When not to trust the “equine professional”

In the last week I received three different phone calls from potential clients around the country.  Although each had varying equine experience, each had the same underlying root cause with their horse’s current dangerous, insecure and dramatic behavior.  Each person had sent their horse to a “reputable” trainer; once their horse returned home they each were surprised to find their horse an emotional wreck and physically dangerous.  The owners are at a loss and are trying to do damage control and figure out how to cope with their now unrecognizable horses.

Sadly I hear these stories all too often.  The horse owner blindly trusts the “equine professional” thinking that they know best. Often because trainers are not located nearby, the owner is unable to witness what is happening during the “training” with their horse. 

Here are a few suggestions you might consider to perhaps decrease the chances of a potentially negative and traumatizing training experience for your horse. 

1) GO AND WATCH the trainer work with other horses before you commit your horse to their program.  If they won’t let you watch or make it difficult to set a time to visit, this is a red flag.  There should be nothing “secret” about what they do with the horses.

2)   TRUST YOUR INSTINCT when watching the trainer.  Ignore their sales pitch of “experience”, their show record, etc. and see what your immediate mental response is when they handle a horse, ride a horse and talk about a horse.

3)   LANGUAGE can be a huge indicator as to their mentality and approach when training.

Words such as “stubborn, tough, ornery, dumb, slow learner, lazy” should be red flags and immediately display the trainer’s lack of empathy and inability to read the horse if it isn’t easily complying with the trainer’s style.

4) WHAT DOES THE FACILITY look like? It doesn’t have to be state of the art and it can be basic, but does it prioritize safe and happy horses?  Does the hay look fresh?  Do the other horses look to be at a healthy weight, calm and relaxed or do you see them pacing, weaving, chewing, bothering their neighbor and generally stressed or anxious?

5) IF THERE IS A RIGID PROGRAM that the trainer adheres to for all horses, then the trainer will not have your horse’s best interest in mind. Just as with people, who all learn differently, so do horses.  If the trainer is unwilling to adapt to work with the individual horse and what his needs are, this often leads to an “ego match” between human and horse.  All too often the outcome is dramatic and aggressive behavior from the horse trying to defend himself.

6) ASK QUESTIONS If there is a lack of patience, any sort of “blowing you off” or other disrespectful behavior this is a red flag. You’re probably not going to be kept in the “loop” with clear communication and updates about your horse’s progress.

Of course there are many other things involved with finding an appropriate trainer, and often it does tend to take a bit of time, effort and research on the owner’s behalf.  But much better to make an educated decision and find a good match, than have to spends thousands of dollars trying to undo destructive training to your horse.

A few glaring differences in the horses south of the equator...

When I have a few minutes I’ll sit down and write an in depth account of the fantastic seven weeks I spent at the southern tip of South America… But from the equine related aspects here are a few of the glaring differences I saw in the time I spent around the horses south of the equator.

1.) Treated Like Horses
The animals are bred in natural settings, born in nature without human assistance and raised in a herd.   Because the seasons are reversed, I was present to see several births (from a distance) and then watch within a few days the colts climbing sheer 6,000-10,000 foot cliffs.  They learned how to find wind blocks from the consistent 50-70mph winds.  They learned how to find the snowmelt and fresh water.  They learned how to forage and find the freshest grasses.  And when the “unknown” approached, they were alert with a sensibility, rather than reactivity.

2.) Exposure
Although for the most part horses are kept in open range scenarios, there was also the reality that basically horse trailers don’t exist.  The roads are bad at best, and it is often easier and faster to ride to where you need to go.  So as you rode down the road you’d pass a variety of cars, mini semi’s, barking dogs, piles of equipment waiting to be used, the hides of various animals hanging on fence lines (as all parts of a butchered animal is used, not just the meat), etc.  Keep in mind the wind is a constant, so any discarded trash, flapping tin roofs, etc. were continually flying about, making obnoxious noises, never mind the never ending barrage of random barking dogs that would appear out of nowhere.

3.  Get with the program
Once you arrived, there was nothing to tie to.  So it was totally normal to have a horse standing fully tacked, with the bridle on, ground tied in three feet deep lush grass, in the middle of nowhere, and wait.  This could be for five minutes or five hours. During this time other horses may come or go, but if you dropped the reins, the horse realized his “job” was to watch and wait.  When moving livestock on foot, the ground tied horses would move themselves to watch the working dogs and humans sort animals.

4.)  Thoughtfulness vs. fleeing
I witnessed on more than one occasion if gauchos were passing through the area, they would appear and randomly let three or four of their horses loose on the side of the road to graze.  FOR SEVERAL DAYS.  The horses would stay put only meandering a ¼ mile or so during that time.  Then the gauchos would easily catch them and ride on.

5.)  “Ride or die” kind of partnership
Most people don’t realize the hidden ecosystem and phenomenal landscape that awaits at the “ends of the earth.”  I’ve traveled to most continents and have been to many, many beautiful places in the world, but what I witnessed on this trip was jaw dropping.  Often with amazing scenery it is gorgeous to look at from a distance, but impassible.
Unless of course you have the 4x4 version of South American horsepower. For those of you who have seen the movie, The Man From Snowy River, and know the classic “off the cliff scene,” well, that had nothing on some of the places I rode.
And I can honestly say I’ve only ridden maybe two horses in my life that I would have trusted in that extreme environment, but down south there was this confidence in the animal that truly renewed my faith that there were still some horses that had maintained what “horses used to be”- mentally, emotionally and physically.
Oh yeah, and remember whatever goes straight up, must ride straight down, and yet I never felt worry, a misstep, or concern from the horses, even when asking them to do something they hadn’t planned to do…

6.) The horses that had issues
Ironically were the ones whose “training” was based on western society’s police/classical programs.  They were not the typical 14.3-15.1H local rough stock but rather imported Thoroughbred types.  They were tacked in standing martingales, double bridles, with officers holding crops and wearing spurs. The horses (and I saw this in several cities) displayed frazzled nerves as they “paroled” (or my guess would be probably “survived” in the horse’s mind) the streets of a town.  Agitated, fussy, worried, and insecure and stressed out. Hmmm…
I'll be adding more about the trip when I have a few minutes!

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Posted by Alternative Horsemanship Remote Horse Coach on Monday, October 26, 2020