Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mugwump again

I wasn't going to post today, I'm behind on my horses. On the other hand, it's wet and rainy, there's one more cup in the pot, and I've got some questions rattling around in my head.
Yesterday my boss and I went to a local reining trainer for a tune-up.
I'm a big believer in getting outside help. Too many of us trainer folk get caught up in our own mystique. We start thinking we know it all. We worry that our clients will question our ability if we don't know all the answers. The most dangerous trainers I know are the ones that truly think they can solve it all.
In reined cowhorse we show three events. We have herd work, dry work, and fence work.
The herd work is our bastardized version of cutting. We know better then to call it cutting. Mainly because the cutters mock us. As they should.
Our herd work is mainly done on our futurity and derby horses. (Don't yell at me, I don't believe in futurities) We ride two handed. We steer. Our horses often use their inside hind leg to turn, a huge faux pas with the cutter guys.
Our dry work consists of a modified reining pattern. Slightly shorter in length, the horses are allowed a little more leeway in how each maneuver is executed. To my mind our dry work is a little freer, more forward than a reiner. The real reiners would tell you we're wild and half way out of control. Hey, talk to the horse. Our patterns are designed to emulate the moves a cowhorse makes while working a cow. Cowhorses are much more opinionated than a finished reiner, it shows in our work.
The fence work is all ours, baby. It is about control of the cow. Driving the cow forward instead of holding it in position, as in cutting. A good fence run is pure ballet. The horse is scored on how much work he does on his own, how complete is the control of the cow. Horse and rider need to be a team, show trust in each other, a willingness to relinquish control, or take it back, all while travelling up to 35 MPH down the fence. A good cowhorse is only going as fast as the situation dictates. A good score often comes from smart thinking, not crazy speed. If you have to hold your horse back on your run you need to go home and think a little bit.
The popular belief for a long time was that if you were fairly competent in all three events you would succeed. And you could. Then guys like Todd Bergen and Bob Avila started showing up.
Needless to say the bar was raised.
I have come to believe that the only way to succeed in this sport is to learn to cut like a cutter, and rein like a reiner, keep getting help on the fence, keep my mind open and my mouth shut. Except here. Where I can be as opinionated as I want.
In my quest for the perfect go I have gotten to peek into a lot of different worlds. In each and every one I keep seeing lame horses. Injected, drugged, stomachs churning with ulcers, horses.
Reiners with hocks so stiff their legs drag at the trot. They still slide with perfection. Time after time.
Cutters who can't even lope anymore, still eagerly going into the herd.
Cowhorses fried out of their minds, still bringing in the dough.
Where do we place the blame? The owners? The trainers? The sport standards?
I know the pleasure and all-around horses have the same problems.
What about you dressage guys? Am I right in thinking you have levels of competition designed for the age and ability of the horse?
What happens when you add a wealthy, inexperienced client that demands more?
Do dressage trainers have the same pressure to over train?
I started four horses for a veterinarian a couple of winters ago. She had a strong background in dressage. She came to me on a referral, plus I was close enough for her to keep an eye on me. I was trainer number four. This was not an easy deal.
I think she was taken aback when I asked her for some lessons. She happily complied. I got some wonderful input. She loved the rate of speed I train at. I'm considered slow by most, but fairly quick by her. She was happy, I was happy. It was a good winter.
So any dressage people who want to jump in here, please do. I know just enough to get in trouble. I still use what I learned about balance to this day. I also found out that my position in my cutting saddle is identical to a correct dressage seat. How cool is that? Except for my cutters slump of course. The vet kept begging me to sit up.
How about jumpers? Endurance riders?
Is it possible to attain the highest level of success in any equestrian sport and still have a horse sound in mind and body?
My personal horse is 6. She is just starting to be consistently competitive. I still show her lightly.
I am no longer considered a handy class stuffer, because I can occasionally bump the bubble. I am not yet taken seriously. My horse is still sound and reliable. I fight the feeling that I can never truly get to the top every day.

11 comments:

spotteddrafter said...

Gosh, isn't that just depressing as all get out that because you are taking care of your horse, you aren't the top of the class? The entire show industry sickens me. I am a former WP gal, entering the world of dressage. I don't plan on doing more than First Level, but that's just for me. Although, I have to say, at the lowest part of our lessons, I've had the urge to go buy one of those $40,000 over-trained horses. LOL!

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

>>Is it possible to attain the highest level of success in any equestrian sport and still have a horse sound in mind and body?<<

I've seen it in polo. Though part of the issue there is that a horse who may break down is going to kill you. You simply cannot safely ride an unsound horse full bore down a polo field, stopping and turning at speed, without risking a bad accident. You see a lot of lameness and bad care in the lower levels of the sport, where you have a lot of beginners who get into the sport knowing nothing about horses (and are sold lame horses by greedy professionals!) but the upper levels have gotten pretty good. The horses are very fit, and any sourness is usually cured by the fact that most polo ponies only play half the year, or at the very least have a month to six weeks off twice a year - typically turned out, on grass, with other horses, don't have to do anything. It also probably helps that polo ponies don't have to have a perfect tail and a scratch free exterior, so many people do run them out in a herd even during the season, where land and space permits. Finally, since we work them in sets of 3+, a horse is very likely to have several days a week where he is only ponied. That's a pretty mentally unstressful form of exercise.

A lot of the show horse sourness is that whole thing where they are always locked in a stall, sleazied up from head to toe, tail in a sack, no other horses to play with. There was this beautiful red dun gelding at my old barn, gorgeous pleasure horse, but MAN was he "shut down." The ears were perpetually a little bit back and he did not respond to anything. And again, this is why I am nervous about EVER sending the VLC out. I hear these horror stories about nice stallions going out for training and coming back nippy and nasty and sour...

How do we change it? Well, really, the owners need to figure out what sound looks like and stop listening to whatever the trainer tells them.

HorseRedux said...

Oh boy -- you had to go there!!! I’m an aspiring dressage rider, but I’ve been concerned about some of the practices I’ve observed at barns where I take lessons. Classical dressage is a training method that’s intended to be done slowly over time in order to allow the horse to develop the foundation (i.e., strength and flexibility) necessary to perform the more advanced movements. Assuming that you have a WB, this training shouldn’t start until the horse is at least 3 (preferably 4) and you wouldn’t even attempt collection until the horse could move with rhythm and balance (and impulsion and suppleness, etc.) at w-t-c. Attempts to shorten this process without proper conditioning will leave the horse vulnerable to injury. While no one seems to have the time (or money) to go slow, they don’t bat an eye at forking out the money for imported horses and the chiro, massage, pain medications and joint injections needed to keep them moving. I think dressage is a fascinating discipline, but pushing to advance up the levels at the expense of the horse’s well-being is really just as bad as using 2-year olds for reining and racing.

Crazy3dayer said...

It really boils down to horsemanship. I mean if you REALLY care about the horse, you go slow. The barn I just left has a 5 yr old extremely well bred Holstiener mare. She's been ridden since she was 3, she been H/J, Equ and Eventing. Last month she had surgery for Bi-lateral OCD in her stifles. These people aren't high dollar showers, these were training shows or piddley local shows. This mare's rehab has been ignored and neglected. But if you talk to her owner...oh she just loves her and has done everything and then some. This disgusts me. I grew up in the suburbs of a MAJOR city. I rode in a ring for most of my youth and LOVED it. The BO and instructors where there for the horses. We rode ex-polo ponies, OTTB, saddlebreds, grades, etc. We learned how to cool down, braid, groom, tack ,etc. I really see people that just want to "jump up on a pretty horse".
I know we need to eat and support ourselves but I also think that Trainers/Barn owners etc need to start putting the horse first. NOT all trainers and BO are in this category, but the older I get the harder it is me to find this.

mugwump said...

spotteddrafter-You have to realize
that I'm never sure that I'm not getting to the top because I'm careful of my horses, or because I'm not quite good enough. I won't change the way I care for them, but in the back of my mind I always wonder if I use that as an excuse for a lack of talent.... So many of those bastards I compete against are such astounding riders. They are single mindedly driven to succeed. I have been told more then once that my biggest problem is a lack of competitiveness. Or, am I too becoming sickened by it.
Fugly- most of the horses at the barns I interned at were depressed. Eerily silent. The studs never nipped, or looked up for that matter. Even when feeding they never made a sound. Mine on the other hand are perfectly willing to let me know what they think.
I think I want to ride polo ponies!

Magna Cum Mule Trainer said...

>>Is it possible to attain the highest level of success in any equestrian sport and still have a horse sound in mind and body?<<


Yes- particulary because I work with mules, and they aren't shy about handing the rider a big F-U if they're unsound or aprehensive at all. You can't intimidate a mule. You can't do shit with them if they don't like what you're doing. It's not that they're dumb- they just want to be VERY SURE that you're honest about what you want.
I feel like I school 3 times as much as anyone else at shows. I get there in ungodly hours of the morning so I can get her into the main arena before our class. We ride the rail as close as I can get. I pop in the arena every warmup time whether my class is imminent or not.
I'm very competitive,(it gets the best of me sometimes) but I love my mule. We show in every class I can get her into because I don't get out to shows that often.
(anyone wanna give us a ride this summer? Ello? I'll clean tack! Stalls! Anything!!)
But I don't drug her, no painkillers, not even lavender rubbed in her nose. She will learn how to deal with stuff fully awake.
I've had some faceplant shows that I would like to delete from history, but we've also had some major victories for us.
That's the way it should be- some good and some bad shows because they can't be perfect all the time!!
At this rate she'll be pretty good at age 25 or so. (remember- mules live longer than horses)

But of course, the people with $ can't take a bad show, and they can't take years of schooling a horse. They can't take 5th place ribbons... anything to get their name in the honor roll in some magazine or qualify for some bigwig national show.
Meanwhile the horse is held together with ace, banamine and vetwrap.

Crazy3dayer said...

Magna Cum Mule Trainer said "Meanwhile the horse is held together with ace, banamine and vetwrap." That's the barn I left and it's not even a show barn. I love to rehab, I love taking the hurt, depressed or damage horses and fixing them or letting them live their lives w/some peace and security. I had to leave the barn b/c here the horses were on the back burner for EVERY effing owner in the place. It broke my heart. I would LOVE for USEF, USEA, USET, ALL the equestrian assoc really I mean REALLY set a standard of slowness. sigh

Justaplainsam said...

I used to work for a top hunter/jumper breeding farm in Canada. To go to shows we had a 3 foot square tack box FULL of drugs. Yes we did cary some drugs because it was cheeper to carry bulk than to buy from a vet at a show but we carried alot that only 'improved' preformance. And we were the norm. A top jumper rider in Canada uses a BBQ brush around the corenet (top of the hoof) band then puts terpentine or other irritant into his sheepskin boots on the horse. So every time a horse hits a jump, more irritating materal goes into the fresh scraches on the horses legs.

I hated working for that place. The highlight of the horses day was when they got fresh shavings in the morning :(

I have worked at a large WP farm where all the horses are well looked after and happy. The horses are all treated like the owners' own and all get turnout and treats every morning.

In the local area there is a lack of good dressage trainers. Alot of 'riders' are reduced to using gagets to get a 'head set' and very few advace from the first few levels. In fact the whole 'give them time to grow up' has spawned a group of people that dont ask anything of there young horses and then get pissed at the western people who have "broke" horses (lol w/t/c and round and move off the leg) by the age of 5. (aparently we abuse them by making sure they are ridable and have manors before selling) I have actually heard someone say "Well the tests dont ask a horse to back till he is 7, so why rush?" ummmm to make your horse safe? This person was actually taking a test to become a judge...........

I know of a local horse (draft/TB cross)that was given a good start at the age of 3 (90 days) then brought back as a 4 year old for another 90 (with my trainer). His new owner couldnt get him to canter because her own position was bad, blamed it on the original trainer shiped him to a new trainer for a month now the horse has magicly improved "so much with ______ riding him" But the girl herself has yet to ride him again.

Personly I still dont like the way WP is going at the top. Local trainers and breeders have worked hard at improving but it doesnt seem to matter at the top.

mugwump said...

Local trainers and breeders have worked hard at improving but it doesnt seem to matter at the top.
I agree.
I'm not sure how to get it under control. Owner awareness has to be important....

green_knight said...

There is, let's say, a lot of variety in what is called dressage. It ranges all the way from classical folks (whether they call themselves that or not), who start their horses at four, ride them lightly for the next two years, and buld their strength, keep their suppleness, and gradually ask for more, via competitive trainers who train to the test, move the horses up quickly, ride with a lot of skill and/or gadgets to often get something that _almost_ looks fine but can't be replicated by amateurs, to wannabes who kick and pull, fry a horse's mind at an early age, have the hocks injected before the horse is fully grown, and, and, and.

*Good* dressage is wonderful. Horses - like in the Spanish Riding School in Vienna - often work into their upper twenties, they are light, comfortable (horses that brace are not), and they're wonderful to ride. _Bad_ dressage is just as awful as bad anything else, although there seems to be less inventiveness in terms of gadgets and bits that are absused, and any quest for a headset tends to be undertaken under saddle, not by tieing the horses into pretzels in the stable.

Anonymous said...

While can never be sure based on the things I personally have seen, I have a 37 year old gelding that can still jump and do dressage like a 15 year old and is sound doing it. He was used in his younger days as a team penner and was very successful. This allows me to believe that with good management horses can be highly successful and still be sound. Its all just about not ruining them when they're young so that you still have a sound horse by the time they're 5.

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