“It’s not the tools that matter, it’s the harshness of the hands that use them.”
Have you heard that? I know I have, and it’s not wrong. Almost anything can be used harshly, after all, even the most benign of tools.
The thing is, it’s usually said by someone who is using a tool that is designed to be harsh, in an effort to justify their choice.
The choices we make as far as which tools to use is as important as the way we choose to use them. Sure, we can say we’re being soft and kind, but when the tools themselves are designed to use force or pain to function, then even choosing to use them at all is saying something about the kind of horse person you want to be.
For example, rope halters and other “control” training halters are designed to apply pressure to nerves on the horse’s head. I think that sometimes we forget to truly understand that another way to say that is that they inflict pain in order to be effective.
I choose not to use a rope halter, or a stick for my groundwork training, because they are unnecessary but also because that’s not the relationship I want to have with my horses, one where they do what I ask to avoid the threat of pain or fear. Instead, my tools are a treat pouch and a target.
I choose not to use draw reins, or martingales and overchecks, or flip flops or weights or any other device, to force my driving horse’s movement and posture to where I think it should be. Instead I use gymnastic exercises, time and patience to help the horse learn to carry themselves, and work to their own best advantage, because I want to work with my horse, not against them.
I don’t expect everyone to make the same choices I do – everyone’s journey is different and I made different choices throughout my life with horses, and I’ll make different choices again in the future.
But if you really consider the tools you use and the affect they have on your horse before you use them, you’ll be much more effective in their use, no matter what tool you choose.