I had an interesting question from a client this morning. She had been told that certain training methods wouldn't be suitable for her horse but they were suitable for others. This is a fairly common thought; what do you think about it?
This was my answer:
The major difference between your horse (a quarter horse) and Joker (an Andalusian cross) is build and suitability for a particular job. Your horse is a true quarter horse type and naturally carries his head lower, Joker on the other hand takes more after his sire in the Andy way and naturally carries his poll as the highest point.
Joker will have a prettier piaffe but that doesn't mean that your horse cannot do it (try shortening his stride and you will see that he already has a bit that I taught him). The best and most correct piaffe I have ever trained was on a polo pony! Technically perfect but not terribly flash; and I train it the same way whatever the breed.
I do agree that all horses are different but I also think they all learn in the same way and can, therefore, all be trained in the same way. For my part, I am always open to new ways of teaching things if it makes it faster and easier/less stressful for the horse. Fundamentally, whatever your chosen discipline, we are all trying to teach the same thing – controlling every step the feet take. That means controlling speed, direction, rhythm, stride length and elevation. It is as simple as that.
I always maintain that if it is clear in our mind what we want, be it shoulder in, flying changes or jump the obstacle, then we can communicate that to the horse. I think things go wrong when we are not completely clear about what we want. We need to know, for example, what exactly is a flying change, where does it come from, what are the footfalls, which leg initiates it and so on before going to teach it. You can be sure that anyone who answered all of these questions satisfactorily didn't attempt to teach flying changes through trot and I will guarantee you that the same person never taught a horse to skip (that being the thing you most easily teach when attempting to teach changes through trot!).
The problem is that most methods work – most things you try will, eventually, change the horse's behaviour. It is our job to decide which methods are ethical and sustainable and not only use them but try to improve on them.
Wouldn't you agree?