Do Better: Ask Why

Do the best you can with what you know now. When you know better, do better.”  – Maya Angelou

This quote has inspired my horse journey for many years, and has allowed me – and my students – to forgive ourselves for prior training and handling that wasn’t in line with what we know now. I did the best I could with what I knew then. And I keep learning, so that in the future, I can do even better.
The “Do Better” series will include the things I hope we, as Miniature Horse enthusiasts, can do better. It isn’t meant to call anyone out on poor horsemanship – remember, we’re all doing the best we can with what we know now. All we can do is learn, so we can do better. 

It’s easy, especially in the early stages of our horsemanship adventures, to take the advice of those more experienced than us as gospel. We don’t know what else to ask, or have any context at all, so we believe our mentors and experts and implement whatever they tell us.

Regardless of where we are in our journey, the best way to educate ourselves is by asking “Why?” Ask it often, and if you don’t understand, keep asking until you do. And then consider if the “why” is right for you and your horse.

A training solution or management trick or feeding program that could be perfect for the person who is sharing it with you, might not be right for your horse or your situation, and that’s okay. Remember, every horse is an individual and deserves to be treated as such. And every horse person is an individual as well.

I teach people of all levels of experience, and some of my favourite students are the “why people.” They ask a question, and then a further question, and then ask another. Not only am I sure they’re really understanding what I’m trying to get across, but they’re keeping me thinking too. It’s good for all of us to continually evaluate what we’re doing and why we do it. After all, things change – our horses, our environment, our understanding – and it could very well be that “because we’ve always done it that way” isn’t a good enough reason.

When I’m learning from anyone, it’s a big red flag for me if they can’t or aren’t willing to answer “Why?”

We also have to think about which “whys” are important to us; “because everyone else does” is probably not a good enough why. And you also need to understand all the implications for your horse. If the why for using draw reins on your driving horse is to pull their nose in, what are the consequences for your horse’s well-being? Draw reins work on a pulley system, making it easy to inadvertently exert an excessive amount of pressure, which can result in damage to their mouth, the musculature of their poll, neck and throatlatch, and even make it nearly impossible for them to move comfortably and to their best advantage. But … it does pull their nose in. Understanding the why needs to go deeper than just the superficial results, so your decision is made with full knowledge of the potential consequences, both positive and negative.

We don’t just need to ask why when we’re getting advice from others. Asking why is an important part of working with our horses. When we don’t get the response we want, our instinct is often to assume the horse is being naughty, predisposing us to unfair punishment. Instead, every time you get a response from your horse – whether it is the one you were looking for or not – ask why. Why did it work? Why didn’t it? What can you change to improve the results? Asking why our horse is displaying a behaviour will not only prevent any hasty punishments, but will improve our communication and understanding of our horse.

It doesn’t matter if it’s advice from a knowledgeable instructor, a response from your horse, or your own approach to training or handling.

Ask why.

Understand the why.

Make educated choices with your horse’s welfare as the priority.

We can do better.

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