Behavioural Issues: Training or the Environment? Uncovering the Stumbling Block

Since moving my gelding onto a track system late December 2020, I have observed significant psychological benefits. Not only for my horse, but for myself too!

Sure, at the beginning having abruptly chucked my horse (Nemo) out on the track in the height of winter, there were times where I had questioned my decision. With Nemo developing raging mud fever and thick globular mud dreadlocks on his feathers, I was enduring a bit of a psychological battle: to stick with it and not just reside myself back to traditional livery.

In all honesty each rainy day at the track got easier, and whilst Nemo struggled to find his feet at first he became stronger; and a more profound member of the herd. Nemo has never been very sure of himself, without being too anthropomorphic he reflects my personality to a T! However, over these last few months I have seen him go through such a character building process, he has shown me great resilience and resourcefulness. His confidence has rocketed, and this has played out in his training sessions with me too.

I love watching him, I can sit there for hours – escape the rat race of daily life.

With regards to myself, I feel much more grounded I’m not being pressured to do anything.

I live a very hectic life, juggling my employed job alongside my self-employed role as an ESMT. Whilst also marketing myself, creating content and continuing my studies as a student Equine Podiatrist. On top of that keeping on top of household chores/errands and putting in the effort into my friendships and relationship. All of which is essential if I am going to be successful in this line of work, I rarely “switch off” my brain is always ticking…thinking.

So it has been a powerful transition for me as a person. To have a place where I escape just for a few hours, compose myself and rest!

How many times do you worry about something that’s happening tomorrow or in a weeks time?

Horses are well known for their therapeutic benefits in both facilitated learning and mental health in humans. Horses are in the present; they don’t think about tomorrow – they’re in the here and now.

The sun is now shining and the track has dried up, I have learnt that if you can endure the rough the smooth will soon arrive.

The track is absolutely glorious now, Nemo is frolicking about with his companions – he’s exploring the hedgerows and the trees. He’s calm. Which is the most bizarre; as I have battled with behavioural complaints by yard owners for years.

He was a people dragger, a door banger (and jumper), he would pace the fence line and constantly call out.

Physically this affected his hooves, he developed mild gastric ulcers, had a mild respiratory upset, low-grade laminitis and an explosive attitude at times.

By removing all of that constriction, it has remedied practically everything.

So if you have a horse/pony that is termed “naughty” no matter how much training you do or equipment you use… and when you start getting sick and tired of having a phone call from the yard owner everyday because your horse is “dangerous” or being a “nuisance” perhaps consider that this is not a training issue.

It’s an environment and management issue.

I went through all of this – the equine education curriculum to me is outdated! It needs an overhaul and the research is indicative of this too. (Bit of an out there statement, not going to be popular with everyone.)

I truly believe the more pressure we put on the industry; the more the industry is going to have to make changes to the management of our horses; and how we are taught to look after our horses.

Demand creates change; people are resistant to change – it’s unfamiliar and scary at times.

The bit people hate is that it questions everything they thought they knew. People hate that! “But we’ve been doing it like this for years…”

Yeah and it’s not working is it?

Seems counterintuitive to me, to be doing something the same for years on end; that isn’t solving your problems.

Anyway, I’ve digressed….(here's a track chicken!)

My point is that it isn’t a gadget or a trainer that is going to improve your horses psychological wellbeing.

Enrichment, companionship and freedom to move and make choices is.

(Alongside a nutritious diet of course!)

Remedy the root cause not the symptom.

I am not saying that these traditional yards do not care for these horses; they are boasting with professionals that are passionate and hard working.

I feel it’s the pathway in education that is the stumbling block.

"You only know what you’re taught" right?

(Yes, Nemo really has made friends with the chickens - he even shares his hay with them!)

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