Monday, December 24

To Help or Not To Help

I have a truck. I drive it from A to B. I love my truck and try to care for it properly. However, I do not know much about care beyond putting in gas, checking oil and tire pressure, and which noises mean get it to the mechanic ASAP. I'd say my knowledge of cars is about the average horse owner's knowledge of horses. In general, they can accomplish basic care, but on occasion, they may miss something very big and important. When someone tells me something about my truck, I am always receptive and grateful. After all, I love my truck, and I can't afford a new one. Why then, are so many horse owners less than receptive to advice regarding their big furry pets?

A friend of mine relayed a story that illustrates my point. She was out at the barn on a windy, chilly day. Walking past one of the saddling areas, she noticed a horse secured in the crossties by the bit. She felt obligated to let the owner know the potential damage that could be done to her horse, and, rather than being thanked, was given a less than polite response to the effect of, "mind your own business".

This owner may or may not have known the risks she was taking. Should her horse move and feel the pressure from the crossties on his bit, he could flip over, break his bridle or jaw, or even sever his tongue. Maybe these risks to her horse were worth it, but did she think of the risk to others? What if he did break the crossties and go bolting across the property? What if he spooked a young horse in the nearby arena? What if his panic caused another horse to run through a fence and get injured?

In my training to be a riding instructor, we discussed liability issues at length. In Washington state, horseback riding is considered an inherent risk activity. By engaging in activities on or around horses, you are acknowledging the fact that horses are big dangerous animals and that you could be hurt by one through no fault of anyone. However, if someone is negligent, they are no longer protected by inherent risk.  The gal teaching the class explained negligent behavior  like this, if you can foresee a problem and you choose to continue the same course of action, you have accepted liability for your actions. So, the question is, was my friend out of line to say something? In my opinion, she would have been negligent not to. Even though it was not well received, she did the right thing.

Around the barn, we often receive unsolicited advice. Some is helpful, but most of it is somebody's personal opinion and may or may not even apply to the situation at hand. So, when to help and when not? I try not to butt in with my two cents unless it would be negligent not to. This means many times, I leave the area cringing and biting my tongue. Sometimes, I'll ask the person if they'd like a tip from my experience. Coming from this angle lets the person decide whether or not they have to hear my opinion, and, oftentimes, it makes it easier for them to receive what I have to say. Seriously, nobody wants to feel like they have been doing the wrong thing with their horse. Just like a parent doesn't want unsolicited advice on how to raise their child.

On the flip side, I always say yes when somebody asks if they can give me a tip. After all, their experience is different than mine. What if they hold the key to the problem I have been struggling with? Yes, it's hard for my ego; I don't like to feel as if I don't know everything, but it's ridiculous to act as though I do. Also yes, often the advice is completely useless to me; either I've already tried it, it doesn't actually apply to my problem, or I've chosen not to employ that method for any number of reasons, but this knowledge is still useful to have. I'll put it in my toolbox for a different situation, thank the person, and move on. Next time you feel your defenses coming up, remember, we're all just fumbling along in this pursuit together.


  1. It's interesting you bring this up because I just recently re-read Mark Rashid's book Considering the Horse. He talks about how he learned from his mentor to never offer advice unless asked. I understand where he's coming from and know that lots of people get prickly. I think this is such a hard question! I may not *ask* someone for advice, but I'm VERY VERY open to help. And if someone offers me advice and I choose not to take it, I don't get my panties in a bunch.

    I think it's also challenging because there is so much conflicting information in the horse world. "Lunge them first." "You'll make your horse un-sound if you lunge it!!" The problem seems to lie in the person 'receiving' the information and their ability to separate their ego from the whole thing. I get advised by everyone at the barn from the 15 year old barn rat to the 60 year old barn crone. I don't mind because there's useful information in there and if nothing else, it gives me something else to think about and maybe a new perspective.

    It's so hard with horses (and with children!) to try and find the right balance of saying something when you feel the horse is in danger and not saying something because it will just slam shut a door with that person.

    So, after all that rambling what I meant to say was "yeah. Totally."

  2. Lol, yeah, it's hard to know whether someone doesn't want advice, or if they just don't know that they need it. Coming at it with the right approach helps a lot. I try to always make it a take it or leave it style of help.