Jack and Paula Curtis

"Helping People Understand Horses"

Essay on Habits
By: Jack Curtis

I've been fortunate enough over the years to train a wide variety of horses of many breeds, ages and skill levels. I've put a great deal of thought into understanding what areas of my horsemanship are effective and which areas have are not. I have also had an opportunity to teach many enthusiastic students. I find it interesting to see that students make the same mistakes that I once made and that most of these mistakes are made by many other people. Like the saying goes, "the secret to good judgment is experience, but the source of experience is often bad judgment." As our horsemanship grows we need to remind ourselves of what Ray Hunt says, "Observe, remember and compare."

            The hardest thing for me to come to terms with in my horsemanship is that 1. Most if not all of my horses bad habits originate from my bad habits. 2. Habits are hard to break, because we are not always aware of what took place between horse and human. So that brings us to an interesting question. How do realize my habits both effective and ineffective? And how do I modify my actions to better accommodate my horses understanding of the task at hand? Personally Iíve found the first question to be the hardest to conquer because most of the time we are unaware of our actions. As humans we have a tendency to blame our mistakes on others, in this case the horse. Instead of adjusting our approach to fit a particular situation, we present things the same way, even when it doesn't work. I see many people personify their horses in attempt to rationalize their horseís behavior. Then the person can justify crude means of communicating their ideas to the horse. Yelling, punishment, or just plainly believing "thatís just the way he is," and not addressing the situation at all. This is not what the horse needs. What ever happened to "feeling for the horse?"

            When we truly feel for the horse, the horses response tells us if our actions are correct. Then we will develop a pattern of behavior that will foster good habits. We just need to listen. In riding horses there is much aggravation in achieving balanced movement and proper transitions. The rider believes that they gave the correct aids; however the horseís opinion could be seen and felt in terms of resistance. What the rider doesnít understand is that there is a precise moment to give the aids. Furthermore the rider didnít have an awareness of how their equitation affected their horse physically. This is where "eyes on the ground" can be a tremendous asset. The main requirement in selecting an instructor is that the instructor has a better sense of feel than the student. The instructor needs to make the student aware of their bad habits so as to pave the way to good habits. It is also the job of the instructor to confirm to the student when things are correct, so that that student can cognitively store that information. It is at this point where a major progression will occur in the student. Remember that the instructor probably made many of the same mistakes you currently make.

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