Friday, August 8, 2008

Why We Might Need A Trainer

I love this picture. My girl is stepping through
a wonderful spin. Her pivot foot is buried, and
she's showing all her wonderful Hollywood Jac 86
flexibility. She's the best. I wish I hadn't dropped
my inside shoulder, but what the hell. She showed
through it.

MugWump on Trainers

I know. I said I hate them. I do. I hate Lima beans too. Nasty, slimy, slippery things. And then there's the lima beans.

But sometimes we need a little more fiber. I will still go to trainers for help with the horses I ride. I ask my questions, I ride my own horse, I absorb as much as I can.

The reality is that a steadily employed trainer knows a lot of good stuff. He will ride several horses in a day, usually working with each horse at varying levels, all towards a specific goal.
My cowhorses may be at different stages, but I want them all to become cowhorses. So I have the advantage of trying to achieve the same goal in many different kinds of horses. I try to solve different issues with each horse. I figure out how to get a frightened horse to look at a cow. I think about creating a hesitation in an aggressive horse. How to develop softness in a dull horse, or ease a nervous one. It gives me a ton of good information to share.

I'd like to share how I would look for a trainer. I have to be honest, it would be hard to get me to leave one of my horses with anyone. Not necessarily because I don't trust them, but I know how I want my horses managed. I don't feel it's OK to demand that somebody that I trust enough to train my horse, still has to abide by my perception of horse care.
I would look at the horses in training carefully. At most of the barns I have ridden at, the horses are very quiet. Until I worked for the Big K for several months, I couldn't tell if the horses had been fed or not, when I came in. Even if they were hungry they would all stand quietly, ears politely pricked forward, and wait to be fed. That's also how they looked when you walked into the barn, anytime of the day.
I had never witnessed that level of discipline. It amazed me, and was a little unnerving.
If I had prejudged the situation, I never would have learned how to maintain that much order in a barn.
When I pick a trainer, I come for lessons once a week, or twice a month. I bring my horse. I open my mind to what they are saying, and absorb everything I possibly can. I try not to judge. I never tell them they are wrong. I have to know them extremely well before I argue. I will try anything they show me. I get value from learning what not to do, as much as what to do.
I keep my opinions to myself, ask as many questions as possible, and then go home and practice. I chew on what I've learned until the next time I see the trainer.
As time goes on I watch the how the trainer rides. I will try to emulate him, absorb his hands on the reins, the slump of his shoulders.
I watch the horse he rides. I try to figure out what he expects from his horse and how he gets what he wants.
Is the horse happy and willing? Is the horse afraid?
Even if the horses are afraid, I'll hang in there, to see if they cheer up as time passes.
Trust me, a bunch of the horses that come through my barn aren't real fond of me for the first few weeks.
I want to know how to train my horse. I want to know how to guide them through each maneuver. I want to win.
If I was a non-pro looking to send my horse in for training, I'd approach things the same way.
I would take my horse as far as I could on my own before I even started looking, then I'd want to ride with them before I made a decision.
If my lessons went well, and I felt comfortable with the trainer, then I would consider leaving my horse.
I would take lessons on my horse at least once a week.
I would probably volunteer to clean or groom in order to observe.
I would keep my mouth shut.
And I would yank my horse faster than you can holler "Aunt Greta" if I wasn't happy.
Remember, a trainer can't change who your horse is. If your horse is a dumb ass, it will still be one when you get it back. If it's a spook, it will always be one. If it has no talent, the trainer can't give it any.
That's why I would always be hands on in any training process. I would want to know how to deal with the quirks of my horse. I would want the trainer to teach me how.
It won't do me a damn bit of good if the trainer can ride my horse and I can't.

So is going to a trainer worth it? In my mind, yes. I can teach wonderful things to my horses. The very best came from the very best trainers I could find.
I guess it all depends on what you want.


  1. I think every single trainer can teach you something.
    They can teach you what to do, or what not to do if you watch them and figure out what works and what doesn't.

    Oh, by the way mugs. Remember when I was talking about my mare that was previously head mare becoming skittery and nervous? I had one of those lightbulb over the head moments today and had the most amazing ride.
    It turns out I was not willing to listen to her at the time but we had an amazing breakthrough today and I don't see her (or myself rather) turning back either. She said she wanted the reins longer, I said I want to ride english. She said "the saddle fits but HELL NO!" I guess shes still a western horse at heart and I need to start riding like I am in my ol tex-tan again. I rode today with my hand on the buckle of my reins, resting on her withers and the other on my knee. She even put her head down so low she was practically scraping her nose off the ground. Her back cracked and she sighed.
    I think I am in love with my new found forgotten horse :P

  2. When do you know if its time to get a trainer? Or what you expect out of them and your horse? I am a pretty green rider, and somehow let a friend talk me into buying a green, hardmouthed, pregnant mare last summer. She told me foals were easy and that all I needed to do with this mare was put time on her. She said she would help me, but she has two kids and a job and I don't expect much, which is good cause I didn't get much. But here I am a year later and I'm an even less confident rider than I was to begin with and I'm not sure my horse is any better either. I've been bucked off by two different horses, neither was mine, and one of those landed me in the ER after I cracked my head open on the pavement. I adore my horse and she has a great mind, isn't overly spooky and honestly tries for me. But neither of us knows a damn thing other than my lack of confidence makes her tense and we feed off each other. I'm to the point I think I need to sell her. But at the same time I feel like if I do I'm giving up on her. She needs confidence to be confident, and even though I've been taking lessons for the last few weeks I'm not sure its helping. I've come to really respect you as a trainer and would like your opinion.

  3. Go Sydney!- if you really want her to go English, try teaching her to give one rein at a time.Then to tolerate a light hold a few seconds at at a time. Then begin driving her forward into the bit a few steps at a time. Eventually lengthen the amount of time you want her on the bit.
    OR- Rider her western like she wants, and you can both enjoy your selves.
    summersmom-Don't be afraid to change trainers. Ask around, your vet, people you see who ride well, your vet.... give your trainer a chance....take severel lessons before deciding.
    Do you walk away from each lesson with new knowledge? Is your horse better, even a little? Tiny steps forward work best.
    I'd be inclined to stick with a kind, green horse, than a well trained hot one.

  4. What would you suggest if there were no trainers for your disipline in your area? I'm without a trailer so anything out of the area is close to impossible.

  5. Mugs-She does give to one rein at a time. She knows how to walk in a strait line and bend her head to the side, one rein stop etc. I consider her a very well trained horse if you know how to go about asking for it. If I pick up one rein at a time and put a little pressure on it she flexes right around to my knee (I teach that to all my horses on the ground and in saddle for suppleness). She flexes at the poll like nothing and backs when I take my leg way off her sides (yes I did some reining with her).
    I think i'll ride her western for a wile and slowly start implementing the contact again. I think shes just a horse that relaxes when she can look around and pick her own path. I love riding western I just find I work so much harder on myself in english.
    It's not like I have a paddock or anything to practice riding in anyway so we are on the trails or in the field. I think shes finally relaxing a lot more and since I am not worried about perfect hand position I just kind of jello. What a great feeling. I want to ride again so bad but I am soooo busy this weekend. I have a wedding tomorrow (blah, I have to wear a dress -_-) and I am hired for pony rides on Sunday.

    I have to agree with you. Kind green horses are better than experienced nutty ones.

  6. Wow... I've never thought of asking my vet to recommend a trainer! *smacks head* AND my vet is an actual horsewoman so she just MAY know of one.
    Man mugs, some days you make me feel so dumb! lol

  7. sydney-can you mix it up? Today's English day, where I work, and tomorrow will be western play day?
    BTW I take my dressage lessons in my cutter.
    esquared-I truly don't know. Do you have a specific trainer in mind?

  8. Very good points mugwup!!!

    It might also be a good idea to check out the trainers other students as well. (esp with amature or youth if your showing with a group)

    Do the students ride well and take good care of there horses? Does everyone pitch in at shows or do clients get handed there horse to walk into the ring with? Students will take there lead from a trainer and even if you dont see bad stuff in a trainer you might see it in a bunch of students.

    You can always learn somthing.

  9. What I want is to live in a place where I can find someone to help my poor pokey no motor bored out of his mind appy. I wouldnt get help from the people around here if my life depended on it. So my beautiful appy with the best attitude towards life ever, sits in a pasture getting fat, because I dont know how to help him. He will never be an english horse, ever, and I dont know a darn thing about western. well at least he makes a great w/t horse for my friends 5 year old daughter....

  10. >>I have to agree with you. Kind green horses are better than experienced nutty ones.<<

    Indeed. I found out that Bessie's owners came out the other night when I was not home and proceeded to ride her around the field. I had two rides on her at that point, and we have no history on this mare other than her foaling record.

    She was fine. She wouldn't move out of a slow walk but she was fine.

    There's no substitute for a brain and a quiet disposition. You just can't train that in.

  11. "sydney-can you mix it up? Today's English day, where I work, and tomorrow will be western play day?"

    I am not a trainer, but my mare is WP "trained" and I am converting to English/Dressage/Jumping (although she was used for English lessons). It has taken me over a year to get her from leaning on the bit by riding with loose reins. I still doing both Western (I do have a Western saddle I use to mix things up)and English with her...I posted before about doing "slow spins" (turns on the haunches) and other WP things in an English saddle...I do love the Trail classes. She is finally getting on the bit and collecting.

    I laughed at the I was jumping her and she was a bit tired and was trotting the last jump and ignoring my (tired) I put both reins in one hand, grabbed the ends in the other, wolloped her, and got her to canter up to and over the jump "ala Cowboy" :).

    Maybe it's me, but I don't care what saddle I'm in...I'm going to start barrel patterns with her (she's one smart gal, and gets bored easily, so I"m always throwing something different in on her "fun" ride days). I'm sure if she gets really fast around the barrels, I'll want my Western saddle, tho - but I wouldn't want to jump in it! Ouch!

    Oh, BTW, those plastic cat litter containers make great markers for serpentines, low jump standards, etc. Never could figure what to do with them, hated to put them in a now they have a second life.

    Oops...sorry for the ramble!

  12. Mugs, I love the photo. Your little horse is so pretty! I love the WP girl behind you looking on as well. I think you are having more fun than she is.

    I had some fun today putting my old boy in my daughter's old WP show bit and riding him on a very loose rein. I think he likes it so much better, just like Sydney's horse. Mine was an English school horse for years, by default, but he's a Sonny Dee Bar AQHA, so he seems to prefer Western. I don't know what he did before he was a school horse -- probably Western. I was just happy to get a bit on him after 1/2 an hour of intense "conversation." I'm seriously thinking about a trainer for him so thanks for the advice.

  13. Hi mugs, I love your blog. Wowza!
    I keep getting kicked off when I leave a comment. Yall come visit me at

    mtn mollie

  14. I agree with your thoughts, mugwump, and I have resorted to a trainer myself this summer, despite the fact that I normally ride all my horses myself. But I was gone for the month of July and am over-impacted writing my 11th mystery, so I sent the four-year-old (Smoky, who I wrote about earlier on equestriaininkblogspot) to a trainer I know well who has been in business for twenty plus years, and has helped me with other horses in the past. The colt just came back home last week and he's doing great. It is possible to develope a relationship of trust with a trainer (if its the right trainer) and go off on vacation leaving your horse with said trainer, and everything will go fine in your absence. You just have to develope that relationship first, as I think you'd agree, Mugwump. One tip, if you're interested in simply making a better broke horse, as I am these days, its helpful to find a trainer who is not too involved in showing (of whatever discipline). Most of these specialist trainers are really only very interested in the horses that are aimed at a show career. Reining trainers want future reined cowhorses that they can show or coach their non-pros to show, cutting trainers want cutters...etc. They will not (in general) take much interst in your horse if its not there for that purpose.

  15. "If it's a spook, it will always be one."

    Surely you jest!!
    I don't know what kind of training methods you use...but my horse used to be a major spookaholic. If she saw her own shadow, she would pretend she was a Lipizzaner.

    A well-known Morgan trainer was helping me for about half a year...till I started training her by myself. She's been in the Parelli Program for two years now(which makes me a sinner, cult member, and bad rider, I know) and she has not spooked ONCE in the past two years.
    Not once.

    Of course since I do Parelli, maybe I'm too busy jumping over picnic tables with my $85492052 string to let my horse spook...

  16. Sarah,
    Give me a break. I'm talking about the basic make-up of the horse. If you train it, and it quits spooking, than you have taught it to cope with it's fear.
    If you sell it, and the next person to work with that horse doesn't maintain the training, it will no longer be able to cope, and become a spook again.
    You can't change who the horse is.
    So 1. You have done a good job training your horse, and should be proud.
    2. I have said more than once I don't care how you train your horse as long as it works for you, and is safe for both you and the horse.
    3. If you have such little confidence in your own obvious ability, and you need to buy into carrot sticks etc., that's your choice.

  17. laura crum said-
    >> One tip, if you're interested in simply making a better broke horse, as I am these days, its helpful to find a trainer who is not too involved in showing (of whatever discipline). Most of these <<

    Excellent point. That's where the NH'ers can step in.
    Also, it will help your youngster to be as broke as possible (ala fugs) before he goes into specialized training.


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