‘Behaviour change is a process, not an event.’
I’ve long held the belief that my work’s main focus is one of harm reduction: I aim to lessen the negative impacts that certain management and training practices may have on horse welfare. Sometimes this means working with clients who engage in equestrian activities which I personally choose to abstain from or avoid. I work with these clients because I, like you, care deeply about the welfare of horses.
In the spirit of harm reduction, I strive to meet people where they’re at in terms of their current attitudes and beliefs about horse behaviour and welfare. I acknowledge without judgement that, just like me, a different path from my own led them to where they are today.
My clients all care deeply for their horses, and want to improve their welfare too. And when they come to me I’ve been in many of their shoes: information I received about horses along my learning journey may have compromised my horse’s welfare when I was led to believe the opposite was happening. This doesn’t make us ‘bad’ people; just people who were given bad information. To this end, I consider myself a gateway trainer. I want to open gates for my clients that lead to new paths of better information, improving their horse’s welfare in the process.
Much like other professions, within the professions of all-species animal training and behaviour modification, there are many camps. These camps are formed around personal morals and professional ethics about what individuals and organizations feel we should do with animals in training contexts. While the majority of professionals in this industry share a common goal – to make life better for the animals they serve – there are problems within these camps that, I feel, impede our collective progress in improving animal welfare.
One of the biggest problems I see is the lack of support for colleagues from slightly different camps who may also act as gateway trainers. These colleagues, with whom we may disagree about certain tools or techniques, are indeed often still gateways leading to improved horse welfare.
Ultimatrey, In fact, these colleagues are likely the gateway that you – or I – may never, ever be. While your messaging is likely written to attract a certain clientele (much like my own), other clients may need to hear a different message. They aren’t yet ready to hear your message, or mine. Perhaps they don’t yet have the information they need to hear our message of enhanced horse welfare, and perhaps they never will. Ultimately, if we shift our perspective it doesn’t matter:
Our gateway colleague can still be that messenger.
This is why I feel strongly that our gateway colleagues need our support. In terms of improving animal welfare through harm reduction, can we all agree that some change is better than no change? Behaviour change is a process, not an event. We happily accept this level of behaviour change from our non-human animals. Why wouldn’t we extend this courtesy to human animals too?
I am a gateway trainer. I hope you will join me.