Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Why I Hate Trainers

I can't believe Fugs post today. It comes up after a long drive home through a wicked rain storm, with me chewing my lip, wishing I still smoked, and cussing the horse training world. I hate horse trainers, by the way.
Yes, I am one. I still hate them all.
I have written about a Shining Spark mare, Daisy, in the past. She came to me as a fix-em-up project. She had failed in a well known reining trainer's program. She was taken home, bred, produced a lovely baby, and put into training with me. I was supposed to get her in shape, try to pick up a few points on her, and sell her.
The first time I rode her she loped around in a cramped, head between her front legs, imitation of an 80's pleasure horse.
She was so behind the bit I couldn't get any kind of contact at all. I asked for a stop and got a stiff legged, head tossing jolt, into a bumbling halt.
I asked for spin and had nothing. Zero. Zip.
This horse had been in very expensive training for a year and a half.
I should have had some wide open, quick snapping, gorgeous stuff out of this horse.
I called the owners and tried to get some feedback.

"Has she ever been hurt?" I asked.
"Not that we know of."
"Why did she flunk out?"
"He said she could do all the maneuvers, but she couldn't hold it together mentally."
"Did she have a behavior problem, or fear, or....?"
"We never really understood it. He showed her once at the stock show, she was 15th out of 60 riders. We were really pleased. The next day she wasn't as good.
She was never shown again, he sent her home in March. He said the problem is between her ears."

With that under my belt, I went to work. First we went to just riding around. Lots of long trotting, lots of easy loping on a loose rein. I put her in a hackamore (bosal) to take even more pressure off her. After 60 days she would transition up and down, give me some gas when I asked, and lost the weird crab imitation.
I went to a reining trainer that I respect, for some input. I am eternally insecure, and was afraid I wasn't riding her right. I kept thinking that there was a magic button that I would find that would get this mare going. I was told that I was doing everything right, but I need to push harder. Something I am told often.
I started hauling her to some day shows.
She was a mess.
Frantic pawing, pacing, hollering, the whole gamut of behavior I consider unacceptable.
She was decent in the show ring, but I couldn't get her placed. Also unacceptable.
So I spent a couple more months teaching her the rudimentary stuff. Stand tied, leave your buddies, ya da da.
Where did all this anxiety come from?
Why didn't she know how to behave?
If it was a mental problem, I'm a horse shrink. Daisy learned to stand tied. She learned to be in the arena alone. She learned to behave whether she wanted to or not.
All this is stuff that should have come with a showable broke reiner.
I was reconstructing her spins. Why?
She couldn't get through a roll back with any snap if her life depended on it. Why?
She has the most gorgeous circles and lead changes I have ever had the privelege to ride.
Somebody put some quality time on her.
Her back was beginning to bother her.
I questioned the owners more.
They remembered a back problem when she was two. They thought it had been resolved.
We called the chiro.
In two sessions she was greatly improved.
I still couldn't place her.
She felt like she was going through her patterns anticipating great pain. She felt like she was trying her best.
So I pushed the owners a little more, and we have a vet come do a soundness exam. She passed.
Back to the reining trainer.
He reiterates that I'm not pushing hard enough.
I reiterate that there something that doesn't feel right.
I could go on.
Instead, we'll shoot straight to the end.
I talked them into another vet exam. She passed the basic soundness exam. I asked for more. This vet listened to me. Really listened. His name is Dr. Unruh. Good guy and then some.
He dug in deeper, and we found it.
Something in her back legs. She can't step through her turns correctly. She has trouble walking down hill. Trust me, this is slight, but it's there.
This mare has had something wrong with her her whole life. It was blamed on Daisy's attitude.
I am her third trainer.
More than likely trainer #1 did it to her.
Trainer number two #2 was too busy to do anything but dump her when she didn't pan out.
Chances are he had an assistant riding her, one who didn't know enough to diagnose anything.
Daisy's pattern is one of good behavior, then a melt down.
It explains why he would think she was mentally unstable.
If he had bothered to ride her I know he would have figured this out. Hell, I did, and I'm nobody.

The folks that own her have been taken for a ride.
These are conscientious people who love their horses. They come to see them ridden. They drop in once in a while unannounced. They trust their trainers to do right by them. Big, fat, mistake.
Daisy has gone home. The search for exactly what is wrong goes on.
Hopefully, Dr. Unruh will find it.
Lucky for Daisy she is owned by the people who have her.
They'll do what they can.
My next reason for hating trainers is Neil.
She's our big, fancy, bucking, broncing three year old.
We rode her for 30 days before she came uncorked. We have been working hard to sort out what's up with her.
I come to find that the trainer who sold her keeps asking questions about her.
"How's she doing?"
"Is she OK?"
"Have they been riding her?"
He doesn't call and ask me, or the boss, mind you.
Not being new to the trainer game, I put a strict moratorium on talking about our whoas with Neil.
If anybody asked about her, we just said, "She's fine."
The trainer who sold us Neil keeps pushing. So one of my well-trained clients pushed back.
"Why are you asking?"
"Well, you know, sometimes horses behave differently with other people."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm just wondering how she's being with them. I don't want anybody hurt."
"Why would they get hurt?"
"Oh, I'm not saying that, I'm just wondering how it's going."
That rat bastard sold us a bronc. He knew it. Now I know it.
I hate trainers. All of them.
Defend yourselves from us.
We suck.
Gotta go train stuff. Later.


  1. It's sad that there's so much bad with the few good out there. My filly isn't anywhere near ready to start yet, but I'm already having some anxiety about it. I want to work with a trainer at some point, but I am skeptical of everyone and everything. That said, Mugwump, I think the fact that you are humble and willing to dig deep for the problems shows that you are a better trainer than most. I wish I could send my filly to you in a couple of years.

  2. Mugs, Not all trainers are like that, just the majority. There are a few like us that tell the truth, dig deeper when something doesn't feel right, don't jump to conclusions. We play everything above board and open.

    Why? Becuase it is the right thing to do. Because we love animals and want what is best for them and their owners. Because we can't sleep at night if we have wronged someone.

    Somewhere between learning to tell the truth as a child and growing up most people learn that withholding information isn't lying but what I think most people don't get is withholding info may not be lying but it is dishonest.

    Dishonesty will only lead to bad outcomes somewhere down the road.

    I have had to learn the hard way to trust NO ONE, Believe only what I see, half of what I read, and nothing of what I hear until proven otherwise.

    When I am dealing with a new horse, especially for a prepurchase inspection, I ride and do all the things that I expect from them. If anything doesn't balance out I start asking questions and depending on the answer, I either tell the potential owners, Needs work, Looks good, or Don't go there. If they buy anyway after I say not a good idea then I most likely won't train for them, as I don't bounce like I used to. If it needs work, and they buy, we do what we can with it. If it looks good and they buy we are usually at tune-ups and lessons. However, if I end up with a train wreck it will go back on the one who sold the horse. Reputation wise.

    What I hate the most is people who don't know enough to find what they are looking for and buy something and expect me or someone else honest to fix it. When it can't be fixed to suit their needs. They won't give up, and keep fighting with it. Makes me feel bad that I can't do anything with what they have.

  3. I agree, I would love to send you my horse. (And I really only ride English, but you are starting to turn me a little) Just from reading about your experiences in really trying to understand the horses you work with. You WANT to know what is going on with them, why they aren't willing or ready to try what you ask of them. And you are also honest about being firm which I like. Horses have to know their horses and that you are in charge.
    And you aren't all about the flash of showing and winning. It doesn't sound like you just try to put a few good moves on a horse, show it and then hand it back. You want to give the owners back a safer, saner, better horse than they gave you to start with, and that is a sign of a great trainer. Which in some ways is depressing, because shouldn't all trainers worth their salt want to do just what you are doing? Keep up the good work. I love your blog, too.

  4. Sorry about the "their", I should have used "they're". Gah. I am at work and should really get back to it. I liked your comment, too SOS.

  5. I have to agree with you, Mugwump, and I've ridden for half a dozen reining/cutting trainers. The comment that really got me was the bit about probably only an "assistant" ever rode Daisy. i had to laugh. When I was riding for the big reining trainer who shall remain nameless, one particular mare (an Appaloosa) was never ridden once by anyone but yours truly. The poor clients were paying big bucks for the big name and all they were getting was little old me. One of my favorite moments, though, was the day I found out (I had quit the guy by then) that that little mare placed the highest of all the colts the big name trainer brought to the Snaffle Bit Futurity. So, I guess things worked out Ok for those folks after all. Good luck with Neil. I had one like that once--I know we've discussed it.

  6. Ohhhh I LOVE Dr. Unruh!! You make me miss Colorado!

    If you think the trainers up there are bad, you should come visit the "trainers" here in NW Arkansas! Its a damn joke that these people think they can train anything with 4 legs. And then they send these dangerous untrained trainwrecks into the show ring with kids riding in tennis shoes and a bike helmet that wouldnt know the first thing about balance because their trainers dont know what balance is! The only thing keeping them in the saddle is the deep seated dressage saddles with knee rolls from from hell. Its scary and unmoral I refuse to go to the local shows for fear of throwing up on these people!

    Hey Mugs, when I move back home can I send you my gelding??? He would make a perfect WP horse, and I am dying to see what he would do in front of a cow.

  7. This happened to a friend of mine.

    She bought this horse from a big name trainer in our area. Hes well known for training problem horses, BIG problem horses.
    My friend was taking lessons there for a wile. She noticed this pretty chestnut appendix QH mare for sale. She was gentle, she was drop dead gorgeous. Her dad bought her the mare. She spent two months at big name trainers barn with him taking lessons and getting to know the mare. She would ride her 3 days a week and he would ride her two. It came time for mare to come home.
    They got home and the first week went well. The second week little ol ginger mare bucked her ass off. They called the trainer and he exclaimed "Oh yeah, she does that everonce and a wile". WHO, tell me WHO would sell a mare that "does that" to a kid that was 14 at the time!?! He said he would take her back but at a lower price than he sold her for because "it's a business". I lost all respect when I witnessed this sale.
    How the hell does he come up with such nice trained horses and then sell shitty ones without telling people whats going on?

  8. Your Wumpness,
    Thanks for the great tales and good advice. I have a horse with a similar issue in her back leg(s). She's very subtly off and the big shot, big $ vet clinics can't pin it down. So everyone thinks I'm a horsie hypochondriac and spending copious amounts of money for nothing. So far that's true. Please post in your blog if the owners of the Shining Spark mare ever get the issue identified and resolved.

  9. Mugs, you are a gem! It is so hard to find trainers such as yourself (that really care about the horses they ride.)It is sad to think how many horses there are like that Shining Spark mare out there that never have someone put the time in and push to find out what is wrong.

    Do you ever find a horse that does everything you ask but for some reason you just dont like?

    There are a dozen or more trainers that are within a half hour drive of me that I wont use. I drive two hours away (and across the border from Canada to the US) once a week to see my mare in training and it has been worth every extra mile and dollar (despite the price of gas). To many people just go with who is local despite their training methods. I work with someone that loves and cares for their horses and with whom I can trust. It is sad to say that I was lucky to find a trainer like that within a two horse drive (that has the talent as well as the concern.) Your story of this mare sounds a lot like mine but the problem really was between her ears. As I was reading your story, I was nodding my head the whole time thinking, "Yup, thats my girl." My mare has the conformation and breeding to be a nice reiner (own daughter of Rooster). She was in reining training from 2-3 years of age but when I bought her she was a high country trail horse. Why? Because she was a futurity blow out. If anyone asked her to do any type of maneuver she would literally just shut down physically. She loped with such stiff legs that you could hear feet hit the ground from a mile away and her stops were a four legged SPLAT! My trainer past her off after the first two rides to her assistant. Turns out it was the best thing that could have happened. The assistant left the barn and went out on her own and I asked her to take my mare with her. Things progressed really slowly but the first week at the new barn (with turn out and huge outdoor) something just clicked in her head. At the beginning I had never dreamed I would get her to be a 70 horse and was told by the former trainer that it wasnt going to happen. With the help of a very patient trainer, like yourself, that babysat her through every step, she now has the confidence to use herself and is a 70 horse right now, fixing to be a 72 by the end of the year. Btw, she is also the one with grape sized scars in her mouth and sides that are a patchwork of rowel scars.

    I am glad to hear that you found a physical reason for your Sh.Sp. mares issues. It is so sad that people never want to look deeper into a problem and are so willing to throw away good horses or continue to push a horse that clearly has a problem.

    The thing with Nell really pisses me off. I dont understand how people like that trainer can sleep at night. I get that this is a dog eat dog world but when you put someones life in danger for the sake of a $$ you really are a sick puppy.

  10. It's stories like this that make me discouraged when I think about the possibility of ever sending a horse to a trainer. It's like finding a good barn to board at -- seems like it'll never happen.

    Thankfully I haven't had to send a horse to a trainer yet, but you can bet that once I do, I'll be shopping long and hard for one.

  11. I'm always buying untrained horses, but right now I'm really glad that I can just train them myself. It seems like the farther I get into the horse world the more I learn just how dishonest people are. The fact that you are a trainer and you are honest about all this stuff makes the horse world seem like a bit better place.

  12. Again, you make me glad that I struggle along just to ride me own stock. Your comment about the "snappy rollback" got me thinking though. For a couple of years now, I have been watching the AQHA and APHA world shows online. I love reining, but I noticed something that puzzles me. I have not had a chance to watch the pattern of the WCH classes. The "rollback" appears to be a stop and hesitate, a 170ish degree pivot, and a mad dash away from the location, making tracks about 2 feet beside the tracks that came into the stop.

    When I showed reining, ack in the 1970s (certainly not at WS level, but my QH mare had a ROM, and my Appy gelding had several wins in Jr. Reining) the rollback was supposed to be a fluid motion, coming back out in the same tracks? What has changed? Is this just the current fad, like the slow, slow, slow WP walk? I know styles change.

  13. I just love your stories. I have not had the most positive experiences with trainers either in my short time back in the horse game. Leaves you very wary and a little negative which I don't like to be. To bad there are so many people out there who like to leave out important details such as, "The horse is a bucking bronco prepared for the PRCA circut."

  14. If that jackass didn't want anybody hurt why did he sell the horse? I guess making a buck is way more important than his integrity, or being responsible for getting someone seriously hurt or killed. Maybe he told himself that if he didn't sell the horse someone else would, yeah whatever. Just the fact that he keeps asking about how the horse is doing shows that he has some conscience, or maybe he is just morbidly curious. Maybe he'll make the right choice to knock this dishonest crap off before he makes a deal that ends up being really hard to live with, maybe...

    Hateworthy indeed! Glad you figured it out, sorry you got saddled with the problem in the first place.

  15. Call me an old school horseperson or even a bitch(both of which I'll take as complimentary) but IMO there are very few trainers today that are true horsemen/women,honest,professional or even in it for the right reasons.Most seem to be in it for the quick $$ and even if they are good riders very few of them put the horses care and well being first.You see it in every breed and in every discipline...winning is the goal,the quicker the better and the horses are usually the ones that pay the ultimate price.Horse is not working out as planned?Push it harder,fry it's brains and spirit all the while collecting the training fees and then send it home when you don't want to deal with the problems.Very few "trainers" today would even bother with trying to figure out what is wrong when they absolutely know something is.

  16. I'm in the same boat with you. I'm currently hating a few supposed "calf roping/team roping" trainers that screwed my dad over. He had one of the nicest 5 yr olds I'd ever been around-this horse was built like a tank, could've been an amazing breakaway/calf roping/team roping horse, but he never had the chance. When we got him back from this guy, he was a basket case. He had scars from stitches on his chest, was scared to death of being in a stall, and would hurt himself or anyone else around if you picked up a hotshot (cattle prod). This was supposed to be my next great horse, so he went to another trainer for some rehab time after the horrible mind blowing trainer. He never really got over all the issues, and I never could trust him, and it wasn't his fault. Did I mention this horse caught distemper while he was at said trainers, and we never heard a word about it until AFTER he'd recovered from it? LOL Some people...

  17. I also think many owners are way to uninvolved or not that knowledgeable and a big part of the problem.Hey if I'm spending the $$$ to send my horse to someone for training I am going to be sure my horse is getting cared for and trained and I am either going to be there to watch or be there to ride my own horse in lessons w/that trainer myself while it's there.

    I also have a huge issue with someone else other than the trainer riding my horse....that is NOT what I'm paying for or why my horse is there.

    I have no problem speaking up or pulling my horse out if I see that things are not what they should be.

  18. So in an earlier post, you said you don't care about the "why" because the horse should do what's asked of them, but here you're talking all about the "why." I'm confused.

    I personally think the "why" is integral to understanding a horse's behavior, and I always seek that first, whether it's related to pain, general attitude, or (usually) something I'm doing wrong. (Hence my description of shaking the halter in my horse's face until she started rearing because that's what the big-name natural horsemanship trainer said you should do. Wrong move on my part. As soon as I figured out there are other ways to ask a horse to back the hell up, we were golden. No more rearing.) As both of your horses' stories suggest, the "why" defines all of their behavior, and without it, you wouldn't be able to make progress.

    One other question: What ended up happening to the mare with the leg troubles? How is she being used now? I'm assuming she'll never have a reining career? Or is there something that can be done for her?

  19. >>If he had bothered to ride her I know he would have figured this out. Hell, I did, and I'm nobody.<<

    You actually cared if you figured her out or not. What I think you've touched on here, which is something I see a lot, is that a lot of professional horsepeople see horses as disposable. If the horse does not perform as he is expected and bred to perform, they don't put a whole lot of work into figuring it out. It is easier (and frequently more profitable) to tell the client to dump him and get a different one. After all, you can sell them their next horse!

    And it's not just the trainers. A lot of clients are shits like that, too. They want to win. If a horse isn't winning, fuck 'em. They can go to the auction. They'll write it off as a business loss.

    I always wish I could figure out how to make the horse business 100% horse lovers. It's so not.

    P.S. $50 says that Shining Spark mare had someone on her back before she even hit 24 months. Am I right?

  20. smottical-It's a matter of being involved, heavily, with your horse.
    Make sure you're education comes from more than one place. Know your horse well enough to see if the trainer you have is helping her, or messing her up.
    Laura Crum- I was an assistant myself:)Like to think of myself as a good one....we both know that mindless drones were usually the favorites though.
    kaptkaos-Cowhorse yes, WP, nope. (don't know how)
    Sydney- The shitty ones are cheaper. People buy them thinking they are getting a deal....
    adventures-Yes! Sometimes I just don't like a horse. Or don't get along with them. I usually fess up and reccomend another trainer.
    manymisadventures-RIDE with the trainer. Don't leave them there at first. If everything is good, then maybe.
    smurfette- I'm more cowhorse than reiner, and we spin at the end of our stops.
    So I'm working with a reiner I like, and roll backs are a big discussion. This guy is a regular finalist in the NRHA futurities and AQHA World Show, so I'm listening close.
    A roll back consists of a long, straight stop. Then a small hesitation to let the horse gather himself. Then a half turn, just like in horsemanship, a lope depart with no hesitation, a gradual build of speed into the next run. The horse is at full speed by the middle of the pen, and stays at that speed for the rest of the run down.
    Since I've began plussing my run downs, I'd say he's correct.trainingemmy-sorry you're confused. Something is wrong with Daisy. I still made her learn to behave in a mannerly fashion while I was trying to find out why. Daisy and Neil are not allowed to hurt me, no matter what the reason. I don't care. I will teach them to behave, and then I can safely diagnose the problem.
    Trust me, Neil is learning that her behavior is unacceptable.
    As I have said many, many times in my life, It's good to know the reason, but it's never an excuse.
    As for Daisy, like I said, she is at home. Dr. Unruh is still trying to diagnose the problem. I am still her trainer, but I don't show or sell horses in pain. She is however, now well behaved enough that the doc can safely work with her.

  21. luvmytbs- If you have a busy trainer, you have assistants. Even I have lopers who do warm up for me when I'm swamped.
    The key is to check out the assistants, and know how often your trainer will be on them. A good assistant puts waaaay more time on your horse than a busy trainer.

  22. In my world of H/J I'm not paying for my horse to be ridden by an assistant trainer...he's already trained to the point of needing the specific thing I'm sending him for...the tune up for that level of work that I can't do on my own or by myself...NO,the training is done by the trainer on my horses.Not knocking the value of a good or up and coming assistant trainer especially for the young horses that need the mileage and the work but they aren't going to be riding my horse....unless THEY need the training and I give the trainer my permission for doing so.

  23. lunmytbs-I'm glad you have a trainer that does what he's told, and paid for, even when you're not around. It's a rare thing.

  24. You hit the nail on the head, Mugs. This is why I don't really like PEOPLE. I'm a dog trainer and I've witnessed similar things happening in that industry. But I think it's people as a whole the issue truly resides with.

  25. Mugs: I didn't mean shitty in value, I meant shitty as in having a problem that was not addressed. The mare was quite an expensive mare bred down from a line of barrel racers that made quite the bit of money and points in their day. I know her mum, she is a VERY well put together horse, her dad on the other hand (the TB) was a bit nutty but still manageable.

    I believe in honesty above all other qualities in humans (and horses) if the horse has problem you better be able to tell yourself and the client without hesitation what you think.
    I don't know how some of these trainers sleep at night.

  26. I so wish I could send a horse to you. Stupid distance, stupid price of fuel. There are NO trainers like in the northeastern WY area :)

  27. Oh Mugwump...I think we need to clone you and place one of you aver 100 miles all over the country.

    I would kill to find a good honest trainer again.

    Kudos to you for noticing that mare had a problem and taking the time to find out WHAT.

    Ride on, girl, ride on.