When I was growing up, it wasn’t unusual to hear someone say, “It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”

This now-archaic truism with its almost archaic noun still has value — especially if you include men and children.  It’s okay to change your mind. And riders need to remember that.

It’s hard for riders to change their points of view and habits, in part because it takes so long to develop those habits, and so long to learn enough about horses to even have a point of view.

We seldom question the first things we learn about horses or equitation but we have yet to call those ideas our own.  Later, we search out trainers and instructors, mentors, gurus, leaders and experts, and readily adopt their points of view, calling them our own.  Eventually, the time comes to evaluate, with the courage to question and the wisdom to reassess our beliefs.

"Know thyself"

“Know thyself”

The thinking rider can — and should — challenge himself to welcoming new perspectives and new techniques.  If you do, you’re among good company.

Philippe Karl, for instance.  New copies of his book Long Reining:  The Saumur Method are now being sold on Amazon for $413.22, and used copies are being offered from $125 to $900.  Why such high prices?  I have it on good authority that the reason is that Philippe Karl changed his mind about long reining.  He won’t authorize a reprint of the book because he no longer believes in this method of training, despite the fact that he is an expert on it.

If you’ve read another Karl’s books, Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage, you’ll find out that he doesn’t believe in side reins, either.  “Quelle horreur!” some might say.  But it does make you think.  As you should, so you can re-think, and if you like, change your mind, just like this contemporary master.

I have to say that I’ve changed my mind about side reins more than once.  At this point, I haven’t used them in years and I don’t find them necessary.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t recommend their use to others, in certain circumstances.  I do think that they can make training a green horse quicker and safer.

If work with side reins is in order, I recommend following the guidance in Sheila Inderwick’s book, Lungeing the Horse and Rider (1977).  She recommends looser side reins for longer than most — as a way of encouraging the horse to seek the bit.  This is in contrast to how we see side reins so often employed today — as a way of teaching the horse to travel in a different balance because the neck and head are restricted in movement.

Aside from side reins, what else have I changed my mind about?  

Where do I begin?  

Most recently, clicker training (which inspired this little fairy tale), stiff dressage boots, close contact dressage saddles (back and forth and back again on this one) and full-seat breeches.  Who knows, maybe some day I’ll even want bling.  I abhor it on boots but I have to admit that a client’s black leather and crystal browband looks pretty spectacular on her black and white Tobiano, so never say never.

Never say never is a a good principle to follow around horses.  Because what we believe one day may be something we find out not to be true the next day. An endless path of discovery is part of the joy of being around horses.  They have so much to teach us, and we’re never finished learning.

That’s why it’s important to worry less about being wrong or being unsure or the myriad of ways you might not have done enough or weren’t good enough for your horses.  As competitors, we learn good sportsmanship, and part of that sportsmanship is remaining positive even in defeat.

At the end of the day, whether we win or lose, whether we succeed in our choices or discover that they were the wrong ones, striving to be our best has to be good enough.  When we feel we’ve made a mistake (which is bound to happen if we change our minds), we need to be as gracious to ourselves as we are to those who beat us in competition.

In the course of learning, we will make mistakes.  Some of those we’ll recognize, and change our minds.  Some we won’t recognize at all.  And some things we call mistakes will turn out not to have been mistakes at all.

It’s important for riders and trainers to keep an open mind, for our own development and the development of our horses.  That’s why it’s helpful to go to clinics, to read (not just magazines and blogs and online forums, but books…and not just new books, but old), to talk with other riders and trainers, and to be willing to change our minds.

Have you changed your mind about something you used to believe was the absolute truth with horses?  What have you re-thought or revisited in your own equine journey?