Wednesday, May 21, 2008

But I love her!

There are lots of horses needing homes. Lots. I often get going on what not to do as a horse owner. I work hard at being the best horse woman I can be, and try to land on the side of the horse as often as possible. I feel I set a pretty high standard as to what an owner needs to accomplish to deserve the hayburner in the back yard.
I know I push myself, and my students pretty hard with my expectations. I lost a potentially very big money client this year. I did it by challenging their motivation for owning a horse at all. Now another trainer has them that is better at making them feel good about what they're doing.
I could rant about the injustice of them not listening to me, or be angry at the clients for going where they can hear what they want to hear. I could be mad at the other trainer for playing their game.
Instead I'm evaluating what makes a person a good horse owner. I'm evaluating whether my standards are actually serving the horses, or my ego.
I have heard two truths over the years that base my core belief in how I need to manage my life with horses.
The first came from a very wise and realistic trainer early on in my open riding years.
The horse I was showing was a very stressed, over trained, ulcer ridden stud with no manners. In those days I was still thinking I had to prove myself. Which meant I would crawl on anything with hair. I automatically assumed anything that went awry was my fault, even though I had inherited this horse from another training barn.
During this five day show I had endured him dragging me across the arena, after a mare, when I dropped his bridle for a bit check. I was saved when a fellow exhibitor left his horse and helped me tackle him.
Throwing a hysterical fit and kicking a trail course to smithereens.
Mounting a mare WHO WAS BEING RIDDEN while his owner was warming him up for their non-pro pleasure class.
Bucking through every lead change on a riding control course.
I was sitting on him that night, watching the rest of the show, which was going quite smoothly without us, by the way. We were both too wiped out to fight, so I guess you could say we were in a peaceful place.
I was talking about him to another trainer, and was struggling to say something positive.
"He's just so stressed by all this commotion." I started.
"Stressed my ass." The other trainer said.
"This is how I see it. We feed them, vet them, float their teeth, groom them, and protect them from the elements." she added.
"We buy every gadget known to man kind for their comfort.
We have extended their live expectancy 15 to 20 years past what it would be in the wild.
If I decide I need them to go to a horse show and show for eight or nine hours because I'm an idiot, then they can damn well do it."
I never forgot that.
The other was from a client who had tipped a few too many one night at another show, many years later.
"This show stuff is just nuts." He said.
"We talk about horses that want to show, or like the spot light. Who are we kidding?
You know what a horse wants out of life?
Four things.
They want to eat, sleep in the sun, run on a windy day, and take as many big healthy dumps as they can possibly fit in."
I never forgot that one either. I call them the big four.
So what makes a good owner? In my mind it's one that gives their horse the big four as often as possible.
So a lot can be forgiven. Stupid mistakes. Bad decisions. Poor riding.
Remember, your horse will forgive it all if it has plenty to eat and drink.
I have a client who refuses to take a lesson. I have no idea why.
She has had me train every horse she has.
I have advanced each of them to a much higher level then she can ever hope to ride to. Only because she won't come learn how to ride them.
This used to drive me absolutely nuts.
It finally occurred to me that her horses could care less.
They happily sink to her level and motor her around where she pleases.
She will not extend one iota of effort to improve her skills.
She enjoys riding fancy horses.
She loves them, gives them plenty of the big four, and brags on them endlessly. They stay with her forever.
I consider her an excellent owner.
I have worked with owners who knew nothing about horses but still owned at least one . They usually show up, flustered, scared, and pretty belligerent. Their horse is almost invariably, long footed, thin and pissed off. I had one show up once with the halter on upside down. No joke.
I used to cop a pretty officious attitude. I shamed them, and made them feel like they didn't deserve to ride a tricycle, much less a horse.
Good for my ego, bad for business.
Bad for the horse.
Now I thank them. Ask them what their goals are. Gently start guiding them to giving their horse the big four. I try to remember, that no matter how difficult they are, they came for help.
I consider them excellent horse owners.
I had a client. The daughter owned a very talented, very fried little cowhorse mare. She was bought from another young girl that had won a lot on her, fried her brain, and proceeded to dump her on the clients.
They knew the horse was fried. They bought her because they loved her. They were going to give her a forever home.
I knew all this because they told me this repeatedly.
They decided to make her a versatility horse.
Makes sense doesn't it? She's too fried to compete in cowhorse, so let's add three or four more events. That should calm her down.
Their trainer tried to slow them down. She worked on their horsemanship. She put the horse in a softer bit. She did what she could.
I met them when they came to a cowhorse clinic I was the clinician for.
Their trainer recommended they bring me the horse. I got the mare for thirty days. They were very worried. They had never let one of their babies go to a trainer before.
They loved her so.
They brought the horse with an astounding number of supplements.
Blankets. Instructions. So many instructions.
I stressed the importance of them coming out at least twice a week during the thirty days. I felt it was vital the young girl learned to ride the mare as I worked with her.
We made out a schedule.
They cried when they left her. They loved her so much.
The next time I saw them was three weeks later.
They couldn't believe how calm she was.
"I've never seen her so happy!" Mom kept saying over and over.
I was a little confused. This mare was pretty dang grumpy.
We squeezed in two good lessons on her in the next week.
The mare worked well and the daughter was an excellent rider.
They took her home a week early because Christmas was coming and they wanted to make sure she got her Christmas Carrots. They loved her so.
The next time I saw them Mom was saying, "We could barely get her in the trailer. She hid in the barn when we pulled up. She chases us out of her pen. I hate that bitch. If you can't fix this she's going down the road."
Guess what?
I'm not thinking they're going to pick up on the big four.


  1. My biggest fear about ever sending the VLC out to the BNT he really needs to go to is that they won't give him enough turnout...that they'll lock him in and pick at him and annoy him until my super sweet, snuggly VLC is turned into a nippy, nasty, neurotic freak.

    Are you sure you do not want to take up a new discipline? I'd send him to you in a heartbeat but I just don't see a 16.2 three year old making it as a cow horse. :)

  2. WOW...You hit me on another one, good points. I know MANY horse owners who sneer at me because I don't load horse down with treats, or worry about whether he is in the "mood" to perform or not. Now, perform brilliantly, maybe one has to be in the "mood" for that, but just to do as he is told, nope...thats his job. He doesn't get treats for doing his job, he gets to go back to seeking that big four. People are horrified because I will spank a horse for spooking. Hey, horse..its MY job to keep you out of situations where you are going to get hurt, its YOUR job to go where I point you, so make your mind up quick, are you more scared (respectful) of me, or that imaginary horse-eating monster over there, most of the pick being scared of me.

  3. fugly-
    The scarey part of your 16.2 three year old is if he grows like most quarter babies he's just revving up!
    I don't have the patience for the all around stuff. I have too much of the "go-fast"
    You have enough behind you to do it yourself.
    If I could get my non pro status back I would hook up with a talented trainer and haul back and forth for lessons.
    I honestly don't know of a trainer that I'd let my horse live with. Even the ones I like!

  4. You know, I'm kinda of the philosophy of that trainer you quoted. I'll do my best to make sure my horse gets the big four--but, by golly, when I want to take her out of her stall and work her, I bloody well expect her to turn to face me, walk out with good manners, move over when I ask, and no BS about her inner horsie.

    I have a feeling she'd walk all over anyone worried about her inner horsie, anyway...when we head off to work, whether it's indoors or outdoors, her head's up, her ears are forward and she's ready to go.
    Once she gets good and warm and starts channeling Daddy (Chocolate Chic Olena), I'd better be on top of my game, because she's one tough gal.

    Good-minded and cooperative--but tough.

    I got lucky with her, though--any other breeder/trainer than the one I bought her from and she'd have been a fried and lame mess by the age she is now (8) and probably an ouchy broodie, instead of coming along nicely as a sweet little saddle mare with a nice attitude (though tough).

    Moral of the story?

    Podjasky said it best--"I have time."

  5. joycemocha- You sound like my kind of horse person...:)

  6. I could not agree more. My horses get the big 4 and when I want to use them, they better be ready and do what I need.

    Our cutting horses are not shown (because that's the way we want it) but they are rode and worked everyday. They are all happy and healthy, one is reaching 16 and will cutt right out from under you. I do believe it is because they get to be a horse.

    My heart breaks for those horses that can't get out. To me that is cruel and unjust. If you don't have the turnout space, get a halter on your horse and go walk him to the nearest grassy patch and let him eat.

  7. At what point do you point out to the client that THEY are creating the problem with their handling and care of beloved little Whatzit?

    Sometimes stupid can be fixed. (Of course, it requires participation on the part of the stupid person, which is of course significantly more challenging to obtain than it ought to be ...)

  8. This is my first time posting to your blog, I found it from Fugly!

    I so wish I was close to you, I would love love love to take lessons from someone like you. I have a Hollywood Dunnit and when I first bought him last year I took him to a very well known reining trainer that I thought could help me ride better and find all his dang buttons! Once I got there all they told me is how old he was (8) and used up that he could help me find a new horse....WTF I just bought this one! I got wise after a month, obviously after only been given 2 lessons total, my poor boy stuck in a stall all day and night...I hauled his little blonde butt home to where he could be outside in the day and inside warm and snuggly at night. Now I know he wasn't used up because the gal I bought him from DID NOT run him into the ground and showed him in all kinds of events not just reining, he did do working cow horse, some english and games. I had him throughly vet checked. We do lots of fun trail rides together, egg n'spoon at the saddle club stuff and barrels. We are working up to speed there ;) Kinda of a scardy cat, no problem going fast in a straight line but careening around a barrel is a little more nerve racking. In any case I love your take on training and horses that is why I wish I was near you I have been to some barrel trainers as well and I am now gunshy to try and spend my money on anymore. I read as much as I can and get videos and am looking to do a barrel clinic so I don't have to leave my horse anywhere and to be constantly told he isn't going to run 1D or whatever. I don't want to run 1D, I want to love on him and his brother ( another barrel horse) learn to care for and ride properly and have FUN, do they know that word anymore?

    Sorry, rant over. I get fustrated because it seems no one wants to spend the time with you if you don't show so they can recieve recognition. I just wanted to applaude you in your take on the training of people and horses. Keep doing what you are doing, don't give up! I read from the begining of your blog to yesturday's post and I love it.

  9. bigpainthorse-
    I made the mistake of telling those folks that if they didn't learn to read and cope with their mare they would end up with all their horses behaving the same way.....I never saw them again. They now ride with another trainer that has sold them two new horses, from what I understand the mare stays home. I have also heard that both the new horses are starting to have behavior problems. Surprise, surprise.
    My people skills need some work I guess.

  10. hope4more,

    I understand how you feel about the barrel stuff! Most of the well known are only after the high paying people that want the fluff n stuff. I cannot stand that. I have been riding barrel horses for 15 years and I have met alot of "trainers". It is down right scary at what these people do. Yes, I want that 1D horse. Will I ever have that 1D horse, probably not but I still love to just get out there and run. Trainers don't understand that. I got really lucky and learned from whom I concider the best. She has not won a world title but got close many times. She has done most of her winning at the futurities and such. She is so down to earth and easy to talk to. Her mom and dad live right across the street from my grandfather. Let me tell you, what an awesome experince to be a kid at an arena just watching someone so good with horses and then that person and her family helping a kid out that had/has a dream.

  11. Imaointexas-

    I am pretty new to barrel racing so it is nice to hear that I am not crazy and that other people notice what I am noticing. It is nice to hear a good story too. The reining guy had to be one of the worst though, he just plain didn't help me in the month and a half I was there I saw him twice. Every time I showed up to the barn his assistants would tell me he couldn't make it so I rode on my own a lot. I was paying a lot of money and was sick of being intimidated so I took my horse home. Might as well have him closer and try to ride as much as I could and get a good seat. That's what I did.....or well tried to do ;) I am still a work in progress.

  12. I must admit, I would really like to live close to someone who has a very good approach w/ Western horses. I board at a "Western" barn but I ride preferentially dressage/jumping. In my area, I have seen so many frightening things with horses--and on a regular basis, I always get asked, "Why aren't you riding your horse?" Well, my wild mare is turning 9 this year, and until last June was ferocious and chased her owners in her barbwire pen. No ground manners, no nothing. So I've spent the year slowly teaching her what I would like her to know. And I have been on her back several times, but I am not quite finished working her in hand and on the longe to really start her under saddle. Her recent medical emergency has provided an excellent excuse to all those around us as to my slow ideology.

    It amazes me that people think they can solve "stiffness in the neck" by tying the horse's head to one side, obnoxious behavior with the tooth man by drugs, chains, and cursing, headset with drawreins, beginner riders w/big spurs...I could go on. I get the free horses whose behavior can't be fixed by that kind of approach.

    I remind my mare on a daily basis that she is DAMN lucky she lives with me: that she goes out every day, that her stall is kept meticulously neat, her water is changed daily, daily careful brushing, etc. She could be forced to understand things before she is ready--and with her personality, would become a veritable land shark.

    Perhaps it's because I am riddled with ADD that I do things for perhaps, oh, 15 minutes at a time. In that 15 minutes, we have a careful, slow plan. The plan unfolds in the same way: the horse is reminded of previous work and we add one extra bit--maybe turning a bit more here, improving the bend. Or reducing the size of our circle a bit or changing the length of our strides--shorter, longer and repeat. It's easy and we both can pay attention!

    I'm so glad you're posting about things that you find personally unsettling. It's very comforting to see that other people (older and more experienced than I!!) are encountering the same kind of unsettling activity. I have been trying very hard to find some kind of mentor/person with an acceptable approach towards training in my area--and I've come to the conclusion that it's just not here for me. I have to smile, and cope, and deal on a daily basis. And find pleasure in the quiet obedience and huge try that I've cultivated in the cannibal mare.

  13. I'm so ADD I can't find my way out of a paper bag...:) As the years go by I find more and more of us are drawn to horses.Interesting.

  14. Heh...I think the ADD mentality simply requires a different mindset. Horses click. How?--of course, I would be rich if I knew. But I think it has something to do with the regularity, simpleness, and silence in "translation" of horse activity. If you're wiggly, of course your horse will be--and you can absolutely realize that mindset. It's almost an advantage, esp. when working with the hot, inventive ones.