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Sunday, August 21, 2011

The importance of a continuing education

Have your opinions changed over the years about certain products or technologies? I think that the endurance rider, perhaps more than equestrians in other disciplines, has a responsibility to educate themselves, and then continue that education as time goes by, even on subjects they think they have "figured out".

There’s many things I've changed my opinion on - the barefoot horse, worming protocols, the value of LD’s, which endurance specific tack is necessary to my success and more. Sometimes the old adage, "if it ain't broke don't fix it", is true, but more often there is value in evaluating new data, fitting it into your schema and fixing something BEFORE it breaks.

Last week in school, the instructor mentioned that Curiosity is a part of being a good veterinarian. "Every great doctor is driven by a deep sense of curiosity." I immediately thought of endurance riders. Part of the drive to continue my endurance education does come from a deep-seated curiosity, which I think most endurance riders have in common. Most of my blog posts and the experiences that I write about started out as a question "I wonder if....?" Curiosity is what leads me to continue to ask the questions, that when researched and reflected on, lead to a greater and greater accumulation of knowledge (and often even more questions).

I think that some people pride themselves on a great consistency in belief over the years. When I was trying to decide what types of feed would be the "best" for my horses, I heard over and over "we've fed alfalfa for 20 years without any issues!". It was frustrating because obviously there were issues - yet there was a total unwillingness to explore new ideas and research, and then make an informed decision based on the strength of the new data and whether it is appropriate or feasible in YOUR specific situation, when considering cost, availability, the type of horse you have etc. As a result their opinion was virtually useless to me - the only apparent reason they were feeding alfalfa was because they had always done so.

Consistency in VALUES, not in the actual mechanics of horse management are a sign of someone who is constantly pursuing a continuing education and someone I admire as a horse person.

I won't lie - making continuing education a priority and applying it is hard work and does take time. But the time I invest in educating myself, is as important as the time I actually spend on in the saddle conditioning.

One way I practice "continuing education" is to read articles, even if I think I already know the "answer". If it's a different opinion, I consider whether I need to keep, modify, or do further research on my opinion, or whether the evidence is strong enough to question my entire premise of why I do something a certain way.

As an example - in a recent e-newletter there was a question regarding a biting horse.

I already have a preference for how to respond to a horse that bites - My favorite way is to have the horse punish itself. If I'm doing an activity that I think a horse might attempt to bite, I attempt to have a body part (such as an elbow during girthing) in the path that the horse *might* slam into on it's way to take a chunk out a fleshy part of my body. If the horse catches me unware....and makes contact then I go ballistic for 2-3 seconds, which might include physical contact, and certaintly involves verbal and body language that is extremely aggressive. If the horse is known to be mouthy, I don't hand feed and I don't pet the head past the center of the forehead. My preference for dealing with the problem this way is based on past success, advice from horse people, and other research and articles on biting, aggressive behavior in horses, and how horses process information (such as the fact that they can't connect something that happened 10 seconds ago with your reaction now).

Still, I might be missing something so let's read the article.

What did I learn? First, that my methods for dealing with a biting horse are probably appropriate. I know have another confirmation that what I'm doing is probably effective and corrective.

HOWEVER - I learned that kids may not be able to apply the traditional techniques. I had never thought about using a grazing muzzle to help kids to feel more comfortable around a horse that may be mouthy. I have another tool in my "toolbox"!

Questions for further thought/research - what other situations do juniors/kids have to deal with that need special consideration because they may not be able to apply an "adult" aid effectively? Is there an endurance application to this concept? What qualities does an endurance horse must have that is suitable for juniors? What are some kid-friendly techniques that could help juniors deal with some of the typical problems encountered during endurance rides?

I may not have the time or energy to address any of these questions now, but a seed has been planted that might be useful in the future.

Curiosity and "continuing education" is a way of refreshing a subject and keeping it fun and interesting.

Blog Picks!

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An interesting look at whether a vet is a "real" doctor. I'll let YOU decide! :)

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