Serious horse person alert…. Seriously.

A couple of things today have got me thinking about people’s perceptions of behaviourists in general and what we do, and also of their perceptions of me specifically.

The first thing relates to the announcement that the APBC (Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors) will be hosting an online Equine Conference in the autumn. I heard that a comment had been made that it might be ‘a bit general’ for the proper, serious, horsey folk, given that the APBC membership covers all species.

I can understand how this misperception might occur, but it is purely that, a misperception. All the APBC Full members (registered Clinical Animal Behaviourists) that are approved for horse referrals are definitely what I would call ‘serious horse people’. And the topics that will be covered will definitely be of interest to serious horse people throughout the industry. This is, after all, an equine conference, not an all species conference! I know that anything that relates to pets can sometimes be viewed as a little ‘fluffy’ by horse people. But being an equine member of the APBC doesn’t make us any less serious. If anything it shows that we are more serious! As well as years of practical experience in the industry, we have had to work hard academically as well as practically to demonstrate our knowledge and pass the in depth scrutiny required to reach Clinical Animal Behaviourist standard on the ABTC register. And those that have not yet reached that standard are working hard to get there. So despite having the name ‘pet’ in the title, you can rest assured that the equine members are seriously serious horse people.

Many of us have been working in the horse industry for years and have a vast amount of experience beyond ‘simply’ our behaviour referral work, whether that is teaching riding, working for welfare organisations, stud work, behavioural rehabilitation work, starting young horses or conducting academic research looking at horse behaviour, lecturing in horse behaviour and training, or a combination of all of the above. We may not all be out there competing at a high level, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are any less ‘serious’ than the horse people that are. In fact, I’d be inclined to argue that many of us have more practical, applied knowledge and experience of horse training in a variety of situations and with a range of horses than some of those ‘serious’ competitors.

As for perceptions of me, personally. Today I heard that another equine professional, who knows me for my behaviour work (and I thought understood what I did), recommended that someone that knew me went to another (showjumping) trainer to teach their rather tricky horse to lunge. It turns out that not only does this professional not know that I teach classical riding alongside my behaviour work (and have passed a BHS exam to say that I can lunge proficiently!), but also, they said ‘ah, well Helen can help you improve your relationship with your horse, but this particular problem needs a trainer’. I felt a little saddened and frustrated that this particular individual hadn’t realised that the bulk of my work is in fact hands on training, whether that is on the ground or under saddle. I have started numerous youngsters over the years, including teaching them to lunge and loose school. Of course, this particular individual was correct, in that the way I work certainly leads to an improvement in the relationship with the horse. But she was incorrect in thinking that that was all I did. In fact, at times my work revolves around undoing some of the problems unknowingly created by other ‘serious horse people’. And as those of you that follow my blog know, I delivered training to BHS and HSI trainers this year on understanding the psychology of training and how to practically apply this knowledge in their work.

So it seems to me that there is work to do on the perception of Clinical Equine Behaviourists in general, and my work specifically. How do we best explain what it is that we actually do, and the fact that we are serious horse people, seriously. Perhaps signing up for the APBC equine conference is a good place to start?

Now I must just go and clean up my wax jacket and head scarf……

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