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Mark Todd Moves Progress Forwards

In light of last weeks Mark Todd striking horse, and the court of public opinion filling my socials with

"I support Mark Todd" and petitions to remove Sir, can we stay curious? Just a quick delve into my own regrets and what it actually means to be human, experience regret.

Regret is a process. A negative emotion that can make us better.

A research study in the eighties looked at the frequency of negative and positive emotions in our conversations and found the most common negative emotion was regret. The only emotion mentioned more often than regret was love. (1)

Regret is created by a comparison between the actual outcome and that outcome that would have occured had the decision make made a different choice.

According to Pink (2022) when we handle regret properly, it can make us better. Understanding its effect hones our decisions, boosts our performance and gives a deeper sense of meaning.

However too much regret is dangerous, sometimes devastating. It can lead to rumination, diminishing well-being, and inhibiting forward progress. Excessive regret is also linked to mental health problems - most notably depression and anxiety, as well as post traumatic stress disorder.

Pink in his latest book - The Power of Regret (3) urges us all not to dodge our negative emotions. Don't wallow in them either. Instead Pink implores us to confront them. Use regret as a catalyst for future behaviour. Framing regret as an evaluation of a behaviour in a situation, not a person. A regret about not speaking up whilst your child is told to whip her pony by the instructor, can serve to change future behaviour, when we face similar situations. Equestrians who accept, rather than blame (not taking responsibility) or judge, end up faring better from their negative emotions. (2)

When we regret inaction, not speaking up, say a horse is being harmed at the yard, we are experiencing moral regret. For many of us, moral regrets ache the most and last the longest. I regret hitting my horse cross-country schooling, at a water fence, whilst being instructed by a professional rider. Not only did I strike my horse, I got off, under his instruction, voiceless, and proceed to allow the professional rider to continue to whip Bobby ***.

*** Bobby never went in the water ***

I live with this regret every day. For 26 years of my life. The impact of what I did kept me awake that night. Full of regret haunting me. Both moral and boldness regret. I didt have the language back then to understand my negative emotions. I just knew I deeply regretted striking and not speaking up.

I was 21 years old. In a time before mobile phones and social licensing even a thought let alone discussed everywhere all this week. I was so ashamed. Disgusted by my own action and inaction.

These two regrets were the foundation I found my purpose in life. As Pink explains, it is the regret that helps us find meaning in our lives. For me? I have found I can help horses feel good. By applying the latest in Equitation Science in all our interactions.

Without both moral and boldness regret would I still travelled towards Equitation Science? Id like to hope so. What is without question, I arrived where I am today, because of regret. Of what I did and did not do.

My own action AND inaction.

Not long after I pledged to never be voiceless for the voiceless. To educate myself to know better. I flew down to Australia and attended the first ever Equitation Science Symposium at the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre in 2005. Studied hard, learnt how horses learn and how to train with clarity and reward. Knowing better meant understanding and applying negative reinforcement correctly, combining reinforcements. Today I coach progressive horse owners, vets, studs, universities and competition riders the science of how horses learn. A graduate of Equitation Science International, former Education Officer International Society of Equitation Science and author of Horse Welfare From Inside Out. A roadmap for equestrian coaches in the 21st century as well as chapters on How Horses Learn in coaching books and Aspinal Vet Nursing book 3rd edition. UK Coaching Coaches Hero Award Shortlist in 2021.

A year before that day I had achieved the Pony Club A' Test. I smile now at that time, because who I thought I was becoming before that day, an accomplished event rider, is not who I wanted to become after that day. I looked at my regret, took accountability, learnt what I did not know. I chose the "red pill" (from the 1990's film The Matrix) of horse training. I chose curiosity, to being the learner, not the knower. This, today my mantra:

I am here to get it right for horses, not to be right.

In the words of Mark Todd:

"I wholeheartedly apologise to the horse and all involved for my actions in this video clip. One of the main things I preach is about establishing a mutual respect between horse and rider and that patience and kindness is the best way to get results. I believe this is one of the main attributes along with a great empathy with animals that has enabled me to have a long and successful career in eventing."

I am confident Mark will power change, out of his regret. Because that is what it is to be human.

I believe Mark Todd's legacy for horses actually started last weekend and beyond. The day that video went viral. As for our online spaces, mine are sharing "Don't do a Toddy", a new language filling the silences from our past, when we regretted not speaking up.

I see a new future on the horizon, for our horses, because of Mark Todd. As the weeks and months pass, I predict more, not less, speaking up with professional riders and coaches staying curious to get it right for horses, not to be right.

If you wish to discuss this issue or any current equestrian issue, come and join my community,

  1. Shimaoof, Susan, B. "Commonly named emotions in everyday conversations." Perceptual and Motor Skills (1984)

  2. Ford et al. "The psychological health benefits of accepting negative emotions and thoughts." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 115, no 6 (2018): 1075

  3. Pink, Daniel, H. "The Power of Regret. How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward." 2022. Canongate.


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