- Always try to subtract, be it in work, tack, jumps, or classes at the show. Instead of adding bit power by going from a plain snaffle to a twist to a wire to a pelham to a double, for example, figure out how to go from a double to a pelham to a wire to a plain snaffle. If you think you want to school for half an hour, make yourself finish in twenty minutes. And if your horse wears a rug, get rid of the hood. Believe me, he'll thank you for it.
- Keep your cool. Whenever emotion figures in your schooling or training equation, you make bad judgment calls and your horse gets hurt. If you find yourself feeling angry, strong, or rough, stop what you're doing and take a break or get off and put him up. Tomorrow's another day.
- Deal with the problem. If using an electromagnetic blanket makes your horse's back feel better, use it, by all means. But don't stop there. Figure out what underlying weakness, schooling method, or tack is making his back sore; and come up with a way to make that go away.
- Understand your goal: to do it perfectly-whatever it is-when you need it most. That's not during a lesson. Lessons are not about perfection. Lessons are about figuring out the pieces of the puzzle, filling your bag of tricks, and developing tools and skills. Horse shows are about putting the pieces and tricks and skills together (and if you think you need ten horse shows to be ready to do it right at the really big show, your program has to include going to those ten shows).
- Leave him alone. If I had to pick one word to improve your horse's life, it would be "stop." Don't be at him all the time; for a horse, that's just torture. He doesn't like fluffy boots. He doesn't like bubble baths and being brushed ten times a day. He doesn't even like wearing clothes. What he does like is being left alone so he can live his own life. That doesn't mean you can't do anything with him. It just means telling him what you want when you want it, letting him give it to you in small pieces, then backing off and giving him small pieces of alone-time in between.
This article first appeared in the August, 1999
issue of Practical Horseman magazine.