Do you think some horses can tolerate longer spells of riding?

  7. Hi June, I think horses, in the main, try to please. Having arthritis myself, I can speak from experience that exercise generally helps...but there are days when the pain is excruciating and debilitating. What I think is reeally neat, is that some of us actually "hear" what our horses are telling us...I know other folk would say our horses are lazy or trying to get out of work...which actually says more about the other folk themselves, than the horses. So sorry for your loss. That your Old Mare lived to 35 is a testiment of your loving good care of her.

  8. I am so glad I asked the question the other day Stormy...and that I get to read these other replies as well. I only know one other person locally, besides my husband so far that is totally committed to this type of relationship with horses. If I've got to be in a virtual community of like minded people for now--until there are more and more people that I can meet, and hopefully help to influence to see horses differently, and to see the other possibilities for living and working and playing with them--then I'm glad to be a part of it.

    When "Destiny" brought horses back to my life just over a year ago, first in the form of a beautiful palomino weanling, I knew it was a sign that my life needed to change, and that horses were here to take me on a journey. I named her Selene, who was the Greek goddess of the moon, because it seemed like the perfect name for the horse that had come into my life, seemingly from out of the heavens, to help me onto a better path, where I would reconnect with myself, with the world, with health, freedom and peace. Over the past year and a bit I have read so many horse books and watched hours and hours of training videos, some of which I couldn't even stomach long enough to finish, knowing I could never work with another being in such a way. Actually I'm amazed at what some people will allow to be published with their name on the cover or in the credits without going into hiding...anyway that's another tangent. But in the past three months after being introduced to the idea of liberty training, which I didn't even know was an option, I have felt this huge sense of relief and ease in working with my horses, and feel so much better about everything we do with them. Then a couple weeks ago after first watching Stormy's video I knew that I could never train my horses in a conventional way. Now my biggest challenge I suppose will be to stick to it, and not be overtaken by any sort of need to be normal or have to "do something" useful with my horses.

  9. Ten years ago I stopped riding horses because it seemed more and more the wrong thing to do. I wanted to get to know the horse nation without asking anything of them...and that was when my journey with the horse nation truly began.