I enjoy and appreciate the comments and discussions that have been contributed to the blog thus far. The readers of the blog seem to represent a wide variety of viewpoints from the horse owning community. Barn owners, trainers, adult students, young riders, parents and other bloggers have been kind enough to read, and help share perspectives on this forum. Thanks for that, I hope it can help to build mutual appreciation for each of the positions, as they are all inter-related and our horse communities are more positive when every person’s contribution is acknowledged, and each person’s concerns are validated.
A fellow trainer related a story to me the other day of a client of his that had recently bought a new horse. The trainer had helped pick out the horse and it seemed a great match for the young rider. As the horse settled in to the routine at the trainer’s barn, it became obvious that the reduced pasture time was causing some difficulty for the young boy at riding time, as the horse still had too much energy. When the trainer suggested additional turn-out for the horse, the father of the young rider declined, citing concerns for the horse’s stress level. The owner also did not care to have either the trainer or another rider work the horse in addition to the child’s lessons.
Empathizing with the trainer, I asked why he thought the owner was reluctant to follow any of his advice. His response was one that made me think of several students I have taught in the past. It seems this particular horse owner had come to this trainer directly after leaving a trainer he felt was very controlling and overbearing. I do not know the circumstances of that situation, so I do not know if this was in fact true, but it was the belief of the horse owner.
Explaining his dilemma with the situation rang true to me. Many times when a person leaves a trainer that they feel is over-controlling, or unwilling to allow them to make even small decisions, they tend to overcompensate for this indignity with the new trainer. Every decision the new trainer makes is immediately subject to scrutiny for signs of control or deceit. This is an understandable response, if there were misdeeds done by a previous trainer, but it makes the learning progress difficult and possibly dangerous.
Many aspects of dealing with horses rely on faith and confidence. Learning technical information can be done by reading books. Most progress with riding happens once the rider believes that they are capable of making it happen. A good instructor must be able to explain the technical aspects of riding. A great instructor must convince the rider that they can persuade the horse to do it! Horses are not apt to follow the apprehensive. If a rider is skeptical of his trainer’s advice, the lack of confidence and committment will result in a failure to convince the horse to accept his aids. Success in this situation is doubtful.
In addition to making progress slow, safety must be a priority. Many times when I was growing up taking riding lessons in Europe, where the teachers seemed particularly scary, I wondered why the trainers always seemed to bark commands and refuse objections. “I can’t”, or “I won’t”, was not tolerated. Anyone uttering these words was dismissed immediately. Having taught for many years now, I understand the rigidity, and I wish I could thank them all for their intolerance. When you are responsible for someone riding a large, powerful animal, the rider must be conditioned to follow directions quickly, without hesitation, in the event the horse becomes frightened and shows signs of bolting, rearing, or any other behaviour that could be dangerous to the rider. A quick movement, with relaxed confidence in a trainer’s ability, can mean the difference between making the situation safe, or causing more fear and escalating the danger.
This is not to belittle the indignity and condescension that some have fallen victim to at the hands of an overzealous trainer. But I like to believe that most people who get into this occupation do so in order to share their love and passion for horses with other people. Don’t let one bad apple keep you from learning what so many others are eager to share. Whatever the experience level, we all love the horses the same!