On Monday of this week I had Michael Lyons of Michael Lyons Horsemanship come out to work with me and a few of my horses. Prior to booking a private day with him, I had no idea who he was. His father, John Lyons, I had heard of him. I knew that he was big enough in the horse world that he had a book, which must have had good reviews because my mother gave it to me when I first started working with horses. At that time, I began to read the book, but was also reading about 4 other books, trying to learn everything I could. Unfortunately, at this point in my life, I cannot say that there is a thing I remember from any of the books I was reading when I first began working with horses. But the name John Lyons stuck with me. It stuck with me so much that when I saw a post on Facebook about Michael Lyons being in Missouri for an event and trying to put on a clinic in the days after, I knew I should at least look into it. I love to learn and am always looking for improvement in myself.
I quickly asked around on the pages of a couple horse groups I am a part of on Facebook. As these groups of mostly comprised of like-minded individuals who also love to learn, almost unanimously, I was encouraged to attend the clinic. I figured, if this were a worthwhile clinic going on and being held in my state, I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend. I quickly responded to the post to book my spot as a rider. Shockingly to me, (yet not as shocking when I really think about it), there was not enough interest in a clinic to hold a clinic in my state. I was given the option of a private full day or half day if I were still interested in learning from Michael. Although I am an avid follower of Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship, I am also an avid learner and knew time spent with a well-known clinician and my horses would not be wasted. I booked a full day.
I was not disappointed. Not only did Michael support and reaffirm my belief in the methods I was already using to train horses, he added to my knowledge by introducing me to a few new exercises and providing some additional explanation to the theories behind some of the exercises I’ve been using. But most importantly, Michael left me feeling inspired.
Since not having grown up with horses, and just beginning my path of training horses at the age of 28, I have always felt like I got into the game late and would always be behind desperately trying to catch up with those around me who have been doing this their whole lives. Michael shared the following information with me about his father. John Lyons did not start riding until he was 26 years old. By my standards, that means he got started even later in the game than I did. And he certainly ended up doing well for himself.
Being overly critical of myself in all areas, throughout the day I questioned myself. Towards the end of the day Michael went on to explain that throughout his life, in all areas of his life, he has found the following has always been true: (paraphrasing) “The people who are good, who really know what they’re doing, are the same people who think they aren’t good enough, ask questions, and continue to learn. In contrast, the people who think they know it all, don’t ask questions, and have stopped learning, are the ones who really need the most help.” I definitely am not afraid to ask questions, and I jump at opportunities to learn, so I must have something going for me.
I have heard this before, and have preached it to others, “Work with the horse being presented today. Do not go into a training session with an agenda in mind.” I have warned others of destination addiction and advised them to work on the skills the horse needs in each day rather than jumping ahead to the things they may really want to be working on. I have no trouble spending time on the basics, without jumping too quickly to the things I want to be working on. However, Michael helped me to realize I have a hard time letting go of where my horses used to be. I enter training sessions with thoughts of our troubles with past exercises still lingering in my mind and have a hard time realizing when my horse is beyond that. I need to give my horses credit for the things I have taught them, and trust that they have been taught well. Since riding now, for the past couple days with this new mindset, I am seeing my horses progressing even quicker with new skills. It is truly fascinating.
So even if I forget all the answers, exercises, and theory shared with me that day, I will not forget the feeling of inspiration Michael left me with at the end of the day. I can be great, I will be great, and I will make a difference, even if just a small difference, in the world of horse training.
I was challenged today to determine my “Why?” If you want to make a difference in the world, you must be driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. Life is too short to have no why… or a fuzzy why. So I began really thinking about my beliefs, and why I am doing what I am doing for horses and their owners. Here’s what I came up with:
When I first began educating myself on how to train horses, the methods I was studying just didn’t feel right to me. It was all about force, and getting your horse to “submit to the pressure” you were applying. The behaviors being displayed by my horses were very clear indicators that they were scared, confused, and reacting to stressful situations without thinking. In my gut, I knew this was wrong and that there had to be a better way. But I felt so lost. I was enrolled in coursework being taught by people who had been in the business with years of experience. I thought of them as experts. I personally e-mailed my instructors expressing my concerns in my horses’ behaviors. I was told to continue what I was doing and that my horses would learn to “submit to the pressure.” This seemed to be the mindset of the majority of people I spoke with when it came to training horses. More correctly, I should say, breaking horses. I believe there is a very big difference between breaking a horse and training a horse. Realizing this led me to the discovery of my “why.”
I believe, when you are breaking a horse, you are using dominance and power to force your horse into a situation where they feel their safest option is to submit to your will. After repeatedly doing this, eventually the horse stops thinking for itself and simply follows orders. On the contrary, when training a horse, you are teaching your horse to be a willing partner. You are recognizing the horse’s ability to think, and allowing them to make decisions for themselves. The art of training is when you have taught the horse to want to do, what your cues are asking them to do. This creates a calm horse, who remains responsive to your subtle cues.
Recently, this past summer, as I introduced my yearling filly to a friend of mine’s 6 year old daughter, the naive 6 year old asked me, “So are you going to break her?” I smiled and corrected her as I said, “I am going to train her.” This is my why. This is why I am doing what I am doing. Because the mindset needs to change. Horses can be trained to become calm, responsive, willing partners, without being forced into submission. I am not only attempting to train horses, but I am also attempting to educate their handlers and owners, to teach them how to create a healthy relationship with their horse that is made up of an equal balance of trust and respect. By following a step by step process, guided by the principles and ideologies of experts in the world of horsemanship, I am training horses. I believe in the process I am using. I have seen great successes with the process. And I want to educate others.
“Training” horses should be the standard across the industry. “Breaking” horses should become a thing of the past.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.