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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.

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