Feb 25, 2012

'It's Not Pain"

We interrupt our next installment of The Life of Bryan with a rant. Well, maybe not a rant, but a vent. Like many of you, I read some horse bulletin boards. Some very smart and literate horse people frequent some of these boards, and I have met some new friends, heard about cool new products, and in general my experiences have been positive. But Gawd almighty, there are some sentiments out there that just get me ALL weewee'd up. These deserve their own page, and they'll have one soon enough. But for now, here is Abby's Peevish Lecture of the Day.

Anonymous Board Poster asking for help with her 'training problem':

"My horse <insert undesirable behaviour here: bucks in the canter, can't go to the left, leans on my hands, spooks, runs away, bites, kicks, etc etc etc>. We had him checked by <fill in the blank with trainer or vet or body worker or therapist or psychic du jour> and he's fine. It's not pain."

Anonymous Board Wags, sharing their collective wisdom, tsk-tsking and getting all ponderous, reply:

"Well, it must be ATTITUDE! You just need: More rein more contact more spur more lunging adjust your side reins change your bit more work more this more that blah blah blah..."

Really? REALLY?

Ok. Let's just talk about this mindset for a sec.

Scenario:  You have pain in your neck. You are miserable. You go to your Dr.  Dr. looks at you, pokes you, listens to your gut sounds, listens to your heart, looks at your shoes, makes you trot up and down, and does a fecal. Hey! Nothing here to see! You're good to go. What? You don't want to do gymnastics, running, bicycling, weight training carrying somebody?  Cause your neck hurts? I dont see anything! Well what the heck! You just need an ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT.

So that arthritis you have in your neck that doesn't show up unless you have an xray, CT scan, or MRI, that hurts when you move a certain way, is exacerbated by you carrying things or how you stand and whether you have heels on or whether you are stuck in front of your computer all day, is just an ATTITUDE PROBLEM. And probably, worst of all, you don't have a WORK ETHIC.

Am I shouting? Yes. I am also banging my head on my desk, shaking my fists, and jumping up and down.

Unless you have the funds and access to some good diagnostics, you really have no frikking idea what might really be going on in your horse's body. Hint: Neither does your vet. Just because you (wait for the shriek) HAVEN'T FOUND IT doesnt mean it DOES NOT EXIST.

Horses bodies are complicated, dynamic systems. They are not the same year after year. They are not the same rider after rider. Add tack that might not fit or be comfortable, and (insert another shriek here) a CROOKED UNBALANCED ( or CLUELESS) RIDER, and you have a horse that is sore, whether you can see it or admit it or not.

It is sooo much easier to say "My horse is just <insert favorite pejorative here: Lazy, crooked, naughty, pissy, cranky, ugly, unwilling, resistant, evading...> ." and then go to the spur, the whip, the side reins, the strength, the 'discipline', the 're-training', the excuses.

Your horse is doing those things because something is wrong. Either he is sore, or confused, or tired, or can't compensate for your lousy rider body. It could be any and all of those things. But I promise you, it's not attitude.

I knew this when I was a kid, and watched with horror as a trainer beat a horse over a pole. I mean beat, with a lunge whip, over and over. The horse was frantic and terrified. Did he have ringbone? Arthritis in his pastern? Pedalosteitis? Did his owner protect him? Are you kidding? She was right in there. Did he go over the pole? Yes, finally. Did he remember that happy experience and then willingly trot over poles from then on? Did it change his attitude? Feh.

I still see the mindset everywhere. In western barns, in dressage barns, in h/j barns. Wherever there are horses, there is this ridiculous misapprehension. How I wish people could just get beyond it.

No, it's not attitude. Your horse is crying, and you aren't listening.

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