It was at the dark ages of VHS, long before the dawn of cyberspace, and I’d heard there was such a thing as a horse training DVD. A few barn friends and I watched one, and were horrified at the techniques and laughed at the backward sales pitch. But the only reason that was possible was I’d accidentally met a horsewoman who invited me to visit her barn. I moved my horse there to work with that trainer a few years before and was doing well with my horses. And certainly, not all DVDs were bad. If you knew about horses, it was pretty easy to steer your way.
Here is the problem. The real horse world can be difficult to find if someone is new to horses. It isn’t like there’s a giant flashing sign that says, “Enter Here!” Some folks were naive, and others were in trouble with their horses and desperate for a solution. Some people managed to make good choices through dumb luck as I did, but lots of people bought the snake oil.
The video starts with an inspiring intro and then a demonstration of something. You watch, it looks easy enough, but your horse says no. One minute into the video and your horse is off the rails. But we aren’t quitters, so we try harder, get louder, and confuse the horse more. Or in another example, the horse does the thing demonstrated and it feels so good to get it right that we drill it until the horse gets too anxious or too shut down. The video didn’t say how often to repeat and now the horse’s behavior becomes a bit compulsive. Worst are the fear-based domination videos that make abuse seem normal and necessary. It’s never okay to be cruel, but those videos frequently intimidate the horse person as well as the horse.
In every riding discipline, there are good trainers and bad ones, and we all use pretty words. But now, remarkably few years have passed and the internet has exploded. Sometimes right in our faces. The most charismatic trainers may not be the best, and doing a thing is not the same skill as teaching a thing.
Be clear, one more time, there are good videos. And when I am evaluating a horse, they tell me how they were trained by doing stereotypical behaviors. Those methods, especially if the horse is young, remain in the horse’s mind and behavior forever. In other words, the training methods are visible in the horse, and it isn’t likely that each horse was trained by that particular trainer. I assume it’s a trickle-down effect from those videos. I could be wrong about that.
All kinds of training leaves a mark. Good or bad, the experience lingers in the horse. If I’m talking to another equine pro, the conversation usually comes around to this because dealing with the remains of dysfunctional training is always a big part of retraining. So many of the horses are damaged or broken by poor training, becoming unreliable if not dangerous. So, they get repeatedly rehomed. You might have one in your barn. Most of my clients do.
Here’s my problem: I’ve seen too many horses damaged by videos and too many railbirds passing on that same technique or bad advice, even if it didn’t work for them. I would hate it if I put information out that would damage a horse or set a rider/owner down the wrong path, even through misunderstanding. I don’t want to let videos run wild in cyberspace if they might damage horses.
But why would either of us think that you watching me work with my horse would solve a problem with your horse? How does seeing an advanced horse succeed help a troubled horse? What if the trainer can see a health issue and understand the horse’s resistance is really about pain and not a training issue at all?
Members of my online group have furrowed brows now because they know I make videos for them. We have a few hundred in our library. I believe in coaching individuals. Horses and humans need a mentor with trained eyes helping. In my group and in my courses, we constantly use their private video. It’s a great tool because we have the blessing/curse of instant replay. We can work with their specific needs. If my horse doesn’t have that challenge, a video of me won’t help.
Maybe the best part since the onset of technology and covid is that it’s easier on horses who do their best working from home. Now anyone anywhere can be coached by the trainer they want. I love technology for this opportunity, and I’ve given lessons around the world this way.
Want to know the crazy part? If you have subscribed to this blog or followed it over the years, it is technology bringing you the oldest approach in the world. The written word has been your help or inspiration. Reading is personal. When you read about a technique the horse you visualize it with is your own. Because you don’t have a perfect video image, you don’t compare your horse to other horses. You create an image in your mind that is success for your horse.
Horse people are famous for hating technology and it’s easy to complain about the problems. It’s been a huge challenge for me to learn to use it, but more than that, use it responsibly for the good of horses. Technology is exactly as good or bad as we make it.
Finally, if you are going to watch videos, here are some tips from your horse. Watch it first with the sound off. No dramatic music and no pretty sales pitch. Look at the horse’s calming signals. Is the horse too quiet, with eyes too still? Is the horse frightened with tense nostrils and tight lips? Can you see a heave line on the horse’s flank? Is the horse breathing normally or is it shallow? See the trainer through your horse’s eyes, not your own.
For your horse’s sake, remember that what you are watching isn’t the first take. Videos can be manipulated and over-controlled much easier than horses.
Training will always be an art, a creation made over time with individuality, untold hours, and random luck. Please value the unique qualities and assorted weirdness that contribute to the masterpiece of you and your horse.
Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward
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28 thoughts on ““Why Don’t You Post Training Videos?””
I am so glad I happened onto your blog that day several years ago. Then, your books and one clinic (so far). My life, and that of my pony, have been enhanced because of you. I consider you my mentor and virtual friend.
Thank you, Teresa. I remember talking with you. Okay, it’s a faint memory… but still.
OMG this is 💯 spot on. Most of your life you were always told to try and push harder to get the best results. Let me tell you how that is NOT true in the horse world. Easy and quick fixes just don’t work – just like the diet pills or the wrinkle creams. Think about it, if one worked there wouldn’t be hundreds more out there.
As we get older, most of us loose our confident, develop more fear and “make movies” of all the terrible things that can happen if the horse did bla bla bla
Then we seek the “quick sales pitch videos” where everything looks so easy and how to gain great relationships with our horses. WRONG (at least for me) Its hard to admit but I too fell in that trap and I cannot begin to tell you how it totally changed my horse for the worse. I apologize every day to my horse – yes EVERY day!
Now we have begun our journey back to what makes sense to a horse and after just a few weeks I see how my horse has started to change. I am no longer constantly moving his feet but concentrating on reconnecting. We have fun now and I feel soooo good. I see in his eyes a big Thank You 🙏
Thank you Anna for all that you do and being a true horse advocate ❣️
Sometimes I think everything about horses is counterintuitive, but after talking with you… It was with the best intention, but so glad to hear of the good changes happening, for you and your horses.
It is human nature to want easy answers to difficult questions. That pull is powerful and leads many people to part with ridiculous amounts of money looking for a quick fix. Thank you for swimming hard against that stream and staying true to the horse’s needs.
Thanks Peggy. As if you and I wouldn’t come up with the money if a quick fix would work… but that’s what horses are. They are the long run and if we love them, that should be good news.
Thank you for ALL of this! All of it has been swirling around in my head recently, and you articulated each point so well! Technology can be a boon, but it can easily make us believe we have found an easy answer or a ‘magic’ guru. Neither of those help us when working with horses who are all individuals who don’t read the manuals or watch the videos. I especially dislike when people buy into ‘pretty words’ put to a disturbing image … so definitely always start with sound off and don’t read any narrative either until watching first. I hope this piece gets spread far and wide, Anna!!
Authenticity means everthing to horses; humans aren’t that clever. Thanks Lia
I’ve got a reactive young horse who received training on a timeline (“60 days”). As a result she would rush to do things and was always, ALWAYS in panic mode. I brought her home knowing she was “green” but the more I listened to what this horse was telling me, the more I realized that she needed to start over. All the way over. For awhile she got spookier as she realized I was listening and she could TELL me what scared her. But she finally works with a soft eye, relaxed gait, and doesn’t frantically try to do what she thinks is wanted- she thinks first. And now, two years almost to the day since I first brought her home, I’m able to safely sit on her. We’re taking it step by step, literally.
I’m SO proud of her. Of US.
I’m proud of both of you. Thanks for commenting
I absolutely love your thought process and you know what? I never thought about how videos can affect how you train your horse. I’m 62 and so with the Internet explosion and all these videos that are out there really amaze me. You make such great points and I totally agree the training should come from the horse and the horses needs as they are such individuals!! (Or what I’m trying to say is each horse has individual needs so one size does not fit as all as they say!) Excellent blog post!!
Thanks, Diana. Your email address (Morgan) let’s me know your horse thinks so too.
Oh dang, sorry about that Anna! I’ve been notified by a few bloggers this is happening. I’ll see what I can do to stop it. Darn it all .. 🥴
There wasn’t an email problem… I saw morganstall and thought it meant you had a Morgan. Such smart horses.
Oh good to know!! And yes, I did have a Morgan he was the best horse so very smart. He passed in 2010 and I just couldn’t change my email, my tribute to him I guess! ❤️
Such a wonderful and timely post! “Technology is exactly as good or bad as we make it”. Truer words were never spoken. I had to change my perspective on training video’s when I realized they were eroding the confidence I had in myself. Because reality seldom ever matched what I watched. Then I found your blog. Your words gave me new understanding of horses and training. Learning calming signals and how to listen to my horse enabled me to have the confidence to try my own ideas based on my horse. Most of all, understanding calming signals enabled me to convince my horse that I understood and cared about how he/she feels. It changed everything for us! I still watch video’s occasionally but with a critical eye simply seeking ideas that I can check out with my horses.
Thanks Sueann. I’ve heard that too often, that videos impact people as much as horses. I also agree that Calming Signals are the big game changer. They never leave my mind now, people as much as horses, again.
Gonna pass on commenting on this one since I have nothing of moment to say except thanks for being there for our horses and us, Anna!
Thanks Lynell, for commenting about not commenting. I just love you!
Oh . . . such TRUE words! It’s like how reading a book never is the same as ‘the movie’. Words can transcend the levels of training. They mean different things to different levels. I have been struggling for many years to understand my very sensitive mare and lately I have been put into situations where I can demonstrate my knowledge. This is knowledge that I didn’t even admit that I had until now. All those years and tears actually were working when I didn’t realize it. Now I can call B*llSh*t on training techniques when I see the untruth in them. My horses are actually talking to me because I can finally ‘see’ them and listen to them. But it came at me so gradually that I never knew it was happening. All I could see was how far I needed to go and I couldn’t see how far I had already come. My suggestion: find a trainer that RINGS TRUE to how you feel and want with your horse. I’ve tried many and at 70 I finally found THE ONE. At 73 I am happy and content and confident in my way forward.
Good to hear, Barbara. Thanks for sharing this heartfelt comment.
As Lynell commented, I don’t have much to say except I so appreciate your approach of using videos the way that you do. Your voice-overs are so helpful in understanding what is going on with the horse, and in helping the human fine tune their conversation .
The Barn classes with videos were so helpful to Bear and myself.
Some of those other trainers are criticized — and rightfully so– for using cookie cutter approaches, and it’s so great you’ve found a way to NOT be that way and rather to approach each horse as the individuals they are. with unique histories.
More truth telling and I love you for that.
Thanks, Coral. I’m on your team.
Anna, I’m finally catching up on your blogs, and I want to say that I am so grateful to have had the experience of using videos in some of your classes. I have learned 1000 times more from my “homework” videos, than from my embarrassingly large collection of training dvd’s (which may have created some of the challenges that I’ve had to work on). The opportunity to watch MY horse interacting with ME, and hearing YOUR perspectives on the both of us has been beyond valuable. Thank you for using technology in a responsible way, which is absolute genius.
thanks, Laurie. Can you possibly know how much this comment means to me? I try hard to teach, just as you try hard with your horses.