Updated: Jan 12, 2019
The Question: Have you ever struggled to connect and get along with a horse, does he just seem to have problems, has he been labeled one of those “problem horses”?
The list of so called "horse” problems is long; he will not let me catch him; will not stand still to mount; can't bridle; can't saddle; won't load in the trailer; can't shoe him without a fight; wants to buck; won't cross the creek; gets hot in the roping box; he’s scared and spooks at everything; can't seem to learn anything; he is one of the "dumb ones" and on and on and on. I have heard all about these “problem horses” that have all these so called “horse” problems.
Most teachers, trainers and owner’s justification for the “horse” problems is just as long; he is bred to run so therefore, he is hot and crazy; he's a Hancock, so he is going to buck; he is just dumb, and you can't teach him anything. This list also goes on and on and on, I’ve heard them all.
Sadly, many horse trainers and owners are usually pretty quick to move these “problem horses” from the good pen to the bad pen, and label them as no good, or even send them to the bucking string or slaughter house as a “problem horse”.
The Story: With the horse in mind, please allow me to share some of my story.
As a young boy I struggled to learn how to read, write and spell. Later in life I came to understand that I suffered from Dyslexia. The Dyslexia did not allow me to see and process letters and words the same as everyone else, I still struggle to this day. I also struggled socially to fit in with people, they wore me out, I have come to understand as an adult that I am what most psychologists would term a high functioning introvert. In the early 1970s no one talked about these issues and teaching was a standardized one size fits all approach. Not one of my teachers connected with me and by the time I was in 3rd grade I still could not read, write or spell and I was in all sorts of trouble at school due to fighting with bullies on the playground.
Teachers labeled me the “dumb” kid with real social and learning issues, I was the so called “problem child”. Even though I could not read, write or spell, for some reason I possessed the ability to read people and animals very clearly at a young age. I saw things differently than most, I could read body language and could see the bullies on the playground for exactly what they were. I started to realize that I was more at ease with animals that did not manipulate, cheat or lie. Animals for the most part were genuine, and I was very at ease around them but nothing was working for me at school with my learning disabilities and social struggles.
Eventually, I was set up with a tutor, Sister Emalia, a catholic nun who for the first time had my IQ tested. My test results were unbelievable, I actually possessed a very high IQ, higher than normal. How could this be possible when I was labeled the problem child?
After my IQ test, it was thought that I might be musically inclined, so I was sent to learn how to play the piano. I had rhythm and feel but I was not musically gifted at all, and along came the dreaded ruler that was used to beat the back of my hands and fingers when I could not hit the correct piano keys. Can you imagine not being able to read, write or spell, on top of not being musically gifted and being expected to read music and play the piano? It all seemed like a hopeless situation, nothing was working. I still could not read, could not write, could not spell and I certainly could not play the piano.
When teachers and administrators at Marshall Elementary school decided to move the “dumb” kid to the back of the class and put me in the “dumb” row, my mother decided to take drastic measures. I was moved to the 7th Day Adventist Church School and Mrs. Linda Betz became my new 3rd grade teacher. In the mid 70’s her teaching methods, at that time, were considered very none traditional.
No more desks all in a row, they were in pods, we were allowed to occasionally have animals in the class room and there would be no more, low-level, structured reading materials of "run Spot, see Spot run, run Spot run" for me. She took me, alone, to the library but made a deal with me, I could pick any book that I wanted to read but I had to read the whole book. I picked out Jack London's "Call of the Wild", a fine print paperback that was very advanced reading for a 3rd grader that couldn’t read.
The task was difficult, but with her help and my desire to read about something that interested me worked. I finished that book and several others; "Old Yeller", "Were the Red Fern Grows", and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn" by Mark Twain. I left 4th grade reading at a junior high level with unbelievable retention because of this one teacher. She taught a combined 3rd and 4th grade class and found a way to reach me. Turns out that I was not so dumb after all, I was actually the smart kid that the public school “teachers” put in the dumb row. We now know that children with Dyslexia are actually not dumb at all and often times posses higher than normal IQs and are gifted in other ways.
The Point: “This is very difficult for most teachers, trainers and horse owners to accept, but often times the problem lies here, not with the horse”.
Standardized teaching techniques and teachers failed me as a young child until one amazing teacher came along that literally saved me. The same thing happens with so many horses today, sadly, so many horses are labeled as “problem horses” and sent to the bad pen or worse, just like the dumb kid put in the back of the class. Most horses do not have “horse” problems they have “people” problems. This is very difficult for most teachers, trainers and horse owners to accept, but often times the problem lies here, not with the horse.
The real challenge is to accept that you must work on yourself [the teacher], be willing to change how you are presenting the lesson to the student [the horse]. Develop a mindset that there are no bad students [horses], just a lot of poor instructors that turn out way too many horses with people problems. When you decide to pick up a lead rope, or take hold of a horse, you just became the teacher, the trainer, their mentor.
The next writing will focus on the need to work on yourself as the teacher and mentor.