In a week that celebrates the anniversary of Samuel Johnson who was born in Lichfield, just like me but a bit brainier, I have been thinking about the meaning of words (and life).
One critic of IH recently used the word suppression to describe what she thought she saw happening with horses being trained. She felt that it was important for horses to be able to express themselves. So do I. However there are times when it is important for them and the people around them not to be able to express their feelings in a way that might be dangerous to them or their owners. For example box rest - if a horse has to be confined for good medical reasons then his health is going to be dependent on him remaining calm and quiet (that's why it is called rest) and the emphasis has to be on keeping him quietly amused and to redirecting his energy to something else rather than "training" although there still have to be clear boundaries. It may be appropriate to provide him with a mirror, or a treat ball or a calm companion next door or an extension to his stable made of round pen panels so that he can stand outside for some of the time. During the transition from box rest to full turn out, it may again be appropriate to restrict his freedom of movement so that he can't get up to full speed, or to keep him seperately from other horses or even to sedate.
The leadership exercises I do with horses are not about supression either. I'm not sure horses are altogether happy when they feel the need to fling themselves around, to walk through people or fidget endlessly. This tells me that the horse is anxious, doesn't know how to control his feelings and feels alone. By consistently providing clear boundaries we can prove that we are worthy and reliable leaders and the horse can therefore afford to relax. To me a relaxed and quiet horse isn't supressed, he is just relaxed. I have seen horses that have shut down and gone somewhere else in their heads and it is a completely different look and feel.
When Tim Adams, the vet was visiting Chancer last time, he used the word compliance and I asked him what I meant. He said that the horses that recovered the best were likely to be those where the client had complied with the vet's recommendations. I'd love to do a survey to see to what extent client compliance influences the chances of success with behavioural issues. The most outstanding changes do seem to happen when an owner applies techniques consistently and regularly. Quality and quantity work well together.
A couple of ethical issues have arisen lately too. If I know a farrier that has hit a horse between the ears with a rasp, should I tell someone who is contemplating having them to do their horse? If I keep meeting horses that are farrier phobic and the same name comes up again, should I say anything? If someone has just bought a brand new saddle and had it fitted properly but I can clearly see that it doesn't, how much should I press the issue? It's tricky because if I don't say anything and the horse gets abused by the farrier or the horse gets sore from it's saddle, the owner would be rightly disappointed with me. Most of the time I can get round it by saying who I do recommend or those that I have only heard good things about A. Person and so on.
For starting horses, there are only a few people that I can recommend and all of them are Recommended Associates; these are the only people I know that I trust not to hit a horse. It's all too easy to turn a blind eye to what happens to your horse when it is being trained by someone else and to hope that the end will justify the means. I take in the odd, quieter starter but acknowledge that I can't deal with any horse that is too big, athletic or tricky and therefore have to refer clients to people who are further away and possibly more expensive than more local trainers. IH is easy until it becomes inconvenient or expensive.