Fundamentalism: fun·da·men·tal·ism ˌfəndəˈmen(t)lˌizəm/ noun:
strict adherence to basic principles of any subject or discipline
A few years ago I wrote two posts: one on the use of a markers and bridges in horse training (‘clicker training’), and one on a style of horse training that is popularly called ‘natural horsemanship’. Both posts have been shared far and wide, and both have garnered me a significant volume of love/hate email.
I understand the hate mail. I was once firmly in the camp that believed natural horsemanship to be the only way to train a horse. I scoffed at other trainers and their methods, believed them unable to understand real horse behavior, and I declared their methods inhumane, not ‘natural’. I was a horse training fundamentalist.
The horse world is rife with fundamentalism – whether about specific training methods, or adherence to one discipline. Fundamentalist trainers try to impose their black or white beliefs about horse training on others, all the while discouraging members of their camps from considering outside information.
I think I understand what fuels horse training fundamentalism. I believe in many instances it has its roots in people wanting to do what they feel is best for their horse. It can also be born of a strong desire to ‘fit in’ with other members of a specific sport or discipline; having a sense of belonging can be very reinforcing. Some fundamentalists may also be selling something tangible, such as their personal brand of horsemanship or training DVDs; discouraging investigation of outside information protects their bottom line. Other fundamentalist trainers may simply be fulfilling a need to be seen as an important source of information.
I know from personal experience that being a training fundamentalist limited my ability to think critically, to consider new information, and to ultimately change my approach if doing so was warranted. Such mindsets also tend to further deepen already harmful divisions in the horse training world: horse trainers from all camps often take on an ‘us vs. them’ approach in their dealings with others who don’t share their beliefs, refusing to consider anything from anyone outside of their camp. Ironically, these divisions also serve to slow the spread of information that may benefit the horse, when fundamentalists alienate others who don’t subscribe to all of their beliefs.
Since my fundamentalist days I’ve come to appreciate that horse training isn’t so black-and-white. There is simply no one ‘true’ training approach – whether quadrant specific, ‘science-based’, or branded training method – that suits all horses. Fundamentalism doesn’t allow for the fact that each horse and training situation is unique, and deserves to be treated as such.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
My adherence to the dogma of natural horsemanship not only blinded me to how my horse was actually feeling about the training I was doing, my growth as a trainer slowed to a crawl during those years – despite a dramatic increase in what I could make horses do. If I could go back in time and give myself advice it would have been to cultivate a ‘beginner’s mind’ as a trainer – one open to considering new information, even if it didn’t align with my fundamentalist beliefs.
We all have the propensity to be fundamentalists to some degree. It can be difficult to consider information that doesn’t align with our core beliefs about horses and training. But speaking from personal experience, I know that the hard work of staying open, and attempting to retain a ‘beginner’s mind’ pays off – and not just with my work with horses. My view of the world, the people in it, and my personal relationships have all benefited from this work too. And trust me, it is work.
The New Year is just days away. I’ll be taking this time to reflect on 2015, and consider my goals and plans for the future. In addition to ‘more time training’, and ‘study/ride with ‘X”, my list includes ways to continue to keep fundamentalism at bay. Things such as:
Thank you to the horses, my students and clients, and even the haters of 2015. All of you have contributed to my ongoing education, and I appreciate the lessons.
Lauren Fraser, CHBC offers relationship-based horse training that blends the art of horsemanship with behavioral science and the practical application of learning theory. She provides horsemanship coaching, behavioral consultations, solutions to problem behaviors, foundation training, clinics, and educational presentations.
Fear-based behaviors are common in horses, and if left...
Many horse training methods claim to be kind, and in...
Fear-based behaviors are common in horses, and if left...
True narcolepsy is rare in horses, but sleep deprivation is not.
This video shows an older mare who is sleep deprived, falling into REM sleep while standing. Horses must lay down to achieve REM sleep, and when deprived from doing so it may manifest as the behaviors you see here. Sleep deprivation is harmful to the health of all animals, so it is very important that your horse has the ability to lay down each day, and feels safe to do so.
Horses won't lay down to sleep for a number of reasons such as pain, lack of suitable resting sites, or when they don't feel safe to lay down. It's reported that two factors resulted in this mare not laying down to sleep - the arrival of a new horse, and undiagnosed arthritis pain ... See MoreSee Less
Sleep Disorder Case : Horses require 30mins/day REM sleep. Siri is a 22 year old Arab X mare. Last summer after a new, dominant horse was introduced to the herd, she lost weight and was seen to have frequent episodes of partial collapse, once falling onto her side. The episodes resolved, but a couple of weeks ago the same behaviour was observed again and New Forest Equine Vets were called in to investigate. Collapse in horses is fortunately uncommon, but when it does occur can obviously be hazardous to both horse and handlers. Three types of 'collapsing' are seen in horses; seizures, syncope (fainting) and sleep disorders. Siri underwent a very thorough clinical examination including neurological and musculoskeletal assessments, and had a range of blood tests performed. The most significant findings were; The original association of the behaviour with the arrival of a new field-mate. A low grade right hind lameness, with severe persistent right hind pain with flexion tests. The gradual lowering of the head, before the front legs buckle. We also found a cardiac arrhythmia; Siri has a second degree AV block, but this is a normal finding in horses and would not cause fainting. Siri's condition is a Sleep Disorder. True narcolepsy can occur in horses, and is usually associated with events like grooming or saddling. Siri is most likely suffering from sleep deprivation. Horses require 30 minutes of REM sleep per day and although they can doze standing up, they need to lie down for REM sleep. We expect that when the new dominant herd-mate arrived, Siri was not comfortable to lie down in the field with him. Now she has lameness and finds it painful to flex her right hindlimb, which is likely to be preventing her from wanting to lie down to sleep. She is currently on a bute (pain relief) trial, and her owner has made her a lovely deep stable bed that she is coming into daily to encourage her to lie down – so far, no further collapsing episodes have been seen. A very interesting case and a good reminder of how important it is for horses to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically in their herd/environment, so that they don't miss out on their REM sleep.
3 days ago ·