How many of us find ourselves looking for a box to fit in? Many times it's so much easier to know what box we DON'T fit in. You can be a student of all horse education philosophies and disciplines, without limiting your horsemanship to any one 'Box'. I have spent a lifetime integrating information from the wealth of knowledge presented by horse men and women from all walks of life; talented, passionate and knowledgeable about what they do. Though the horse training knowledge I have gained along the way has been invaluable, over the years I have found myself contemplating this odd conundrum that keeps occurring. I, like many, have watched the human nature of "taking things to the extreme" happen, no matter the subject. This phenomenon is including, and maybe most especially, alive and well in the animal world.
World of Extremes
We live in the day and age of extremes. The people who seem to get attention or recognition are those at the far ends of a belief, perspective, ideology, or method. In their search for what is "right", everybody runs to one side of the ship, and then back to the other, tipping the balance at both ends. I'm not even sure they learn much along the way.
I've sat back and watched this horse education phenomenon for plenty of years now. I've been a part of it here and there. And I've sort of been waiting for someone to stand up and make a stand for the middle ground; for seeking center and staying balanced in your outlook or approach, whatever the subject. Sadly, I have yet to find that figurehead in the horse world. Whether it's breeding, showing, or training, folks have a way of taking a style too far or preaching that one style is superior while all others are portrayed as inferior, or even vile.
Conventional Horse Training
I grew up in a more traditional or "conventional" way of working with and training horses. However, I was lucky that the farm and training operation I worked for did not put a time limit on the horse's progress. We listened (or tried to anyway) to what that horse was telling us along his training path. This is where I've see "conventional" training fail in horse education: by cramming, making, forcing styles, and/or maneuvers onto and into them at the human's pace instead of the horse's. Sometimes it fails because the training doesn't take the horse's nature and limits into account along the way. Conventional horse education makes a horse reach for a goal, but doesn't listen to the horse about the best way to reach that goal.
Because those conventional extremes bothered me, I made my way to "natural horsemanship" and spent the better part of 14 years in that world. This seemed like an ah-ha moment thinking "this is the answer I was looking for". But you know, it was there that I watched another, and different extreme occur that was something like the Chinese water torture. An overly passive way of doing and being with the horse started to be encouraged, and that is just as damaging as its counterpart. It is a different ideology, and in its extreme version also ends up forcing things, and yet allows the human to feel compassionate while the horse ends up confused, uneducated or even dangerous.
The point I am looking to make, is that the best thing for the horse, or any animal for that matter, is for the human to try to stay balanced with their approach. Take a little from both approaches. The famous saying "be as gentle as you can, but as firm as necessary" doesn’t get any more balanced in theory or application for horse education, or horse training. Some 'natural' horse educators need to be more direct and assertive. Some 'conventional' horse educators need to be more gentle and passive. But, neither end of the spectrum is the "right" place to be 100% of the time. Natural Horsemanship listens to each horse, but neglects to establish a goal that is necessary to achieve clarity, understanding and peace for the horse. The Conventional horse training approach establishes a goal, but neglects to consider the horse and where he’s coming from, his perspective.
The path I am on is one for Balance, which is why I've named my training program "Balanced Horse Training". I figured that way, nobody could run to any extreme with it, the name itself reals everyone (including me) back in. There are times when going to an extreme is necessary. But, then get yourself back to the middle ASAP. Back to where the scale reads 0...
...that is where the best leaders and trainers I've been around reside
...that is where the horse can find peace, and we can all find success