By Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre
There's a lot of mythunderstandings out there about training equipment. Some people seem to believe that using a certain piece of equipment guarantees their horse will learn something. Or they'll be able to learn it easier or faster. Other people flat out condemn particular pieces of equipment no matter when or how they're used. They can't see any way using the thing could be justified. Another bunch puts down riders who use certain kinds of equipment as ignorant, unskilled, or inhumane.
When it comes to training equipment, blanket statements about what is good or bad simply don't work. Training equipment has to suit the horse where he is at and the handler where she or he is. The goal in choosing or using any kind of special training equipment should be the safety of the person first, the safety of the horse second, then the comfort of the horse and finally the comfort of the person. The horse has no choice in the comfort thing so his comfort should come before the handler's but in safety, it's the other way around.
Many times equipment that's used to limit a horse's capabilities like a tie down or martingale or overcheck is a good thing because it's limiting the horse to the level of the person handling him. Let's say you tell someone who can barely stay on to take the tie down off her horse because, according to you, it's only a training crutch or it's harming the horse to limit his head. Then that horse sticks his head up in the air and runs away. Do you want to be responsible for that wreck?
Until both the horse and rider get more training, that tie down is a positive thing. Once they both know more, it may become a negative factor in their overall progressive. But in and of itself, that tie down is neither good or bad. It all depends on how its used.
Leads with a chain end are another example. I could make a blanket statement that leadshanks with chains are bad for horses or that they're a sign of poor horsemanship. Then I'd be responsible if someone with a really aggressive horse that can't relax outside its stall reads my advice, takes their horse out without a chain under its chin or over its nose and gets hurt.
I could even get students here at Meredith Manor in trouble if I outright banned leads with chains on the end. We've got a teenage Quarter horse mare named Cody who's one of the goldie oldie school horses we use for beginners. If they put a chain under her chin when they take her from the barn to the arena, she'll just ho hum and go along with them wherever they want her to go. If they don't, Cody gets her head down and drags them all over campus mowing the grass and picking out the best worm eggs she can find. To Cody, a chain under the chin is a sign of authority she respects. As long as it's there, she doesn't try to get away with anything and she's a pussycat. But she's not above taking advantage of a situation when circumstances work in her favor.
I prefer that students here at Meredith Manor just use simple cotton lead ropes. But they arrive on campus with all sorts of stuff and we're not going to make them go to the expense of buying something else. It's not so important what they bring as how they use it.
Another big mythunderstanding about training equipment happens when people confuse cause and effect. A trainer sets up a situation to help the horse understand a new concept or pressure. That trainer might use a particular piece of training equipment to help the horse's understanding develop. But people see the trainer using the equipment. They get to associating the training effect with that equipment and before long, they're beginning to think that it was the equipment that caused the training instead of the trainer.
We have a round pen in here at Meredith Manor because everybody's into round pens these days and they don't think you can be a real trainer unless you're using one. But the truth is that the lessons we teach horses in our round pen can just as easily be taught in a square pen or a rectangular one. The pen by itself doesn't teach them anything. The trainer's interaction with the horse is what increases his understanding. It is very important that the horse likes being around you instead of being trapped with you in a round pen.
There's tons of mythunderstanding about bits. There's one faction that will tell you a big ole fat snaffle is the only thing you should ever put in a horse's mouth. Then someone else will tell you the hinge in a snaffle hurts the horse. You can find people who think any tongue groove is the same as a port that's going to hit the roof of the horse's mouth and hurt him. Most of them don't really understand how a bit really works but everybody's got answers.
It's not the equipment you use but how you use it. And you always have to put safety first remembering that your primary objective in any training session is rhythm and relaxation.
Instructor and trainer Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating with equines over 30 years as president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (Route 1, Box 66, Waverly, WV 26184; 1-304-679-3128; http://www.meredithmanor.com), an ACCET accredited equestrian educational institution.