By Robyn Hood
Deciding to send your horse to a trainer is a big decision. Once your horse is off property, you have no way of knowing what is really happening to them or how they are being treated.
With social media it is easier to find a wide selection of potential trainers but it is not without its limitations. Word-of-mouth can be a good way to get leads.
Find a trainer who is interested in you and your horse and hopefully knowledgeable about your breed and/or discipline.
Consider how your horse has been raised when looking for a training method. If your horse has been handled regularly since birth it could be difficult for him to be started with methods using instinctual methods.
A horse that is confident and fearless around people, tack, wheelbarrows and plastic, will respond very differently to being chased in a round pen than one who has been virtually unhandled.
As you hand your horse’s lead rope to the trainer, your responsibility for the animal does not end. There are far too many horror storied in the horse world, as well as the dog world, about training gone bad. We often hear about the horse who left home easy going and calm but came back bucking, biting and sour. Often the owner has no idea what went on at the trainer’s place, just that something must have gone terribly wrong.
Is it reasonable to send your horse that leads and picks up his feet to a trainer for 30 days and expect him to come home ready for a trail ride and to win a ribbon at the local show on the weekend?
Often trainers are under pressure to produce miracles in far too short a period of time.
It has been shown that horses generally learn better when worked 3 or 4 times per week, rather than daily, but most owners expect as much work done, for a monthly training fee, as possible. Some trainers use shortcuts in the form of draw-reins, martingales and spurs that may very very well catch up with the owner later on.
Sending your horse to the trainer unafraid, and well prepared for saddling not only saves money, but also makes the experience of working much more pleasant for your horse. Even if you have on a bit of experience with TTEAM you should be able to safely take your horse through all the steps of getting him well prepared for his first ride.
Linda’ s book “Training and Re-training a Horse: The Tellington Way” walks you through the steps of preparing a horse to be ridden in a safe, quiet way.
Linda’s primary interest in the late 60’s was developing a method of teaching the amateur horse person how to safely start his or her own horse and it has been very successful for over four decades. With most horses getting them to the stage of being mounted and ridden while being led is the easiest part and can prevent bucking, rearing or resistance that often happens from misunderstanding and lack of correct preparation.
Finding the Trainer
When scouting out a trainer, ask for references and follow up on them.
Visit the stable several times and see what the attitude of the horses is?
- Do they look eager to be next in line to work?
- Are they looking content or anxious, confused or fearful?
- If in stalls do they stand at the back of the stable or with their back to the door?
- Do they come to the door when the stall is opened?
Put yourself in your horse’s hooves and see if you could figure out what the trainer is trying to teach the horse.
How does the trainer respond when what he/she is doing doesn’t work and the horse isn’t getting it? Does he keeping repeating the same thing, increasing the pressure or does he have alternative approaches? Does he get abusive and/ or upset? Remember one of Xenophen’s quotes “When knowledge ends, violence begins.
Is what the trainer is saying (ie the philosophy of his approach) and what he is doing the same (ie working without fear or force AS LONG AS the horse co-operates) but if the horse doesn’t then the trainer gets rough.
If the horse is having problems does the trainer consider looking for physical reasons, or saddle fit or do they see everything as a behavior or attitude problem.
Take responsibility – for not tolerating abuse and remember that one person’s abuse is another’s acceptable training method. It always depends on your point of view and the type of relationship YOU want to have with your horse.
You also need to understand that no matter how well trained your horse is, unless you also improve your riding skills you cannot expect the horse to maintain that level of training after returning home.
Finally, at a gut level, how does it feel to you? If you feel uncomfortable about what is being done (even if it is “for his own good”) question it in your mind. Can you keep this up or do this at home, on your own? If not it is unlikely the result will hold.
Here are some questions to ask a trainer:
- Can you come and watch him/her work with your horse?
- Make it clear to the trainer what you expect and what you will not tolerate.
- Stay clear of trainers who do not allow customers to watch training sessions, there is usually a reason.
- Will the trainer work with you and your horse before sending you on your way? It won’t help you much if the trainer can rider your horse and you can’t.
- Who will be working with your horse? Is it the high profile trainer or one of his students? If a student works with a horse is he or she supervised?
- Will you be contacted if there is a problem, either with the health or training progress in your animal?
Once the horse is in training
- Visit your horse as often as you can and watch the sessions.
- Is your horse improving or is his attitude going downhill?
- If he is resistant, sour or has recently started to display unusual behavior there is probably a good reason.
- Remember that you will have to live with this horse for the rest of his life, or if you want to sell him; a difficult horse is a challenge to sell.
- The trainer will send the horse home and not have to deal with him again, so don’t hesitate to take the horse home early if you are not happy with his situation or progress.
- Remember! There are always other options.
Just because a trainer advertises using a certain type of training realize that not all trainers implement a method in the same way.
The best trainer may not be the one closes to you, but your horse will thank you for looking around.
From a Tellington Method perspective we are interested in educating horses instead of just training them to a cue.
If each time you started working you have to go back to square one or always start with the same thing, then the horse may not really be ‘learning’.
Learning is blocked if there is pain, fear or anxiety. Often if a horse is not able to do something there are described as ‘dominant’, ‘stubborn’, spoiled or resistant.
As with people, horses have different learning styles and different ways of expressing and coping with stress or confusion. For example, I have heard from some QH trainers that they think Arabs are crazy. The reason they may think that is because Arabs respond differently than a QH. Breeds have been bred for specific purposes and even with a breed there will be different learning styles.
Bottom line: You are your horse’s advocate.
Make sure your horse in training is being treated as you would like to be treated, fairly and with understanding and kindness. Know that if you cannot find a trainer who meets your criteria, you can join the growing number of amateur riders who choose to start their own young horses.