Is schooling (an older horse) unfair?
I was recently contacted by a concerned owner, who had been told it would be ‘unfair’ to school their 14-yo horse as he was ‘so green at his age’. So I really felt strongly about sharing my thoughts on this more widely…
Firstly, if we look at what ‘schooling’ really is…it’s about educating our horses in every area of their lives from the minute they are born…in the stable, in-hand, at liberty, or under saddle etc. And surely there’s nothing wrong with education at any age – wouldn’t you agree? We don’t stop educating ourselves or our children once we/ they get past a certain age, do we? So why should it be any different with our horses?
The ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ mentality is sadly so engrained in people’s attitudes and mind sets, resulting in a lot of physically, mentally & emotionally unhappy and unbalanced horses. Schooling, educating, training…whatever you want to call it: the end goal should always be the same – a horse who’s mind, body, spirit & soul are in tuned with each other. I guess you get my drift, I really don’t agree with any such statements. In my opinion it is never too late to learn something new. The key is: how do we approach the teaching/ education and the student?
In my view, there are lots of ways in which a horse can be inspired to be more engaged & enthusiastic (and not ‘lazy’) about schooling – or educating – him. And it is our job as people to find a suitable way – not the horse’s!
Maybe he doesn’t enjoy schooling because it’s physically (or mentally) too demanding on him at the moment. Would we enjoy a hard workout in the gym when we feel unfit, stiff or crooked? Probably not – so we’d have to find a way of working on our fitness, posture, muscle tone etc. first, one step at a time.
This can be done in-hand to start off with through a variety of exercises that help our horse become more flexible and supple and are fun & stimulating too. When he’s learned the basics in-hand, is happy and balanced, physically & mentally, we can move on to do more under saddle.
And don’t forget – taking time to reward little successes and consolidate what we’ve achieved/learned will motivate us and our horses to try again and give our/their best. Ask little, reward much!
I am working daily with many horses, their ages ranging from 2 – 23yo and they all do enjoy and thrive on the physical & mental challenges we set them. It is important that we communicate with our horses clearly and congruently (making sense to them), because when we do, they will start asking the ‘right questions’ back, like How far, How much, When & Where for example.
In closing: I think it would be most unkind and very unfair on our horses to give up on their education – at any stage of their lives.
Please feel free to comment & share.