Let's Talk About It

Every so often I ask on the facebook page, what people find the most frustrating or challenging thing about having a barefoot horse. The most common answer is communicating with other people, or dealing with people who don’t understand barefoot.

It’s a common frustration for barefoot horse owners, that we come under criticism for not having shoes on our horses. Experiences can range from interest from dog walkers and ramblers when out on a hack, to raving screaming lunatics in our face every time we’re present at the yard.

A Change In Thinking

The question of how to ‘convince’ others or change their beliefs about barefoot methods is a common one. Remove the word ‘barefoot’ and it becomes a question that seems more suited to religious or political debate than horse keeping.

Taking note of sage advice like avoiding politics and religion as conversation topics, and not working with animals or children, I’m going to throw wisdom out the window for this blog post ignore 3 of those 4 warnings!!

(I would try and work something about kids in there, just for completeness sake, but beyond using baby products for some hoof issues, I’m drawing a blank with that one!)

It’s worth noting that none of us are going to change anyone’s mind with 1 conversation. That’s not how brains work. At best we may be able to confirm, or agree with things they have already been thinking.

The brain wants to keep us safe. An effective way of doing this is to stick to what it knows.

We make our decisions based on how we feel. Facts rarely have anything to do with it. We make our decision based on our beliefs.

The brain likes to be right (it’s a bit arrogant like that), because being right means we’re safe. Being wrong means we made a mistake, that means we might have been hurt. Trying to actively change someone's beliefs is about as welcome as someone knocking on your door with a bible in their hand.

All About Belief 

One of my favourite examples of this was a client of mine having a conversation with her vet. I wasn’t there at the time, but she told me about it afterwards.

The vet was stood with her and her horse.

Vet: I don’t believe in barefoot trimmers
Client: Oh no, they’re real, I’ve used one for years.

The vet, a person who’s training and career is based in science, fact, reasoning and stuff like that. She was looking at over 16hh of barefoot show jumping horse who regularly competes and is sound over all surfaces. Staring right at it. 16hh of solid evidence

Nope – don’t believe it.

This client has so many stories of people telling her the horse can’t be barefoot. Every time she goes to a competition, she hears that the horse needs shoes simply because they’re absent, not because there’s any reason for them.

She asks why… she’s told so he can walk on stones. Even when he’s literally walking comfortably on stones at the very moment they’re saying it.

Eventually people will conclude that, it works for her horse because he has good feet. While that is true now, it wasn’t always true. He did have terrible feet (actually I use a pic of his feet in one of my books as an example of hoof wall issues – also, I used pic of his hoof (once it was healthy) for the hoof geek logo)

The simple fact is, we’re not changing anyone’s mind about anything in 1 conversation or interaction. We may be able to spark an interest, or drop a little brain worm into someone’s head, but at no point will someone exclaim ‘OMG You’re right and I’ve been wrong all my life! Thank you!’

You Can’t do it so don’t try…

I don’t like to sound defeatist, but if we can’t do it – why waste energy trying. We’d be better off putting our time and energy into something with a higher chance of success.

Trying to change someone’s beliefs will upset them, probably cause an argument and usually end up making us angry or damaging our self-confidence. It’s simply not going to have a positive outcome.

Communication is key. Effective communication is based on both parties listening, and being open to what is said. People will only take on what we’re saying if it’s going to improve their life. If it’s going to make their life easier.

Trying to get someone to listen when doing so is going to make their life harder work and more painful… meh! Who wants that!?!

We don’t have to be reducing the physical work, I’m not talking about that kind of easier. In my experience horse owners are willing to put in a shocking amount of effort to make their horses happy. Changing your beliefs is painful.

The worst thing to do

What really doesn’t work, what will never work is accusing someone of being cruel, or stupid, or indeed just making them feel rubbish. How willing are you to listen to someone who makes you feel bad?

How willing are you to listen to someone who makes you feel understood, respected, listened to, supported?

Changing our beliefs can be a very painful process. If we genuinely want someone to listen to us, then we need to respect that. If we want to help someone, then the pain and discomfort of change is the biggest obstacle that faces both us and them.

I get that we all want to help horses, so often I hear people saying ‘it’s the horse I feel sorry for’. Though the people following methods that we disagree with, they’re still doing it to help the horse. They haven’t set their goal as ‘must damage horse’. They’re trying their best with what they’ve got. Just like we are.

If you want to help the horse – you must communicate with the human. The human is the key here. It’s ironic that many people who work with animals do it because they don’t like dealing with people. Sadly, you must deal with the people before you get to help the animal.

The easiest way to know someone is ready to listen, is when they ask.

It frequently baffles me that a group of people so dedicated to respect for the horse, and effective communication techniques when it comes to training horses, throw all those principles out of the window when dealing with humans.

Ask them to communicate with a horse and they have endless patience, they look for the slightest facial expression or tail swish, or foot movement to indicate discomfort and perhaps too much pressure is being applied for the horse to learn.

Ask them to communicate with a human and it’s all short sharp jabs, insults, rolling eyes, ridicule and badgering with no thought given to what experience the person on the receiving end might be having.

The modern world is stressful. We have to give some thought as to whether the person we’re communicating with is already upset and overwhelmed or simply frustrated as hell from trying as hard as they can; giving 100% and following all the advice they’ve been given before.

You can’t help a horse by disrespecting the owner.

Meet them where they are.

If someone is going to take our advice, they need to trust us first. If we haven’t at least enquired as to where they’re from and what’s troubling them, they can’t take any of our suggestions for a solution seriously. Often our suggestions will sound like an insult, because we’ve insulted their feelings and their journey, which is the core of who they are.

Instead of shouting at someone from way up high to come to you. Go and see where they are. Take a look around. Ask them about it, and how they got there. Then you can tell them you know somewhere better and offer to show them how to get there. It is after all, about the journey, not the destination.

If you want someone to feel confident in asking you for help, then we need to lead by example. Don't judge, guilt or shame them for what they're doing. Invite their questions, simply by being pleasant to talk to. When they've asked a question - then you know they're ready to hear the answer. Until then, they're not listening.

Do you find it difficult to talk to people about why your horse is barefoot? Or are you master at it? I'd love to hear your experiences in the comments below...

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  • Liz Laurent (Barely Roadworthy) says:

    So many times I have said this sort of thing on FB pages where someone says “well if you are happy to ride a lame horse because shoes mask the pain….” It is so frustrating that owners are scared away by the criticism. All they are doing is following age old professional advice. They need encouragement. They don’t need a superior attitude. Any advice needs to be delivered in a friendly and inclusive way. Thank you for spelling this out so well.

  • Evette says:

    I currently ride with a wonderful lady that insists her two horses need metal shoes on all fours. She said she had tried and her horses were coming up lame til she had them shoed. She said,”Do you think it’s easy for me to pay all this money every 6 weeks?” I said maybe they didn’t have a good trimmer or the farrier wasn’t trimming them right which is what I believe. She insists that was not the case. So as much as I hate seeing shoed horses, I’m never going to get through to her.

    • Debs Crosoer says:

      I hear ya! Been there. I just talk about all the other stuff. Some of my best friends took the shoes off their horses after I repeatedly told them to keep them shod 🙂 Every time they told me their horse couldn’t cope without shoes I told them they should keep them shod. So obviously, they then asked me to take their horses shoes off! hee!

  • judith says:

    Having had my guy for 22 years now , we have passed through the hands of so many instructors , but if i felt that they were not communicating to either me or my horse then i only used them just once and went off to find another … over passing time i have come across only 2 people into whom i would put my trust , and like you said , they ask questions and i ask questions and they show how things work , not just tell you that it should work because that is what the book says .Not only are we barefoot but bitless too so you can imagine the problems i have found trying to find suitable instructors . Sadly though regulations make sure i cannot do competeing anymore but it is not about the rosette so i don’t actually care .

  • eylon says:

    very true, but the problem from my experience is not the owner but the farrier, and they are difficult to convince

  • Katherine says:

    Very wise, and (I guess obviously) applicable to so many things

  • Kalli says:

    First time I’ve thought about the differences in the ways I communicate with horses and people. It will be interesting to see how folks respond if I blow out, tell them “easy,” and let them graze. It’s worth a try.

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