If only I knew then what I know now

When it comes to working with horses there always seems to be a gap from where you are to where you want to be, who can relate?  The depth of learning and education with training and understanding horses can feel at times as if it is a never ending black hole. I often hear from my students that they are frustrated, lost and overwhelmed at how much they still have to learn.  A desire for knowledge is never a bad thing, but I have found through my own life experience that if a goal feels too big, it can almost seem impossible to start and will often fall by the wayside.  When I meet the ‘education overwhelmed’ student I help them through a process of breaking down their horse related challenge into smaller goals, where we determine the ‘WHY’ first then the ‘HOW TO’ flows much easier.

Educating people and horses constantly reminds me of the many situations I have encountered in my own horse training career where I could apply the old adage ‘if only I knew then, what I know now’.  Experience with horses is often hard won, it is the challenging horses, the frustrating moments that often teach you the greatest lessons.  There are some moments that I look back on in the very early days of my horse journey that I am not proud of.  In reflection, I may have done the horse a dis-service through my lack of knowledge and understanding within the circumstance.  Without pain there can be no growth…I meet people regularly who feel this same regret, that they wish they could have done something different in a situation to show their horse the right way and not ended up getting frustrated or angry with their horse.  Its never the horses fault, as the the captain on the HORSEMAN ship we are in charge! 

I recently received an email reply from a past student and friend who travels extensively for his work. He was responding to my recent blog post on ‘why does your horse do that for you and not for me’ and it got him thinking. He focused in on the ‘attention’ component and how he has observed in his travels where people struggle to bridge language barriers and once they feel the ‘attention’ or ‘communication’ is lost, the tourist becomes frustrated as they didn’t get what they wanted or expected.  Sound familiar?  My friend on the other hand is a very calm character by nature who has traveled to 52 countries in the last 17 years and has found a way to utilise horsemanship techniques to bridge language barriers through attention, gestures and body language – how cool!  He also talked of empathy and understanding, something which I can liken to communicating with horses, where they are only doing ‘what they know how to do’ in any given moment.  It is our responsibility as horse owners to teach and reward our horses for doing the right thing, not just punishing them for doing what we perceive as the wrong thing.  The same applies for when you encounter other ‘horse people’ you know the type, who are so set in their ways about working with horses a certain way that a different approach or technique might as well be delivered in another language!  One perspective I have found valuable is that everyone and every horse is only doing what they have learnt how to do. There is no need to judge them or try to convert them, if and when they are ready to find another way, then we can talk. It is safe to say that I have grown a lot as a human but also as a horseman in recent years (my wife would like to think it is her influence, well partly it is!), I have grown to be more open, understanding and willing to accept change, I’ve become a student of the horse. 

I have been through another growth phase recently when starting my young horses, it’s been a bit tough and confusing, as most change is. I have questioned some techniques I used to apply, I’ve tried some new more ‘relaxation focused’ training techniques. The changes I have seen in a short space of time have been incredible.  Isn’t it funny that when you are working with horses and you have the big changes or wins happen, no one is ever there to see them or even notice what you are up too?!  Perhaps you can relate.  I have been in a round yard having what I would classify as massive breakthroughs with my horses, and not a soul there to share it with…Well that is not entirely true, my four legged friends have been there the whole time! These changes I speak of haven’t been major, they are 2 degree shifts, a bit of a different release, asking for softness before continuing, using my voice less (seriously I don’t talk for hours when working with horses by myself, all but a few sounds and “good mare/boy”, this is my Zen or Flow mode where time seems to stand still), following the feel, waiting more… 

In summary friends, try not to get lost in the ‘horse training education black hole’, celebrate what you DO know now about horses and get out there and enjoy doing those things really well. Figure out ‘WHY’ you need to or should be trying to do something new with your horse, ask better questions and the ‘HOW TO’ will be the easy part. You are going to get frustrated at times on this horse journey, so don’t panic, just acknowledge that the frustration might be a sign of a required change that you may need to make. Remember also, our horses are only doing what they know ‘how to do’, cut them some slack, take the time to show them what you are expecting of them, offer more relaxation and release and you may be surprised with the results. 

If you would like some 1 on 1 mentoring help from me – I have a mentoring program where I step people through their own horse related challenges.  

I would love to hear if any of this resinates with you!

Enjoy the adventure,



Justin Colquhoun

Hi There! I’m Justin Colquhoun. I founded Elite Horsemanship out of a dream to make real and effective horsemanship available to anyone at any level in the horse industry.