We all have convictions. Sometimes those are so strong they tend to taint how we approach things. I have strong convictions regarding horsemanship and training methods. I believe giving the horse the choice to make mistakes is crucial, and that we shouldn’t force them into a mold or shape, but rather fix for them to find the better option. Among things I was very set against, are all kind of head setting gadgets and all tying set-ups designed to lower a horse’s head. A horse’s head should be carried where it’s more natural and efficient, and I truly *hate* the recent trend in reining that imposes on horses to perform with their head between their knees, regardless of their original conformation.
Several friends of mine have a habit of circling young (or older) horses around with a rein set-up designed to engage their hindquarters, round and lift their back, stretch their neck, elevate their withers, and, ultimately, lower their head. The lower head is NOT a goal per se, but rather a result of all the above-stated benefits. Because that is not a part of my belief system, I used to think that was cruel, ignorant, lazy, and just plain wrong. I was pretty convinced to be right. I do have flaws, a whole bunch of them, but one of my qualities is that I try hard to keep an open mind. Which led me to question that certainty. After all, my friends are capable riders and trainers, and maybe if they put so much faith in those techniques, there was something to be learned and gained. So I inquired with them and decided to just give it a try. You can see the outcome of that first experiment HERE.
I showed that clip to my friend and coach, Daniel Dauphin, who suggested that the “long and low” (spine/neck) aspect was mastered, which was great, but also tended to put the horse much of the forehand, and that some “shorter and higher” set-up to sit the horse on its rear and elevate its front would a good next step. So after a second “long and low” session that can be see here, we switched to Daniel’s suggestion. The outcome looked like this.
I rode the colt post that ground session, and he was just MAGICAL. I needed only to close my fingers and he’d come to my hand, get butter soft on the bit, raise his back, lower his poll, and offer his best try at everything I’d ask. What am I trying to prove here ? Nothing, except that if I had stuck to my guns blindly, and not have had any curiosity for someone else’s technique, I would have remained set against something that actually helped me and my colt get smoother and more “together”.
I would never have used those techniques harshly or brutally. I wouldn’t have chased or whipped a horse that had no idea of what was expected. I will not rein him up for long periods or multiple sessions, either. He had time and opportunities to learn what was expected of him by increments, get familiar and comfortable with the new “frame” and more demanding body work, and in the end it helped him connecting in the saddle and be more at ease in his ridden work. Like Daniel once said “A bit is just a tool, very much like a brick. With a brick, you can bash someone’s head in, or you can lay the foundation of a school, church, or hospital”. Like a bit, any given training technique is a tool, that can be used with empathy and fairness or to abuse, submit and break. So whatever your preconceptions may be, in any area, I can only encourage you to reconsider and maybe challenge a few of them. You might come out pleasantly surprised 😉