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Removing Mental Hobbles

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Life–and horses, for that matter– both have an uncanny knack of knowing just when you need a little insight and humility.

We recently posted a photo on our online Classroom page on Facebook. In the photo, one of our horses was standing hobbled. We posted this in response to requests from several of our Classroom members who were looking for help teaching their own horses this skill.  We made a three-part video series carefully explaining how to teach a horse to be ok with hobbles.

We thought this photo was just a photo. However, for others, it was an example of cruelty and abuse. It was a source of disappointment that we would advocate their use. How could we?! How dare we?!

Mark and I both have worked on ranches where hobbling is just another job a ranch horse does, like standing tied or moving cattle. Neither one of us had used this as a way to punish or scare horses, and I personally have not seen a hobbled horse hurt itself. But it quickly became apparent that for other people who didn’t share that background, it was an example of us abusing our horse. The other interesting thing is that the comments we received from angry people were about the photo, not because they watched the video series.

A few folks felt that by hobbling a horse we are taking away their ability to flee. That it may also induce learned helplessness. That we are setting them up for both mental and physical injury. To be fair, all these things can certainly happen if you don’t prepare your horse properly.  Hobbling isn’t a skill for a horse with limited life experience and training. It’s not a way to force them to stand still. And it’s certainly not a substitute for teaching them how to stand tied. When done properly, hobbling becomes an extension of their education.

However, what interests me isn’t the hobbling debate. What does interest me are the insights into human behavior. As many of us know, who we are in life has a direct impact on how we are with horses. Through those two days of seeing unbridled anger at our post, several things occurred to me.


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Some of the most aggressive people I’ve run across also profess to be kind to animals. They probably spend hours learning about horses or dogs, or cats, or any other pet that they have. They put a tremendous amount of effort into trying to understand their pet and caring for them. When it comes to relating to other people, though, there is very little effort to understand or get along.

The interesting thing is, if some of these kind animal people find a post on social media that is at odds with what they believe, they will attack first and not ask questions later.  I guess this is to force someone else to change what they think, or at the very least make the other person feel like a very horrible human.

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I get it. As a person who is deeply introverted and has worked with the public, I often struggle with people.  I’ve found some to be rude, self-serving and cruel. I’ve been forced to do things that were traumatic (as have many young men and women) and have spent most of my life not only being wary of people, but avoiding them. For most of my life, I’ve often said that I get along better with animals than people.

I realized when I started teaching that getting along with and being kind to animals is easy. Getting along and being kind to people is where my personal challenge lies. Kindness, or any positive quality we wish to have, is robust and full-bodied and inclusive. One might say unhobbled.

How can we call ourselves tolerant if we only apply it toward certain people (or certain breeds of horses, or certain riding techniques and/or disciplines)? How can we be patient if we only practice when it suits us?

After reading over the comments in the hobbling post, I can now see how the people who are against hobbling feel they are correct. I can also see how we can be more considerate about what we place on social media and keep in mind the broadness of our audience and their own life and horse experiences.

Though I strongly believe that we are all more alike than we are different, the one trait I don’t care to share is close-mindedness. It isn’t helpful in our horsemanship, or our life.

In order to be the kind of teacher and human I want to be I still have many skills to learn. Some of the skills I work on daily are traits that my introverted hermit heart sometimes wished I didn’t have to learn. Some days I want to (and do) sit on our couch with my cat and a good book and let the world go on its way.

Right now I’m grateful for the angry outbursts from people because it brought me to these realizations that are personally valuable.  An experience like this, though fleeting, helps me get closer to who I want to be. Like working with horses, I’m not striving to be perfect, but just a little better than I was before.