Monday, May 12, 2008

What's in your Trainer's Tack Box?

We all have them. Tack boxes that have stuff in them that nobody but us needs to see. Tools that we have used in the past that would make a NH rider faint dead away. I'm talking about us trainers. Those evil minded, money grubbing, horse abusing maniacs that everybody ends up needing, at least once in awhile.
Some of us are truly invested in turning out the best horses and riders we can. We aren't evil. Really. We are under tons of pressure, from owners, time, each other. Our short cuts are stashed away in the back of the tack room. The stuff we want you to see will be hanging up in plain sight. The other stuff is in our tack box, pushed behind the saddle racks.
I was sitting around with a bunch of trainers after a 2 day clinic with one of our gods. If you want have some fun, try to watch or attend an open rider only clinic. The gloves are off man. There are no niceties, no feelings spared. Your guts are ripped out, and everybody rides over them.
At the end of the day , every concept you ever held true is ground to dust, your pride is shattered beyond hope. Then we all sit around with our clinician, the beer flowing free, talking into the night.
I heard of one trainer who will drive a screw through the balance point of his hackamore (bosal) and warm up before a class that way. He takes it out right before he shows. This way he can get his horses soft without soring their face.
I heard of another who won the NRHA snaffle bit futurity. His colt was a terrible gaper. He fixed it by drilling a hole through his horse's back molars. He had a wire back there that he could latch with his fingers when he bridled his horse. That held the horses mouth shut.
When they checked his bit at the end of his winning run he unlatched the wire as he removed the bit, and no one was the wiser.
A common practice is to use a logging chain wrapped in vet wrap to ride hackamore prospects. It keeps the nerves on their face sore without leaving a mark.
Another trainer covers the sores on his paint horses with white house paint. When it dries the paint is stiff enough to cover the spur marks and mouth sores "even if they're still bleeding." You learn a lot by sitting quietly in a corner.
The clinician, our god, noticed I was getting visibly upset. He changed the subject to which of the big name trainers are gay. (I'm telling you, the gossip is amazing at these things!)
The next morning, as we were warming up for our next day of abuse (that would be to us trainers, not our horses:>), the clinician pulled me aside. He said, "I can see that you are a very gentle rider."
Ever on the defensive, I replied,"I know I have to step up, I'm sorry."
"That's not what I'm saying" He said.
"There is a place for riders like you in this business. Your technical, and thorough. I like that. "
He then rode with me for half an hour, and gave me tips on the old fashioned development of a bridle horse.
He told me to keep my filly in the hackamore for two years. He said if I had a problem with her to work through my issues, instead of the standard practice of alternating between the bit and the hackamore. He gave me exercises and drills to soften her and drive her without scaring her into running through my hackamore. (Which is how the screw on the nose comes about) He told me if I did that I would develop in to a true hackamore horseman.
Then he winked and said, "Let's keep all this between us, we're driving those guys nuts."
Of course the rest of the day was filled with yelling and hollering, but I was on cloud nine all day.
My tack box doesn't have much in it. I have held true to the advice I was given and work hard to explore developing a true bridle horse. I've gotten pretty damn good with a hackamore.
My methods are simple. My training philosophy stays on the premise that if my horses doesn't understand something, I have to backtrack and start again until they do.
If they are pulling through my hands I go to less bit, not more.
I am quiet on a dull horse, and am active on a sensitive one.
If you are going to a new trainer, cruise through their barn. Be careful, we're a touchy, cranky breed, don't judge or comment, just look.
Look at their bits. Look at their spurs. Find their devices.
Check out the horses. Not just their weight. Are they happy and alert? Or do they stand with their head in the corner, listless and dull? Do they push at you, invade your space? Are the sides of their mouth raw? Are there spur marks on their sides?
You won't find the tack box, I can guarantee that. But we all have them. If the training equipment you see makes you nervous, remember there is stuff you don't see that is much harder. Be aware. Be responsible. Choose a trainer you can live with morally, not just the guy that can keep you in the ribbons.
Gotta go, the morning is beautiful and the wind hasn't started blowing yet.


Magna Cum Mule Trainer said...

Hey, another Colorado person!
I can't think of anything that would scare the shit out of regular riders (NOT NH people) off the bat.
I do get some complaints on my spurs, but they're not rock grinders, just those standard issue black steel ones (no jingle bobs, dammit) that Colorado Saddlery makes.
I also show in a correction... most of the time it just looks good and sits in her mouth. It's nice to just raise my hand a few inches for a signal.

I don't believe in "fixing" equines with gimmicks. If the horse/mule is doing something that requires a terribly oddball piece of equipment to remedy, one needs to look at the rider/trainer.
As for what other people do... I fixed that by training my own critter.

(and what the hell is it with the gay trainer gags? Did all the shit hit the fan after "Brokeback Mountain" or what?)

Shadow Rider said...

I will admit to some scary items in my tack room. From various types of bits, to german martingales, whips, spurs..all covered with dust.
What do I use now? Full cheek snaffles, french link snaffles, and the occasional flash noseband.
Every horse I get in (I am one of those 'recyclers') no matter how they were trained before, goes back to a full cheek. You just ride them in a field big enough to circle them if the brakes are iffy. Teach a horse to move off your leg, you don't need spurs or whips. (although I have used both)
I have found the more I have learned, the less I need.
I do have horses whom I ride in other bits. I use a kimberwicke on my 21 yr old TWH, and a western curb on my hubby's MFT. But that's more for the horses' protection. My hubby doesn't have the hands for contact, so the western bit is nicer on his horses mouth. My mare has to be the babysitter for all the greenies, so she doesn't get all my attention, and the kimberwicke lets me concentrate on the idiot I am ponying, etc and stay out of her mouth.

The1CowgirlsEnvy said...

I'll admit, I have some headstalls that would make some people cry at the thought of their horse packing it around, BUT I've yet to use any of those. I'm addicted to bits, I just can't get enough of them, the amaze me to no end and I always thing "You never know when I may need that" I've got close to 150 bits (and I just bought 3 more this weekend)

The set of bits I actually use is small, I have about five that I use regularly.

By the way, the clinic I put on went really well and my race was great!

Justaplainsam said...

I also have a large collection of bits and a share policly with a friend. :) Some twised wires, a few ports with illegal bumps on the ends... But every horse that is 'attached' to me follows the rules in the show ring or else.

I used to train full time. And the best thing to do (which you might get cursed at for) is to show up without the trainer (that your horse is at not just a random trainer!) knowing that your comming, and spend the day.

A trainer who has nothing to hide, and loves to teach will let you learn all day. Someone who has somthing to hide will kick you off the property. I used to love when owners came to visit, spent alot of time with them, showed off their horses new skills and answered questons. Aparently I was only one of a few that were ok with that.

For most of my cilents, showing horses is fun and will never make them money. So as far as im concered a happy cilent means a cilent that will stick with me, and with horses. Although there is one or two that id like to get rid of!

As for Gay trainers.... What about who the trainers are sleeping with that week, male or female! That would keep any talk around here going for hours!

SolitaireMare said...

Yup, I'm a "bit collector" too. I have a fascination with them. I love to hunt on Ebay for the real old or unique ones. The horse I have now is a tolerant soul. He has accomodated my curiosity with different bits for years. Yet he rides in a simple D french egg link snaffle and we "tune up" occasionally with something stronger like a slow twist or a dutch gag, then back to the D.

I sold off my draw reins years ago. I know many people swear by them but I hate them. I never felt the supposed benefit of using them was permanent enough to keep doing so. I've seen horses ridden in them all the time that didn't know where to put their heads the minute they didn't have extra leather between their legs. I'd rather work on the horses' headset with seat, hands and appropriate bitting.

The only other training equipment I have are the usual running martingale, standing martingale, flash noseband and a figure 8 noseband. I have used several gadgets over the years and one by one sold them off. The stuff I have now serves me well and it's the simplicity of it that seems to make the results more permanent.

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

All of those stories are why I am starting mine MYSELF.

Sure, there are people who ride better than I do, but I know that I won't sour him or ruin his legs or his mind.

I spent quite a bit of time last year riding a sour filly. She was three and the idiot who broke her (who is about 21 and thinks she is a trainer 'cause she has really big spurs) rode her in a twisted wire snaffle, snapped on her face, rode in spurs every time, etc. The end result was a dead sided filly that went behind the bit. I put her in the bitless bridle, no spurs, and she improved though she still had balking episodes. Fortunately she got sold to a home that is mostly focused on trail riding, which she is excellent at and actually likes.

I do want to send him out for fine tuning/showing the AQHA shows in 2 years and I think I have found someone I like (but will probably check them out more than a little before I do it!)

As for gadgetry, I don't think draw reins are the devil but they definitely won't get you the headset they want on today's Quarter Horse. I do like my surgical tubing training fork and found that it makes a great combo with a full cheek snaffle to slow down and balance those feisty little OTTB's. Side reins are another device that definitely have a value when used correctly. I don't own anything with a twisted mouth. I used to play polo on a mare who normally went in this and draw reins in a hackamore with a single rein. I'm not a snaffles-only person but most people overbit because they aren't using their seat/legs properly to slow and stop.

Jennycallie said...

I ride at a small (14 stall) dressage barn, with the owner and instructor the same person, a kind and knowledgeable if somewhat eccentric lady. I've been her student for about 7 years (I'm 18) and I can confidently say there is nothing in our barn that we would wish to hide... There are a couple of double bridles, but they are only used on horses that are ready for them (third level up, already understand collection, extension, impulsion, straightness, seat and legs aides, so on) and ONLY with riders who have educated hands- Although I often get to ride a high level Andalusion stallion, he's always in a loose ring snaffle! As it's a dressage barn, we don't have martingales and such. Side reins are used as a training tool, but are not the automatic choice; each horse is assessed and trained differently.

While I do not have a problem with gadgets when they're used correctly and gently, I also do not believe in them as an option for 'fixing' a horse. They should be a training tool, not what 'trains' the horse. If you can't collect, engage or generally control your horse in a snaffle, you have no business riding the horse in a double, or anything with a chain/shank.

mugwump said...

Hey Mule Trainer!
I truly don't know what was up with the gay comments, like I said, I learn a lot by just sitting in the corner and listening....
I have become a better trainer from riding with these guys. I have learned some wonderful, nuanced, beautiful things. I also have learned a lot by deciding what I absolutely won't do.
Where I get stuck as a trainer is that if I only know what I won't do, it can get hard to find out what will work.
I continue to be allowed in with this good old boys club by nodding my head a lot and doing as I'm told. My split with my mentor has caused some waves, but surprisingly, I've gotton tons of support, even from the old guys.
My horses and clients are starting to make a small dent. My "soft" training style has been known for a long time. We'll see how many tack boxes I can get to come out of the closet. Hee hee

Horsegal984 said...

Yeah, I have some stuff in my tack box.... really evil things like neck stretchers and side reins. =) I start everybody in a loose o ring snaffle and once they're used to a bit I play with a variety of snaffles until I find what they like best. My variety includes a copper full cheek, a copper roller d ring, copper roller full cheek, myler comfort snaffle. I also have a running and standing martingale attachment. I have two sets of spurs, a prince of wales and a humane or LeSpur(like a barrel spur). I can actually say that PITA is the earliest I've ridden a horse in spurs, because he was sooooo dead sided and would ignore my leg instead of moving off it. So for him, 2 months with the LeSpur and he's moving nicely off my leg, with no spur. I use the traing devices the way they were designed, to help accomplish the ultimate goal, instead of as a short cut for real work.

I do have my one favorite short cut though, ankle weights. Ya know, the $5 Walmart ones. Put them on over some polos for horses who are lazy and drag their feet over fences. Train in them for a while, take them off and you quit having rails down. I'd rather do that than "make the rails hurt when they him them" the way some trainers suggested.

Francis said...

The "Dirty Little Secrets" of big time horse training will always be there locked away in a box in most barns. Some folks are so clueless that they leave them hanging out for the world to see however :)

Personally, livestock and real estate works for me. Lots of wet saddle blankets and consistency on my part seems to yield a very handy ridable horse. Now, granted, I do not compete with the big boys! But I do put alot of miles on my horses and ask them to calmly accept situations that would put the bigboys horses over the edge!

I ride in the lightest equipment I can for any horse but the lightest or the heaviest equipment is only as good as the rider in whose hands it resides. If you are easy on a horse, you can ride with big ole jingle bob spurs and they never touch the horse.. but come on, they are mostly for looks anyway :)

I am rambling..

A good rider has the experience to work with different tools in different situations. No tool should be used as a shortcut. Time and effort produces a good solid horse..

Just my two cents worth from over in Georgia.

Latigo Liz said...

OK, I want to come ride with you sometime! And whoever you were riding with, I want to ride with that person, too!

Smurfette said...

I THINK I know "what is it with the gay trainer comments." Heard this a long time ago, before being gay was so fasionable.

Mom was sending her daughters on the road with the trainer, who was a gay male. When asked if she was worried about her daughters, she replied "No, I'm a lot more comfortable with him hauling them than any other men, and a lot of women I know." On the regular show circuit (I am thinking non-reiners or cow-horses here) isn't a LOT of the big money in youth and amatures, both usually female? Gay males are non-threatening to the parents or significant others of said showers. ;)

green_knight said...

I have in my tack box a well-fitting headcollar for lungeing in, a lungeline, lunge whip, plain loose-ring snaffle and the ghost of a dressage whip. (Too many people have nicked mine, and I don't need one at the moment).

I have in my toolbox twenty-five years of experience and intense instruction by classical trainers, knowledge of all the things that make a horse resistant and a host of exercises and approaches that will render him calm and willing to cooperate.

And I don't feel the slightest desire to acquire anything else. I have stuff in a collectors look-how-cool-*this*-bridle-is kind of way.

I am lucky in that nobody expects me to hand them a finished horse after three months of training, and I wouldn't ever want to promise that.

The stuff you've related... I am not shocked, I've been around horses long enough to have heard some of it before (not the wire through the teeth, though - what's *wrong* with this guy that he would injure his horse and set him up for almighty problems further down the road just so he can place a little better without the need to work out *why* the poor thing would resist? ) And I don't get it. My experience is that every trainer gets the owners he deserves...

mugwump said...

Green Knight,
The wire in the teeth guy got millions of $ in endorsements and the pick of the herd from the top QH breeders in the country. He rules the roost to this day.
In his mind he knows why he did it. The fact that the story roams around the trainer gab fests WITHOUT CRITISISM is what freaks me out. It tells me that the door for abuse is always open.....

green_knight said...

There are a lot of bad practices over here, both in big sport and backyards, but at least the abuse is not as institutionalised as it appears to be in your corner of the world. The thought that other trainers could endorse abusive practices as long as someone wins scares me.

You might have noticed that I'm a purist; but I think that in many ways that makes life a lot easier - I do not have to think about 'where is the line' very often, and if anything I'm more successful without gadgets than many people are with them. Training is about skill. Sadly, often it is also about giving the horse time.

Take heart, there is always a call for correct trainers. And with every person who *doesn't* pound long yearlings into the ground, there are hopefully a few owners who realise that you can have a nice horse that's trained without the tricks - and that you can take home after its show career and have many years of fun with.

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