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It’s terrifying. It’s the feeling when you stay in a new place for the first time, and you have to navigate in the dark to find the lightswitch. When you’re at home, you can find the switch in the dark when you’re still half asleep. When you leave home, even for an exciting vacation or a new adventure, you have to take baby steps to find the switch to help you even figure out what you’re doing. At home, you might even be able to get yourself to the bathroom or find your water glass on your nightstand without ever turning the light on.
That feeling of uncertainty is small but significant. We’ve all jammed our toes on a bedpost because we were walking in the dark, right? That reminder of pain can help keep us from exploring the dark. No one wants to do that again. These feelings can keep us from changing, even for the better.
In the past couple of years, I’ve started to change my outlook on training horses. When you’ve spent your entire life in the barn, you know where your light switches are in training. You have go-to habits and reactions when dealing with horses: tugging on the halter when they get pushy during leading, a resounding “NO” when they come into your space, or a smack on the neck when they try to nip at you. These are all things I was taught.
I’m not going to spend time debating training methods here because frankly, it’s futile. It’s not my job to tell you what to do, only to share what I’m doing for myself and my own horses.
Whenever I post about my switch to +R or gentle horsemanship, I receive backlash. It’s funny how people feel the need to defend their training even if their training isn’t even being addressed in the post. I was one of those people, too. I was very comfortable navigating training when I knew where the bedpost was and where the light switches were. I didn’t have to think about them, I knew them from years of experience. Why would I risk stubbing my toe by changing to a completely different environment when I could stick to what I already know? Who cares who else it affects? It was hard.
One of the biggest things I had to let go of was my own ego. I wasn’t here to “be the boss” of my horse. I was here to be a good partner. I was here to cultivate a relationship in which we could both be content, and heck maybe even excited. This change in mindset takes a lot of humility, and retraining myself is just as hard, if not harder, than retraining the horses - but the coolest part has been the change in my own mentality when it comes to other aspects of life. I’ve always been a strong believer that what we learn in the barn never stays in the barn.
In this new kind of training, I work to make the environment friendly for both me and my horse. We both need to feel safe, confident, and accepted. Sometimes that means I have to make changes from how things have “always been done” and navigate that dark, unknown space looking for the lightswitch. It also made me start to recognize that training isn’t the only place where the horse industry may need some changes.
The horse industry is rampant with racism, sexism, classism, and ableism and a lot of that persists because of the “that’s how it’s always been” attitude. Progress requires change, and we all need to be willing to do our part to ensure everyone is included in our world. Horses are such an incredible gift and we should never gatekeep that from anyone. As I’ve learned in +R training, it isn’t always about me, and often, if we improve something for someone else, it really does improve for everyone. When I’m calmer and gentler with my horse, it’s more fun for them AND I end up doing less work to achieve the same goal. Likewise, by addressing systemic issues within the horse industry (and honestly, everywhere) we can improve the experience for everyone else, too.
It’s important that we all look outside of ourselves and see how we can use our own stripes to make the horse industry a better place for everyone. What light switch can you find to illuminate the space for someone else to navigate better? What can you move out of the way to make it more equitable for someone else? These are questions we need to constantly ask ourselves to make sure everyone’s stripes are equally as important.
You can keep up with me and my horses on social media, all @spottedbayproductions. We are on TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. We also have a podcast, The Hayloft Hour, where we cover the dark side of the horse industry: true crime, scandals, mysteries, and horror stories. You can submit topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or on my website at spottedbay.com. Get yourself some Herd of Zebras swag too with our discount code JORDYN10