Who is training whom? Interspecies edition
Everyone on our team has a regular sized horse at one of several local hunter/jumper barns with awesome trainers. They keep our horses in good form and manage most of the essential elements of animal husbandry. Snark alert! Could there be a more ironic phrase for taking care of horses? Impressively, our trainers manage to do this with tact, goodwill and not too many adult beverages slurped down after hours. They, in turn, work with their own trainers who also have trainers and you can track these teaching relationships all the way up the talent ladder to Olympic riders and their coaches.
So how does the training process work for miniature horses who are destined for therapy or service work rather than the arena? Surely an animal small enough to pop into the back of a car would not be hard to teach, right? Well maybe if you’re lucky and don’t care much about safety, reliability and longevity outcomes! Just because a horse looks like it shrank in the dryer doesn’t mean it won’t make you wonder what you were thinking when you recklessly climbed aboard one of many equine ships of foolish beasts. Looking at you Mr Starbutt!
We are fortunate (or strategic planners depending on your view) because our current miniature horses had already “learned to learn” prior to joining the program. They had outstanding trainers who introduced them to the weirdness of people, gave them basic human interaction concepts and taught them what we call essential ground manners. Equine translation: This is what you do for bipeds when you want them to stop blathering and hand out praise and treats!
We are all both teacher and student. What you end up seeing is a hybrid system with trainers teaching trainers and, no surprise, horses assuming the role of trainer right at the outset. So, for example, from a mini's point of view, pawing at the floor means I-gotta-go-preferably-right-now-or-else and how cool is it that my owner/handler understands the urgent gesture? Clearly the horse has established an incontestable chain of command because there are unpleasant clean up consequences to a potty emergency. Furthermore, horses learn from each other so see-one-do-one-teach-one applies to both equine and human pupils.
Take home lesson: When we ask who is training whom it may be a serious question to us trainers but the answer is clear for our horses. They are!