Expectation Vs. Reality

Written by Emily Hancock Monday, 02 September 2019 10:32
Phoebe and I at our second ever dressage competition together. I was tearing up before going into the test in fear of messing up, and Phoebe gave me the confidence to do it! Our test was a little explosive and we came second to last, but I was so proud of her for so many amazing positives she gave me that day. It was a real triumph for us. Phoebe and I at our second ever dressage competition together. I was tearing up before going into the test in fear of messing up, and Phoebe gave me the confidence to do it! Our test was a little explosive and we came second to last, but I was so proud of her for so many amazing positives she gave me that day. It was a real triumph for us. thevetstudentandherunicorn

Let’s talk about expectations!

There have been many days which a hack, a show ring experience, a dressage test (the list is endless) has not gone quite to plan. Sometimes, life doesn’t go as planned! The horse spooked, you forgot test, the weather was bad, and so on. That’s fine, we should take the positives and move on.

However, sometimes, moving on is quite difficult to do! I have, before, been disappointed with myself for not getting a Charlotte Dujardin score, in my Prelim test, even though I forgot my test half way around. This is not productive. I thought to myself, “I need to manage my expectations! I am only human. So, before I talk about our wonderful horses, just bear in mind that, alike your four-legged friend, you can only do your best. Some days are better than others, that’s just life!  

Onto the most important bit, in my opinion! Our horses. I want us to manage our expectations of our horses, not just ourselves. Again, we have such high expectations of our horses. We expect them to do the most difficult and challenging things for us, and seldom stop to think why they are doing it. We need to remember that horses are NOT machines! They are animals with their own ‘culture’ – they have totally different natural behaviours than most domestic animals which we are accustomed to. We must consider this, in all aspects of handling, riding, and owning horses. We need to think about what we are asking of them, and we need to think why they may respond in certain ways.

My point is, it is our decision to domesticate horses, not theirs. It is therefore, our responsibility to manage our expectations of them. I have created list of a few scenarios which I think we should consider next time we feel frustrated or annoyed with our horses:

Expectation: ‘Horses must ride alone, if they don’t, they are naughty’.

Reality: Horses are herd animals. They rely on each other for safety and comfort. Taking them away from their herd, for a hack or a run around the XC phase, distorts their herd/hierarchical mentality and, often, induces stress and confusion.

Expectation: ‘Horses should be bombproof, in all traffic and scenarios’.

Reality: Horses are prey animals. They are built with lengthy and strong limbs to enable them to RUN. This is how they escape predation. This is how they survive. Shying at a crisp packet may be a little OTT in some cases, but it is good to remember where this instinct comes from. It is there for a reason.

Expectation: ‘Horses shouldn't get attached to others’.

Reality: So, this is a little more complicated. Aside from horses with actual anxiety issues, caused by trauma, traumatic weaning etc. (a longer topic for another day!), most horses DO pair bond. Again, this is their instinct. Being herd animals, they rely on each other for protection, warning of predators and for herd behaviours. Pair bonding and herd bonding is vital for hierarchical relationships and the success of their functioning herd.

Expectation: ‘Horses should stand still’.
Reality: Obviously, we teach horses manners, and hopefully with positive reinforcement, they understand it. Sometimes, however, they choose to ignore us! This may be because they are stressed, they’ve been spooked, they feel uncomfortable with where they are or what you are doing with them, etc. It may just take a little time to find out why, but usually, horses

behave in these ways for genuine reasons.

Expectation: ‘Horses should not be scared of clippers!’

Reality: As aforementioned, horses are animals, not machines. As most of us are frightened of spiders, most horses are frightened of clippers! This is not because the arachnid and clipper device share ‘scary’ qualities, it is a result of how differently we and the horse are ‘conditioned’. A bit of psychology for you, but in short terms, it is just how we approach things and how our cultures/upbringings affect our fears. You can’t really compare us to a horse, likewise, you can’t really compare fears.

So, next time you feel that you or your horse are not good enough, remember this blog! 
Never stop aiming high, but manage your expectations.
Emily Hancock

tvsahu
Emily is a final - year BSc (Hons) Bioveterninary Science, documenting her journey to vet school, alongside many adventures with her 'unicorn', Phoebe. 
They love to compete, affiliated in showing, and enjoy unaffiliated dressage and showjumping. And ,of course, they adore hacking out together...
   
 

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter all the required information, indicated by an asterisk (*). HTML code is not allowed.