As they say you don't know how much you don't know until you know it. This is so true with horsemanship. As we learn more we realize how kind and patient these horses really are.
We also realize how much easier it is for them to do their jobs when they are pain free, unafraid and relaxed. This means that we have to learn what distress in a horse looks like so we can make adjustments as necessary.
Don't misunderstand me - sometimes to re-pattern a horse's behavior it the horse and human will find themselves going through periods of discomfort and even mental and emotional distress to get to the other side of working through ingrained fear patterns and trauma. That can be hard to accept but knowing that state of being is short-term to help the horse be more calm, relaxed and confident in the long run, makes it much easier to accept as a small part of the overall process to help the horse.
What becomes so hard is as you develop a new set of eyes to see the horse more clearly than before you will start seeing horses in mental, emotional or physical distress everywhere you go. From the horse ridden by the new rider that flops painfully on their backs to the one who is obviously lame but the owner doesn't realize it, to seeing videos of horses on social media being forced into unnatural positions to win a horse show in certain subsets of the horse-industry. Maybe now you know what saddle fit looks like and when a saddle doesn't fit you know how uncomfortable or painful that horse probably is.
How do we deal with this? Naturally we wish we could save every horse from having to deal with an incompetent human.
When Tim and I were in Colorado trail riding last year there was another couple camping at the same resort. Their horses top-lines were completely upside-down clearly the result of years of poor saddle-fit and lack of proper conditioning. This was so hard for me to see. Especially when I had spent six months conditioning my horses for this trip. The couple rode by camp and I noticed the palomino horse was noticeably lame on a hind foot. It has been my experience that MOST of the horse world loves their horses and have good intentions. I'm assuming these owners were blissfully unaware of the discomfort and pain their horses were in.
In situations like this I try to remember:
1) People will only take advice that they are ready to receive or is coming from a trusted source.
I was not a trusted source in this situation so walking up to them and bringing everything I noticed to their attention wouldn't have accomplished anything in that moment.
2) People are generally well-intentioned when it comes to their horses.
I operate under the assumption that people are doing their best with the information they have at the time. After all - it wasn't so long ago that my horses wouldn't even let me catch them because of how uncomfortable I made them feel from my lack of knowledge surrounding care and training.
3) The best thing I can do for horses in general, is to model good horsemanship.
When my horses look fit, shiny, comfortable and educated it draws attention. Even something as simple as a come-over-cue for mounting can get people to ask questions about how it was done. That can be a great opening for a conversation about your training philosophy or give you a chance to point them to an information source.
Taking care of my horses and doing my best by them will model to the world that it is possible to ride and enjoy these animals while maintaining their dignity in the process. Being different while staying approachable and kind is the only way to generate change in this industry. People will eventually take notice and want to learn more.