Thelwell: A cartoon for every occasion!
I learned a long time ago that I am not responsible for everything. I am not responsible for how a horse arrived at the situation he is in, with the physical problems, behaviours and training that are already established, and nor can I be responsible for how he is treated and trained after I have left. The techniques I use and the advice I give can only work if they are replicated, and replicated well, after I have gone. To help people carry on with the work I provide a detailed report and notes, and often leave my panels, free of charge, in situations where they are useful.
What has interested me lately is how much responsibility I carry during a training session: one things is for sure, the horse has no responsibility whatsoever; all we can do is ask him to try.
There are different aspects of responsibility: health and safety, the training of the horse, and the coaching of the owner. Each one is dynamic rather than static. Teaching a new or remedial horse how to load, setting it up to travel well, is a great example of this. During the session I am responsible, along with the owner for keeping surrounding people as well as the horse as safe as possible whilst making reasonable progress. However, my responsibility is but a sliver in the overall responsibility held by the owner for ensuring that the horse loads and travels well in the future. Habituation, through good training and repetition, can make a massive difference to the horse’s willingness to load and their ability to travel calmly, and I can help with all of that, but it is the owner that has to commit to carrying on with the training and practice Not only do they need to be able to load the horse safely by the end of the training, but they need to ensure that the transport vehicle, the way it is laid out and the way it is then driven, ensures the welfare, comfort, and safety of the horse. I can’t make a horse like a lousy horsebox or endure a terrible journey, although good training can certainly help him to tolerate these things (when maybe he shouldn’t!).
In two recent cases, I have had concerns about the safety of the ramp, and in one case the positioning of a tack locker. If I can see these problems there is no doubt that the horse feels them.
I still feel we have an awfully long way to go with the design of horseboxes and trailers, and I am amazed at how many glossy lorries there are priced at £20,000 and above which still have breast bars partitions and tack lockers upon which the horses can flounder (especially when safer alternatives are available). They pose a grave risk to the horses and the humans that attempt to rescue them. These lorries may be described as safe because the bars are collapsible (generally from the inside only) but that is a classic case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted; we need to know and understand why horses feel so unhappy that they breach the bars in the first place. In the meantime people are still being seduced by the paint.