‘Green on Green makes Black and Blue’
Who hasn’t noticed how common it is for either a newbie to horses, or a ‘return to rider’ after a hiatus spanning years, to buy a young, un-started, or unfinished, very low mileage and inexperienced horse? Sometimes it’s several horses!
Often the purchase is motivated by kindness and a desire to rescue animals from a bad situation. Sometimes it’s literally life or death- as in ‘take him now or he is dog tucker.’
In these cases it is very, very common to ‘overhorse’ ourselves. In fact, one of the most common problems many trainers seem to get called upon to fix is caused by green horses being bought by green humans.
the scenario often starts with these various thoughts:
- ‘We can learn together’.
- the horse is much cheaper with less training
- I used to gallop everywhere bareback 20 years ago, so I will be fine.
- The seller says she is ‘quiet’ but just needs some mileage. I can do mileage on a quiet horse.
It all starts out great. A beautiful new horse is advertised, or a needy one that’s no less beautiful and the price is right. a 15 minute successful test ride in an arena precedes quickly falling in love, the mind is decided and the horse comes home. the problems will usually arise within 2 weeks, and these are some typical scenarios:
- the horse is hard to catch.
- They can’t halter him
- Or lead him,
- He fidgets when handled and uses his weight against you- and sometimes against the gatepost too.
- The human gets stomped on if she dares ask for a foot.
- The horse is completely different from when he was tried out and just won’t settle.
- you wonder if it was drugged for the test ride
- The horse won’t go, or won’t stop.
- The horse is a Master Grass Diver and this prevents you going out anywhere. it’s a constant battle raising his head!
- The quiet pony is now hyper alert and spooky, or seems to be fast asleep every time you want to ride him.
- the rider loses his nerve. it wasn’t what the horse did, it was how he felt. or maybe it was undeniably what the horse did if he got the rider off.
- the pony will not trailer load.
Some people get the help they need and get lucky, and persevere through it to succeed with their horse. Sadly however the most common result is the person gives up on their dream, and sells the pony.
Worst case scenarios also happen: the horse can be ruined by the inexperienced handling, and end up getting blamed, being sold cheap, getting a bad rep and eventually on the slide to the killers. Sometimes a person is irreversibly injured or even killed by attempting to cope without the prerequisite skill required to teach a young or green horse.
Here is something many folk do not realise. Every time you are with a horse, you are training that horse.
Repeat that out loud. it’s true.
So if you are an experienced trainer who knows this, then that’s a powerful tool in the hands. However there is a long wide continuum of skills, and if you are on the green side, then all your unplanned, unconscious, unintended mistakes as well as all your doubt and fears are going to show up in that horse. The horse gets pushy because he just spent two weeks moving you out his way, and you didn’t notice. or he gets hard to bridle because you bang his teeth every time. Maybe he becomes tense and jumpy, because you yourself are terrified to ride but can’t admit it. Or he just refuses to move because you are not clear enough and don’t know how to motivate him.
The thing is, we don’t know what we don’t know, right? its possible to be super talented with horses and still make basic mistakes that will cause a horse to act in a way that is not helpful. Pat Parelli once said “show me your horse and I will tell you who you are.’
He also said ‘ give me your horse and I’ll have him doing what mine does in a couple of weeks; but if I gave you mine she’d be like yours in two days.’
This is why it is critical to always train ourselves first, in everything you might need to know about horses. Keep learning, and practise with an experienced horse, preferably before you buy your own.
We have a huge effect on our horses, and every one of us needs to make sure we have a bedrock solid foundation of basic skills to ensure the best chance for safety for all concerned. Even if you think you are pretty good, there is always someone better to learn from who can help you. Horsemanship is a talent, for sure, but it is also a teachable and very learnable skill, Not a one of us is perfect, and we all benefit from upskilling. It’s our responsibility to make sure that any effect we have on our horses is a good one.