Giving Advice

Here’s a little riddle for you all to get your Friday brains ticking over.

Almost everyone needs it, asks for it, gives it, but almost nobody takes it. What is it?

The answer is, of course, advice.

It’s my biggest bug bear about the equestrian world. The fact that everyone has an opinion and insists on giving it to anyone who stands still long enough, whether they’ve asked for it or not.

There are numerous trains of thoughts about training or managing horses. Some of which works, some don’t, some horses thrive of a certain method, some don’t. For most pieces of equipment there are arguments to use it or not to use it.

I think it’s important that individuals, whether it’s your first horse or your fortieth, develop their own school of thought, training approach, stable routine. Whether they have one horse or several, if they develop their own opinions, which will be more rounded, researched and well-reasoned, it gives a better understanding to equines. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask for advice; rather ask advice from those you trust, or ask a couple of people, or read a couple of books, and draw your own conclusions.

Some professionals in the industry naturally attract advice-seekers – vets, farriers, instructors. Which is fine, and I for one am always being asked questions about different tack, health, behaviour. Unless there’s a safety factor, I try to keep my opinions to myself unless asked, and then try to give a balanced opinion – e.g. If asked whether a certain noseband should be used, then give the pros and cons of it and let the client make the final decision. Sometimes if I’m giving feedback after teaching or riding I will advise that the owner checks something (like teeth) or suggest reasons for a behaviour (like head shaking). It’s not to say I’m right, it’s just a suggestion to help improve the horse’s comfort. It might also be that an inexperienced owner hadn’t thought of it. 

But I think it’s important that those professionals only give advice in their area of expertise, and when asked. For example; if you ask an instructor if your saddle fits they may look at the basics, but then should say “get it checked by a saddle fitter”. After all, you don’t want to be liable if your client gets bucked off because you’ve told them the saddle fits!

To me, someone who gives advice willy-nilly, about subjects they aren’t qualified or that knowledgeable in, loses  my respect. It also creates tension on yards, especially if you have two conflicting advice-givers. I always want to be the quiet person in the room who doesn’t say much, but when they do it’s very profound, and everyone should take note.

That’s probably because I don’t like being given advice. If I want advice I will ask those I trust, and I also am knowledgeable and firm enough in my convictions that I know when someone is talking out of their depth! So yeah, giving me advice when it’s not asked for is a bad idea!

If you go back to the riddle, it says that “nobody takes it”. I think this is another hard part of my job; people ask your advice, you give it, and they don’t follow it. For example; someone asks advice about their first sponsored ride, and you say “Go with one or two sensible companions” and they go in a group of six and their horse gets overly excited and they fall off. Or you give feedback after a lesson about the fact the horse should wear a flash, for example, to help when jumping, and they ignore you and find themselves being tanked off with.

I think that’s one of the hardest parts of my job: I always give feedback to clients, and when I say something I’ve thought about it (I don’t spout fresh air) long and hard, so get quite frustrated when something (an accident or safety issue) happens that could have been avoided. Likewise, I also get frustrated when I hear advice and opinions being thrown around like loose change! 

I think the best way to succeed in the equestrian world is to give well thought out, reasoned opinions and pieces of advice when asked. Because then people will start to seek your advice because they know that you have the facts or experience to support it, and that you aren’t trying to brainwash them, just educate.

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