Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ranto-rama 2

I keep wondering how the horse world has changed enough to even have the subject of actually riding our horses come up. The entire bond between human and equine sprung from the relationship between horse and rider after all. If somebody hadn't realized horses were the happening mode of transportation, our equine friends would be grouped with cattle, sheep and hogs. You know, meat.
Somewhere, somehow the horse has been elevated to the status of a spiritual being. A companion animal, a best friend, a confidant.
In the course of this transformation we have changed the role of our horses from a service animal to an animal we bend over backwards to accommodate. We shelter them in barns more secure than our own homes, we blanket them, we feed them expensive mixes of feed and supplements. I know for a fact my horses get better dental care than I do and they definitely get more pairs of shoes every year.
We spend thousands of dollars learning how they think, move and react. We sacrifice our money, time and relationships to secure their well-being.
Is there irony here? Big time in my book. Since a horse allowed to choose it's life will be out in the winds in the open prairie, safe from the confines of a barn or any other cave-like structure. As a matter of fact, if they can make a choice, they'll be running with their buds, giving us a dismissive flick of the ear as they fly by.

A horse's digestive system is designed to continually have high fiber, low-protein grasses travelling through it most of the time, yet we colic the horses we love so much, stuffing them with rich grains and hay, carefully doled out in a few feedings a day. We clip the protective hair from their ears and legs, keep them blanketed and under lights so they can't grow protective hair. We breed them to have big bodies and small feet, or tiny with birdy bones to make them quick and fast.
What has happened here? It seems to me we are still treating our horses as a service animal, it's just that our expectations of service have changed. We still keep our own needs foremost, but we wrap ourselves up in a fog of "Horsenality" which will let us pretend we're looking out for our horse's best interest.

I am not accusing here. I am as guilty as the rest. I love my horses. I have altered their nature to the point where my favorite horse will gladly abandon her herd mates to spend time with me. It makes me feel wonderful.

I first learned to truly study a horse's body language to achieve a better relationship with them through John Lyons. Then I found Ray Hunt. My life with horses changed dramatically. I learned to love them even more through understanding. Training became easier, kinder, faster.

It was just short of miraculous.

When I started training horses who were going to perform in the upper level shows my understanding helped make my job easier. It also ended up making me really question the ethics of what I was doing. I still wrestle with this every day.

Part of my thinking revolves around where the role of horses fits in my life. As a show horse there is no question they continue the role of service animal. The industry molds them and throws them away as needed. The same industry creates the fancy breeding I'm so fond of.

I have accepted this and am trying to decide if I can balance what is expected in order to win in the show pen and my desire to keep my companions happy and sound.

So here comes my next point. I think we got in a heap of trouble when the movie "The Horse Whisperer" came out. Soft lighting and Robert Redford created a tidal wave of people with nothing more than a romantic mental image of horses ready to wade in and learn how to be one with a horse.

Anybody can attend a few clinics, put a round pen up on their five acre ranchette and adopt a mustang or two. This idea of training has been encouraged by countless clinicians who are ready to sell you a few tapes, sign you up for their 20 step program, take your money and declare you a trainer. All without ever getting on the damn thing. If you understand how to turn them in a pen by pointing your finger or get them to follow you around your corral without a halter, well then, you're a horseman.

The horse population peaked in the ten years following the "The Horse Whisperer". Baby boomers started buying, breeding and training their own horses at an unprecedented rate. The big ranches which used to produce the riding horses we knew disappeared as 5, 10, 20 and 40 acre lots took over the ranch properties.

The terms back-yard breeder, rescue and NH'er became part of our horse speak. How are these all connected? I think we have to accept some responsibility here.

I understand most of the big-name clinicians offer programs which will eventually get you on your horse. I also think they have to be very careful not to get somebody killed. Because they are extremely aware that most of their clients are women over 40, with little or no previous experience with horses, with a horse they can't cope with. Usually a youngster, barely started or not started at all. So they get heavily into the ground work. They teach you to go back to the ground work every time something goes wrong. You are encouraged to learn to read every ear-flick, tail swat or wrinkled nostril. You are taught to make sure each step is completely taught and understood on both sides before you dare proceed to the next.

Believe me, this is pretty practical advice if you're an under-trained, naive horse owner who can't ride. Because if you haven't put in your time on the back of a horse, you shouldn't be messing with a young one. But I don't see many well broke twelve-year-old geldings in the round pen.

I guess what I wish is we could be calling the kettle black here. I don't really care if you want to spend all your time with your horse on the ground. If you get satisfaction from carrot sticks and clickers I'm fine with it. Because personal satisfaction is what owning a horse is all about isn't it? I also feel the horse in this situation is every bit as much a service animal as the aging ranch horse who is run through a local production sale.

I think our horses should be rideable in case something happens to us and end up being sold. If they can be ridden they have a much higher chance of survival than a horse who will put his nose on a cone when we click our clicker.

Other than being broke enough to ride down the trail I think we should do what we want. I also think we should start to be honest about our motives. Are we endlessly working on the ground because we're too scared to ride? I'm sorry guys, the only way to conquer our fear is by riding. For hours and hours. If we could be honest about why we do things maybe we would quit saddling ourselves with horses we can't ride. Maybe we would quit pointing fingers at others who do thing differently than ourselves. Maybe we could pool knowledge and get to be where we truly want to be. Riding. Because I don't know about you, but when I finally realized my childhood dreams of owning a horse, the picture in my mind was all about running my horse, my friend, my companion, across a field. With me on his back.


  1. Thank you for this post. I know it is probably preaching to the choir, but it makes me feel good to hear someone else say it. It frustrates me to no end to see a first time horse owner at my barn who bought a weanling. She had less than six months of weekly lessons a few years prior to the purchase and was 'too scared' to ever canter. How will she train this horse? My problem is that the horse (now 3) will not be sellable, especially in this market. He is pushy, paws while tied, and doesn't know anything except how to 'open wide' for his dewormer. If something happened to his owner, who would buy him and how would he be treated?
    While, he is still young and there is plenty of time before he turns into an unbroke 8 year old... He is on that path. This woman owns more training wands, special halters, and various lengths of rope with leather poppers on the end but always has an excuse to not work with the horse. He doesn't know voice commands for woah, walk, trot, canter, or reverse.
    I know mugwump doesn't really do much in the way of longeing or ground work, but I like to have solid voice commands on the horse before I ride so that I can introduce other aids with less confusion.
    What is in this horses future, I don't know... but I surely don't see him being ridden anytime in the next few years.

  2. GREAT topic, as usual. I “found” Buck, Ray, Greg and others before the book/movie hit the shelves/screens. Thank goodness I did, thanks to a few very close friends. I have gone through phases of thinking that I had it all going on and sneaking rides to overdoing the groundwork (and not doing it correctly) and having a pissed off horse. Extremes. Now, I just try to find a balance. I don’t ride as much as I would like and near as much as I did a few years ago. Not for want. Just hasn’t been as high a priority as other things. Being a mom you probably understand that. But, I like to think that even with not riding as hoped, my horse(s) are happy and healthy. I have greater respect and honor for them than I used to because of having great mentors over the years. I aspire to great things with my horses, but my timeline is a bit linger than it used to be and ultimately it needs to be safe and fun to get to my goals. :)

  3. Amen! I admit it Im afraid. Thats why Im so good at showing Halter! However I now have 2 client horses that Ive been asked to ride this summer. So I did the deed, asking some local trainers (that are way above me in skill!!) to take me on as a weekly lesson student. To get my legs back as well as my brain!

    Ya know but maybe that makes me a better horse person... That I know when I need help and Im not ashamed to ask for it. And truthfully no 'real' trainer has ever looked down on me for it, in fact they are more than helpfull.

    The only crap I've had came from 'expert' amatures, who still cant ride there own young horse... even though they dont need lessons anymore.

    I am however the person who will ground drive/lunge untill the young horse understands basic comands, and has good balance. Oh and I insist that horses stand next to anything for me to get on them from.

  4. I agree. I actually find the barrage of information pertaining to ground work really confusing. I'm far better at explaining myself to my horse from their back. Even if I am scared.

  5. You raised one point that I think is really relevant. And I am the perfect example. Yes, I trained horses when I was young. Yes, I've broken upwards of fifty colts in my life and ridden upwards of one hundred green horses. I quit riding at age 42 to have a baby. Now I'm riding again after five years when I never did anything but ride around with my little guy in the saddle with me (on my well broke older horse). My skills are not what they were. Not even close. I'm older, stiffer, fatter, anxious, unwilling to be hurt. From the blog world I've learned there's lots like me. There's even a name for us: "re-riders". So, my point?

    Did I go buy another young horse to mess with when I went back to regular riding? No. I bought a gentle, broke, experienced 12 year old trail horse to ride with my kid (for whom I bought a very gentle, very well broke 20 year old horse). These horses are sound. They are reliable. We are having lots of fun on them. I keep wondering why so many women in my position insist on saddling themselves with horses that are beyond their current skills. More power to them, if they are enjoying the process, but I for one don't think that I would enjoy riding green horses at this point in my life, and I've had a lot more experience than most.

    Great post, mugwump, as always. And I really enjoyed your post on equestrianink, too.

  6. I'm with Laura. Greenies are not my stock in trade; as it were, I think the only reason I bought Mocha when she was just five and still fairly green is that I knew her from a foal and knew her basic temperament. I would never have bought her half-brother as he was a handful and a real firecracker but she threw solid to their mama for temperament.

    I also won't touch rehabs, either. Thought about it, nope. I did a wee bit of riding of rehabs as a working student and I just don't want it. While I want a bit of sting, I also want rational and sane.

    Mind you, Miss Mocha is not a beginner's horse. Too sensitive, too opinionated, too much a quiet alpha mare. For me, though, she's just what I want in a horse.

    As for riding vs groundwork, for me groundwork with a broke horse is what you do when the horse is lame, or you're tired, or you're running short on time and want a quick and dirty schooling. Most of my riding happens in the evening after work, and some nights I'm just thrashed. Those times are when the lunge line/round pen/ground driving holds the most appeal. Mocha tends towards occasional muscle strains where she needs to be worked through it but riding isn't always the best way to provide controlled exercise; in those circumstances a little ground driving is just what the doctor ordered (and I keep playing with the idea of breaking her to harness).

  7. From your blog I get glimpes from horse life in the US. It's so interesting to see a different horse world, a long way from me in Norway.(Thanks a lot for the terminology-post, by the way)
    What you call ground work is not much used here. I wondered when I read the post the other day about the reason for it. This post made it clearer, thanks.
    Personally I solve the problems as we go.
    With young horses, there are a lot of scary things. In my opinion riding out with a sensible older horse is of much more use than to train in the riding arena at home, once the basics are established. When I see that this is working well, I start riding the horse out alone in the countryside. I walk a lot beside him so not to strain the back. That is ground training :-) I get a horse that is fit, is leading well and is used to be out away from its buddies. He also has to deal with a lot of different situations.
    Lots of horselegs-eaters out there!
    I don’t believe that you can get the same result in an arena?
    Then, when my horse has got the physical/mental training and has learnt to balance himself, the dressage/jumping work can start.
    But then again, for me it's the riding part that is important. The handling just comes as a part of the daily routines. I also wonder, maybe riders in the US are more occupied of controlling the horse? "Personal space" around your horse as an example, unknown here. Really. But if your horse tries to walk over you, you smack him. I guess it's about the same :-)

  8. Whoa!!!!! First - absolute bottom line is we agree that a horse that cannot be ridden equals a horse in danger cuz it moves the horse that much closer to the possibility of a fast ticket down the slaughter pipeline.

    Guess I'm one of those older women returning to horses. I had a fair amount of unschooled experience in my younger days - lots of love for horses, little knowledge, and less sense. That amounted to climbing on bareback and running like crazy up and down mountain logging roads.

    Then I had a kid, and did have the sense to realize I couldn't manage being a single mom and keeping a horse in any kind of responsible fashion (I much respect those who are able to do both) . . . back to school, better jobs, more money, decades passed and GLORY BE, I am again a horse owner.

    AND I do believe I am one of the one's you are ranting about if I understand your points. My "goals" for me and my tiny herd of two? My discipline that I want to concentrate on? I want to have fun with my horses and I want to have a relationship with them. I also want them to be safe, sane, sound, and ridable where and when I want to ride them. Arena - trails, the beach, the park, the river.

    I am a full on natural nutcase - we're talking bitless and shoeless here. I do my own trimming and love it AND my horses are sounder for it.

    I eat up natural horse training literature - and I apply it on the ground and on the back of my horses. Yeah, I'm big into horse as sentient being. Call me a Joe Camp groupie.

    I'm also big into knowing & respecting that Red and Lyra are wired WAY different than I am and experience the world in a very different way. I'd better become really literate in how equine as prey beast reacts to the world. My 56 year old body don't bounce like it used to when I was a wild 19 year old crazy rider.

    Tell ya what all the emphasis on ground work has got me - it has taken a stubborn, spoiled, very dominant 15 year old gelding who, 1 hour after I became his owner,left a large hoof sized boot on my sizable right butt cheek and turned him into a stubborn, dominant gelding who absolutely respects me, my space, and will try his heart out for me. Oh, and I hand feed him. Carrots. LOTS OF CARROTS. And he damn well respects my space when I offer them to him.

    My mare - a crazy, neurotic, many times starved 20 year old TB rescue about to be returned to her downhill slide cuz she didn't work out as a boyfriend horse. DUH! Got her in May. Won't take the time to chronicle her many crazed behaviors. As of today, she gives beautifully to pressure in all directions, is easily caught on 40 acres, stands quietly when tied (was a HUGE issue) and is a DREAM to ride for her incredible sensitivity lends to amazing responsiveness under saddle. To get here - time on the ground LOTS OF IT. Time in the saddle LOTS OF IT.

    I believe EVERY moment with my horses is a training moment and I'd better be grounded and present cuz I want that training to happen with intention.

    I'm a just a novice. I love the endless learning curve in the equine world. I get on my horses and ride or I don't - instead I do ground work, defined as everything that happens when I am on the ground. I work my horses every day - I ride 5 days a week. Every night I am at the barn. LOVING BEING AT THE BARN!

    I lunge both horses yet I don't NEED to lunge either Red or Lyra before I ride. My own pet peeve is seeing folks needing to tire their horses before they get on. Oh, and thinking they can pull a horse out of the herd once a week or so and things will be hunky dory.

    I LOVE riding. Am I afraid to ride - sometimes HELL YES, cuz I got sense. Does that stop me? NO. It does inspire greater focus, awareness, and strategy applied on foot and mounted. I also LOVE ground work and barefoot trimming, and wandering with the herd over 40 acres, watching horses within the herd hierarchy.

    Well, there we go, a good day for ranting.


  9. This strikes a deeply resonate chord. Last year, 7 months ago, I was depressed thinking about riding. I feared I would never be able to ride again. 5 years regularly coming off a horse I know now to be a bad match for me had destroyed my confidence. My daughter telling me the problem was my lack of riding skills didn't help. I have videos, magazine subscriptions, books, and yes the NH carrot stick crap. I was desperate. A good trainer has taught me that I can ride. I just need to ride a well trained (Broke as they say) horse. And one of mine is getting there, working with that trainer. Cantering makes me smile instead of cringe, there is so much more to learn, it is so complex and so rewarding, and I love it. And I could never have gotten there without actually getting on the horse. Or the reluctant (I don't teach riding lessons) trainer. Or Fuglys blog, and commentators. Reading that really helped focus me on the need to do something different, like pay someone who knew what they were doing to actually work with my horse, instead of buying stuff from others who were going to teach me how to do it. Not.

  10. This post left me with a mixed bag of feelings.

    It left me feeling a little like our horses are "missing" something by not living wild. The flip side of that is they often live better and I would think longer, than the wild ones. At the very least, there is not the same level of predation in a domestic setting as in a wild one.

    I also got the feeling that you don't think those who are afraid admit it. I've admitted it at least twice on this blog, once just the day before yesterday. I intimately know what my riding and comfort levels are and I work at expanding them. One poster here, admitted it in the comments too.

    Heather wrote: 'too scared' to ever canter. How will she train this horse?

    I don't canter either (yet), but honestly...I'm a damn good trainer. I'm a good trainer of people, I'm a very good dog trainer and I'm more than adequate at a lot horse stuff that others simply put up with because they can't get a horse to do it differently. Riding and training are two different things. A good trainer can train a horse that a shitty rider can get on and muddle through with. My mare is being used as a lesson horse for advanced beginners right now, and it damn sure isn't because of my .riding. ability.

    I got a hint of dersion or mockery or dismissiveness or something when you mentioned clickers and carrot sticks. I sure hope I was mistaken in that because at the same time you say if we could pool our knowledge maybe we could get to where we want to be. As with a spade bit or any other tool, in the right hands, the clicker for sure and probably the carrot stick (don't have any personal experience with that) is more than a gimmick or a crutch.

    And yet, and yet....I also agree with a lot of what was said. I think far far too many horses are made crazy and dangerous by people who are worried they will get nicked up outside or are kept far too fat and risk the very health they are indulging. There are too many handlers/owners/wannabe trainers who are risking not only themselves but others around them by wearing rose colored glasses. They either can not train their horses even if they can stick to them when they misbehave, or they have a molasses-in-January view of what training is and how to move it forward or they just .can't. move the training past a certain level and won't/can't admit it.

    On a good note, today was ride #1 for the week. I was happy with the mare, happy with me for actually doing it and happy with the end result.

  11. This is why I sold the young horse I had. I've had horses since I was 12. Well 21 years later I still have them, but I'm more afraid to get on the young horses. I did ground work and my horse would transition up and down on voice alone. She would whoa and reverse and do it all. On her back, yes she still went right, left, back and forward, but I was scared silly of her. So I sold her and kept the other two I have, one is the 21 year old horse I've had for 18 years who I broke and who in turn one day broke me, loss of confidence on him that I have never gotten back and the other is a 11 year old that is on his worst day a lazy angel who can sit in the pasture for 6 months and still be a great lazy horse. I went for comfortable and what I know. But back to your point, we have to start riding our horses, that is why most of us have them. I have started riding as much as I can, even if its bareback for 10 minutes. I don't really do groundwork anymore with these two, except for the occasional, alright get your ya ya's out before you get in trouble, lounge or free for all in an arena.

    I see part of my problem with boarding my horses. When they were in the back yard, I had well mannered happy horses. Now I have snotty childlike mannered, but still happy because they have a bigger pasture, horses. If I didn't have to take care of them everyday, feed and clean, I don't think I would pay as much attention to them and they would be worse.

  12. oh ya, I don't board because I want to, I board because we moved to a different state that is crazy on prices for houses and boarding where I do is all I can afford.

  13. I rode horses as a teenager, took a break for several years, and am still riding thirty years later. The difference is that I know I can get hurt now, whereas I used to be fearless.
    I never had the patience for a lot of groundwork- I let my horses have a good run around and then I just get on. Maybe I never learned the proper way to lunge, but it just seems like too much trouble and little advantage. It doesn't teach them to be ridden, only riding can do that.
    I do expect them to be well behaved on the ground, to trot and stop readily in hand, and to stand still for shoers, vets, and grooming.
    I am fascinated by all the "horse whisperers" around and I am intrigued when I see why horses react in various situations but as far as how do they feel while I'm riding them, gah! I don't want to get into their minds- I just want to have an enjoyable ride.
    Someone once told me that horses were like books. You can pick up right where you left off. Hopefully, it's a good book that you'll go back to often.

  14. I'm an avid reader of your blog, but seldom comment. I have to applaude this post. I've recently come to the conclusion that a lot of women are happy just feeding and petting their horses....and that's okay, but I need more. I love to ride my horse - I ride bareback in my yard and I ride the trails almost every weekend. When I'm not riding I'm thinking about the next time we get to ride. I'm over 50 and I don't bounce like I used to but that doesn't stop me from riding. I have to ride through some fearful situations, and I get down and walk my pony thru some scary things, but I get back on and keep riding. Both of my horses are broke well enough for the kids to ride, mostly by putting lots of hours ON them. There will come a day when I'm not able, but for now - I ride.

  15. Sometimes there's not enough room in my brain for riding and training and thinking. When that happens, the horses don't seem to care - they get to roam around, eat food, occasionally go around on a longe line, drink water, turn money into fertilizer. It's not a bad life.

    But I do that for too long and I start getting restless. I start daydreaming about galloping cross-country fences, because my mind will always return to jumping. I start itching to have a horse beneath me, to feel that feel you get when you're thinking and the horse is thinking -- it's like a physical conversation.

    I like ground work because it's a relaxing way for me to still keep my horse thinking, when I just don't feel like riding. I can really understand how some people would be happy doing only groundwork forever. But for me it's not enough.

    Holly, you had some excellent points - I really agree with what you have to say. Training doesn't have to equal riding, though they're often intertwined.

  16. This is a good conversation. I like the fact that everyone is willing to talk about what they do with their horses.
    I have some questions I would like to throw out there.
    Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?
    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?
    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

  17. Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?

    Me: maybe. Knowing what a theory is and translating it does not mean being able to do it either. I, personally, need someone who can tell ME how to use the theory. I learn by doing it myself rather than watching another do it.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?

    Me: Yes I would. Fear does not eliminate the knowledge that has been accumulated. But then, I would not ask someone else to do my training, I want them to train ME to train my horse.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

    Me: Maybe. The first step is to trust the theory. If I don't trust the theory, then I don't believe in the horsemanship. I don't need a trainer to ride my horse for me. I need a trainer to help ME to ride my horse myself.

    Just because someone is afraid does not make them a bad or unskilled trainer. It just makes them afraid. As I said in one other post, knowing something and imparting that knowledge to others are different skills.

    The other side of these questions would be: if the trainer can ride, but not explain what they do, would you trust them?

  18. Oh, SO true. I cringe at the ailments we give them, through our love for them. We ignore what keeps them healthy, and slather on what makes them worse. You need to "get" where the horse is coming from, first.
    What a great point about the Horse Whisperer movie. It was TERRIBLE. Never should have been made. I guess it did for horses, what 101 dalmations did for Dals.
    Great book, though. Some things should be left to the imagination.
    Monkey see, monkey do, in movies, IMO.
    Horses spark incredible passions in people. Me, too.
    I'd never ride with a trainer that was afraid.
    I'd train only with someone with the confidence required to train.
    I don't mean fearless, I mean, well, you know what I mean:)
    I hope.

  19. Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely etc?

    Under certain circumstances, yes. Well, kind of. Ellen, my trainer, doesn't often ride - she'll get on sometimes, but she's not really in riding shape. She was very, very involved with horses when she was younger, and a very good rider - so she CAN explain the feeling of things to me. In addition to her excellent eye, this makes it possible for me to figure things out on my own. If she hadn't ridden through the things she was explaining, and could only explain in theory without her own experience? No.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?

    Not unless I was sending my horse for training in a non-riding discipline.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

    This one is a maybe. I find it hard to grasp the concept of a trainer - afraid of his/her own horses - who would still have a practical enough grasp of training to help me. I suppose it's possible, but it's unlikely I would go for a situation like that. I expect that most people will deal with fear at some point - but I don't expect my instructor to be fearful at my level. If I'm just starting eventing, and I want to do Novice, do I want my trainer to be afraid to ride Novice? No. If they're afraid to ride an Olympic-level event, well, sure!

    I guess I feel that if my trainer is dealing with fear while at my own level, they would not be able to effectively help me through my own issues should I encounter them.

  20. so this leads to a similar but alternate question:

    how many have trainers that ride their horses instead of standing in the middle of the arena and teaching their students to ride?

    I am wondering if I am coming from a different direction? All of my instructors do their teaching from the center of the arena on foot rather than on my horse. *I* am riding my horse while they tell me what they see and how to get what I am looking for.

    I also am making an assumption that a trainer/instructor who is afraid also at one time DID ride so has experience.

  21. I *think* I get the point of this post. I could be wrong. But I *think* the whole point was to energize us to get out there and enjoy our horses, to ride our horses and to think of our horses as horses, rather than children in fur coats. Less kibitzing, more riding. But, I could be wrong. (Mugs, am I?) I tried to look at the message as a whole and not pick it apart. Also, Mugs has every right to her feelings and voicing them, just as we each do. If we all agreed all the time, this blog-forum would get really boring and I wouldn't bother to read comments. Ever.

    If I were to pick this apart, I might have to have issue with some things, like clicker training. Then again, I'm a dog trainer by trade. I support clicker training, I've taught clicker training but I'm not great at it. My timing sucks and I get lazy about it. However, I fully support the science behind it. After all, if behaviorist Bob Bailey could train chickens, a bird of much less brain power than a horse or a dog, to do simple tasks, there has to be merit to it. Fifteen years ago I scoffed at the idea of clicker training a horse. I thought it absurd. Then I became a positive method dog trainer and really saw the merits. Saw how it helped an animal focus/capture on the right thing, the thing I wanted them to do. I still have a hard time mentally with the concept of clicker training horses. But after years of absence where dog training took the place of riding horses (note, I do not say training horses), horses have come back into my life. And I've found a situation where I see clicker training as being useful with horses. Specifically, in the case of my Casey. I want to teach him to ground tie but can't puzzle out how to achieve that, how to communicate what I want from him. I've got dog training to fall back on. Asking a horse to ground tie can't be that much different than asking a dog to "stay". After talking to my trainer, I am probably going to approach teaching ground tying much like I would with "stay" for a dog, clicker and all. I'll be using a clicker only to help communicate what I'm wanting from Casey. Will I use clicker training with him beyond this? Probably not. As I've already said, I'm not great at it. I couldn't click and treat reliably for Casey giving me his hooves as I asked for them.

    There's not a magic formula that's right for all horses and all people. Or all dogs and all people. Or all llamas and all people. And there's always something to learn from everybody, be it positive or negative. That being said, I am not a fan of the Dog Whisperer, yet I watch his show from time to time to keep my skills at reading dog body language in tune. Sometimes, we just simply learn what NOT to do.

  22. oh..oh...

    I only got through the first couple paras of the rant, but I would like to say that the Native Americans, Indians, whatever the going term is, felt their horses were spiritual beings, friends, comrades in battle. So, that isn't something new. Actually, it is going back to the roots of the original relationships with horses.

    Several horsemen in history, who wrote about the art of riding had spiritual relationships with particular horses, and also looked at the horse as individuals with unique personalities and problems, and wrote on how to deal with them in context of haute ecole. Look up Phillipe Karl, Alfons J. Dietz, or Nuno Oliveira for modern writers on the subject of the horse and rider in history and the spiritual nature of the horse.

    We never looked at them as meet even back to the times of Ancient Greeks :).

  23. er..sorry I meant "meat" not "meet"

    Of course, the every day working cart horse or whatever was sent to the butcher when he was no longer useful. I guess it depends on the level. But, certain groups have always looked at the horse as a spiritual being.

  24. Good questions re: teacher qualifications. In my reality, choosing the right trainer is a compromise balancing time,budget restraints and availability. I worked for years with a very talented rider/trainer who had such a weak ego she'd actually sabotage your riding as you advanced past a certain point. And even tho she could ride anything well, especially re-schools (ottb), she couldn't teach the consistant progression I wanted to learn because SHE wasn't consistant. But she was successful showing and training, so I tried hard to make it work. Current teacher no longer rides much, but is great at teaching calmly and logically. Suits me much better. It'd be wonderful to find a teacher who could both ride and teach...but not in my area,and I have limited hours and funds to seek them out. answer to your questions, mugs, is a qualified yes. Maybe the difference is that my current teacher DID ride well and showed above my current level, and trained with the best instructors in the area...and has just grown more cautious with age. And I've ridden for enough years to do my own riding. For me, personality is the more important trait now.

    I suspect the current rage of beginners getting green horses to train has as much to do with the internet age and "anyone can DIY anything" era that we're in as with watching Robert Redford. The take-a-lesson, give-a-lesson kind of trainer can be very good at selling their services, and can fool almost anyone for awhile...especially people who don't even know what a riding discipline is. It's hard to watch sometimes.

    Seems like the real horseman are hard to find these days but the snake-oil salesmen are everywhere.

  25. "Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?"

    Yes. If that person had experienced something traumatic, but still was a good instructor, that would not stop me.

    "Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?"
    Depends. If it was a handling problem where I felt that the trainer had a better possibility to solve the problem than myself, yes.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

    Another angle.
    Is a very good rider always a very good instructor?

    A natural talented rider does not always analyze their own riding much. Many ride on feel, which again can be difficult to explain to another person, espescially if the talented rider is not a talented communicator...

    My ideal intructor:
    Someone that has enough knowledge to see the basic problem, not just the symptom of the sickness, and also is able to pick it apart and serve it in bit-size chunks that can be digested.
    A person that has spent a lot of time to analyze their own riding to become better. Someone that has a large "tool-box" to solve problems with.
    Preferably someone who still is active, and consequently also gets new input and inspiration.
    And someone that likes to teach, is coaching the pupils towards achievable targets, is compassionate and inspiring.

  26. I find that if I put off riding because I'm scared then I become more scared, in a downward spiral. You have to get on the horse, but you can be smart about it. Without using every excuse in the book not to ride you can realise that perhaps a howling gale is not the ideal time, and neither is going out alone when all the other horses are in their stables munching away. You must set yourself up for success as far as possible, and in the full knowledge that the unexpected often happens with horses! I recently went on a group trailride off the farm for the first time in more than a year. It was going to be a quiet, sane ride. I lunged (oh horrors) my horse first, not enough to get him tired but just to gauge his mood and get him to pay attention. It went really well, and he behaved, and the molehole he stepped into flinging me off his back was not his fault. It happens.

    As for trainers, mine actively competes and will sometimes get on my horse to show me how to do something. I find that very useful. On occasion she has schooled my horse to teach him something new, and then the two of them taught me together. This also works out well for me. I would consider a teacher who doesn't ride often any more if it's because of age or injury, but he/she must have the proven ability to ride and teach.

  27. Hummm you guys could be talking about me.... I coach (and train horses for halter) But I no longer ride on a regular basis. (I was on a horse about 20 times last year)

    But I guess Im under the "not including physical disability catagory." My RA makes it hard to ride on a regular basis, and the drugs can effect my balance.

    However I like to think my students do well, with all of them showing and winning at a local and national level. But I have had a fair amount of experence, and Im not afraid to ask for help. I have sent student horses to other trainers for riding time and we both attend regular lessons with said trainer and learn what is being corrected and why, and how to continue with this horse.

    But I now have to improve my own riding so that I can teach the feel that some of my riders need as they progress to the next level. Maybe if I had stayed helther for another 5 years I would be an even better teacher but I have to deal with what I have.

  28. Mugs in answer to your questions, NO. To clarify on the question of the trainer, afraid to lope - NO, doesn't lope much - Yes.

    As for ground tie training. I teach mine after they have begun saddle work and teach the ground tie while the horse is saddled so we are clear it's work time. This may not be an issue with an older/broke horse.

    I start by telling a horse to whoa and letting go of the reins or rope. (if reins I leave them on the neck). The process is to walk farther and farther from the horse without the horse stepping forward. After each successful whoa, I return to the horse and give pats and scratches. As long as I am within reach of the reins, if the horse steps forward, I reach out and give a firm whoa. As I start walking farther away I face the horse and step backward from his nose saying whoa as I step back a step. As The distant increases, I use a halter and a long lead rope letting the lead rope lay slack on the ground while holding the end. If the horse moves forward I flip the rope to tap the horse on the chin/face and say whoa. You may have to flip the rope, then walk to where you can give a whoa-tug before the horse understand the flip of the rope is a whoa. Once the horse is reliably doing this when I am 10-15 ft in front, I begin to walk to the side of the horse, then to the back and eventually all the way around. The next step is to back from the horse straight on then turn my back and walk a few more steps. Remember whoa isn't over used. Some horses will turn to follow you as you walk around them, if your horse is doing this, you are progressing too fast, go back a step. In a session I will progress with a horse until they stop whoaing, maybe two tries. Then I will reduce the whoa distance, reinforce this distance a few times and end the day's session.

    If your horse won't whoa calmly next to you (without swinging their butt around) when leading, the horse is NOT ready to ground tie.

    It's not word verification if it's not a real word - AUGH!

  29. Anon said...
    I only got through the first couple paras of the rant, but I would like to say that the Native Americans, Indians, whatever the going term is, felt their horses were spiritual beings, friends, comrades in battle. So, that isn't something new. Actually, it is going back to the roots of the original relationships with horses.
    While it is true that the Indians did look at horses as large spirit dogs and had their favorites...let's not glorify their relationship with horses!! Because the fact is that the Indians thought nothing of slaughtering a horse for meat when necessary. Apaches were particularly brutal to their horses-they would ride them into the ground, flog them until they fell over dead and then drain the blood and carve off a few strips of meat to pack with them as they continued on their way.
    Most tribes were particularly fond of mule meat. As well as dog and I am sure that if they had had cats they would have ate them too.
    See the truth of the matter is that Indians worshiped the spirits of ALL animals and then they ATE them. There was nothing particularly special about the way that they treated their horses. They did appreciate and respect a good war horse or buffalo horse and a woman's value was often related to the number of horses that she could bring in trade, but in the end...the horse was a service animal and when necessary MEAT in the stew pot.

    Sorry Mugs...I am not trying to create an argument with your commentors here, but Anon's sentiments are closely related to the current "problems" in the horse industry. There is a general glorification of the horse in history that never actually happened until decades after the actual facts. It all leads to the current situation where horse owners are completely disregarding the true nature and value of the horse.
    Another small point that could be made is that current horse owners have been made to feel bad when they purchase a horse that does not work for them and yet they feel compelled to keep and maintain that horse. It is almost like a fear of failure-"I am not comfortable riding this horse-yet I feel guilty about selling him and getting another one that is more suited to me". A lot of the NH trainers have perpetuated this guilt...because it keeps those people coming back to them for more lessons, training tack and reaffirmation that the problem is the person and not that they simply have the wrong horse.

  30. -Justaplainsam->> The only crap I've had came from 'expert' amatures, who still cant ride there own young horse... even though they don’t need lessons anymore-<<
    This is my favorite comment so far, have to admit.

    You guys, I hope I made it clear; instructors with knowledge through riding are what I'd look for. I don't care if they no longer ride.
    It's people who instruct or train without a background of riding, lots of riding, who scare me.
    If I am riding with someone to improve my performance in the show pen they ABSOLUTELY have to be currently showing and winning beyond me. The show world changes too fast for there to be any compromise.
    The Big K can't communicate his way out of a paper bag. But I rode with him for years. Why? Well he was available. Also I had been riding and training for several years before I started with him. I rode well enough to translate what he was doing. He never gave me any actual riding instruction, (except to get me to slouch more). I became good at framing my questions so he could answer them. I learned to not spout my opinions, not to demand he acknowledge that I was right, not let what I knew or did in my own approach to training interfere with what he was trying to get me to see. It was hard, because we were on opposite ends of the spectrum in so many ways. But I became a horseman and trainer beyond my wildest dreams. Not the greatest by any stretch, just more than I ever hoped for personally.I couldn't have had that if I didn't have the years of riding behind me that I had.
    Part of my growth as a trainer came from knowing when I had to leave. Part of it came from figuring out what to reject and what to keep. Most of it came from riding, trusting him not to get me killed and thinking.
    So keep talking, please. You might not like what I say, but I always listen.

  31. Brown eyed cowgirl-Yes! Yes! Yes! Argue all you want. You are getting straight to the heart of what I'm trying to say.

  32. BEG:

    OK, you've got some good points there, but this reminds me of a story that surprised me, and shows that the development of the "popular" relationship with the horse goes way back.

    Outside Cambridge, England is a two lane highway to no-where, lots of fields on either side. I had heard there was a manor hall out there and some celtic earthen works. So I decided to ride my bike out there (I was a visitor).

    There was this gradual grade upward, you could hardly call it a hill, but there stood the manor grounds. The manor itself had been torn down, but the stables existed and had been turned into apartments. These apartments were literally in no-mans land.

    The manor stood next to this huge double-ring earthen work defense system from the Celts, and there was a Roman road there also that I wanted to see.

    Well, heading from the drive through a stone archway, into the inner court and garden that was a wasted acre or two surrounded by a stone wall, I looked down and there of all things was the grave of the Godolphin Arab. At that time, he was so respected, they buried him at their manor so that each horse and person walking in would have to walk past.

    Shocked, I had no idea he was there, in the Gog Magog hills :). The people who owned him are vague in memory and certainly didn't have the promoment position of being layed to rest (I think he was over 30?) on the manor grounds.

    Point is, that many a person all the way back to the ancient Greeks, Xenophon and Alexander the Great, there were horses that were worshiped, treated with respect and kept to the end of their days.

    There were theories and training methods that were anguished over, in order to maintain the spirit of the horse and still allow him to be a useful mount, and so on, which gained new popularity in the renaissance. The present day phenomena is not new, far from it. Of course, each culture deals with the horse in different ways. And, you are right about the practicality of the Indian and his methods of survival, and maybe that was a bad example on my part, still...the glorification of the horse, his worship, and the sentimentality around him is as old as the relationship between the horse and rider, I imagine it expresses itself differently in each culture but is always there.

  33. sorry, BEC not BEG. ugh...typos today.

  34. Oh, I cannot remember exactly, but the date on that gravestone was like 1738 or something? When did the Godolphin Arab die? Anyway, it was like before the founding of America or something.

  35. Ah I have it!

    Died on Christmas day 1753.

    Here's the story, think we go nuts about horses, you should have seen how mental the English gentry went with them (and still do today):

  36. For my part, I have never ridden with a trainer who could not do ten times as much as I could on a horse. In the discipline I was interested in. (And I was never interested in anything but cowhorse had to be able to really ride, not just be able to lope) And no, they didn't just stand and coach me. They demonstrated what it looked like by doing it. I have taken lessons from and worked for (as an assistant who rode my own string) at least ten trainers in my life. I would never have considered riding with or for someone who couldn't win at a higher level than I could (right at that very moment). I learned a lot from all these guys (yes, they were all guys). I learned enough to be able to take the parts that worked for me and discard what I didn't agree with (as mugwump describes). I saw enough not to want to push horses that hard any more. I was able to start my own colts and train horses for others for many years, because of the knowledge I gained from these trainers.

    From these comments, it looks like everybody is looking for something different, both from their trainer, their horse, and themselves. From my experience I would say that it pays to be clear with yourself what you want and be sure you are with a trainer who can help you move in that direction. Someone like Holly may want to learn to lope her horse without being fearful, and a lot of trainers could help with that, and no, they wouldn't need to ride very well. Someone like Mugs, with a huge background of experience, may want to learn to cut. A trainer who has never loped a horse sure can't talk her through that. Someone who has never showed in the cutting pen is useless. She needs a trainer who can ride and show a cutting horse and who is better at that than she is (and this would be someone with lots of experience). It all depends what you want to do with your horse. As KD said, some are content to pet them and feed them. I am currently content to ride down the trail and lope around the arena once in awhile. But if you want help starting a green horse, or showing in a certain event, my advice would be to be sure the trainer not only has done that, but can and is able to do it right now. Hope this helps someone out there.

  37. I had a not even green broke, somewhat abused/neglected, 3 year old mare that was given to us. She was wild as all heck and everyone was afraid of her. But I love that crazy thing to death and I wouldn't give back the past 4 years (of doing nothing with her besides intermittent training sessions) for anything. When she was "trained" this past spring, and my trainer got her to where she was understanding whoa and walk, he MADE me get up on her. I was scared shitless because I knew what she was capable of from all that we had been through in the past 4 years. But I was SO excited, even if it meant falling off, I wanted to ride her sooo bad. So I did it. Shaking the entire time, but the only way I got over that was with riding more, just like you said. Riding with the trainer, riding without the trainer (scared to death). Riding indoors, riding outdoors (scared to death until I realized she rode better outside than inside).

    I didn't didn't really have a reason for wanting to get her ridable at the time (like just in case we had to get rid of her). Obviously if something did happen to me, I wouldn't want her dead, but dead is better than going back to a position similar to what she was in before we had her. I wanted her ridable so that I could ride and enjoy her! Go on adventures. That's all I ever wanted to do. She isn't exactly the most docile lovable "pet" that I could have gotten, but that doesn't stop me from trying to love her :) And I kind of like her a little more spunky than a push button.

    I know everyone thinks they know everything, but when my mare was not broke, I was willing to try almost ANYTHING to work with her and get both of us more comfortable. All people can do is mention something simple to these people who groundwork all the time. Ask them if they are doing ok. That might open them up to reasons why they are scared, and someone can give them tips. A girl at our barn is scared to death of her horse because she cannot get out to ride him as much as she wants to and to get him to blow off some steam. So he is a snorty little snot that scares her. She got him in part to help her with her MS symptoms. But she can't ride all the time. When she's out, she mentions that so we try to offer her a little bit of help and tips on what she can try or ask if she wants us to help work him a little. She can take it or leave it, but she always seems relieved to at least get SOME help or tips and she gets a little further with her own riding. When you ask if people are doing ok, you can kind of see what response they give as to if they are open to suggestions or not. Other than that, you kind of have to figure it's like everything else. You might think someone needs to fix a bumper on their car because without it, they could be hurt, but it's really up to them.

    It also drives me nuts the little girls at our barn that ride with a certain "trainer" who's well known for her methods of jerk and spur. I'd rather see a person NOT ride their dang horse than jerk and spur, totally confusing the poor things.

    I also think these more mature re-riders (sorry, trying to put it nice or pc at least, lol) is that they want the horse to be like their baby. Something THEY did everything with and can call their pride and joy. So they get these cute little wild things that they want to help.

    As to your four questions in your comment, I think my answer to all of them would probably be no. Unless there was an excellent reason as to why they don't want to lope, how is that helping me with my courage to do what I need to do? It's not. I am also a big sight learner. My trainer was trying to show me some stuff while he was on the ground and finally booted me off and showed me. I got it right away then. I guess I've been lucky to find trainers who ride and teach. Although the first two don't count because they were all groundwork and never got on my horse :)

  38. Laura wrote:I would say that it pays to be clear with yourself what you want

    This is an important distinction. I agree that if you are looking at a specific discipline, especially if you want to do competition, you need someone who has at least *been* successful at it at whatever level you are going to compete at. However, there is a point of overkill too, when you hire a trainer who is so far beyond what you are looking for that the instruction is worthless.

    I think maybe you start with one and as you move up, you move up in trainer skill too.

    And you have to be clear about what kind of instruction you are able to work with. I would have walked away from The Big K, as I am not going to fish for answers. I need to be able to ask direct, clear questions and get direct, clear answers. This is simply my personality, not a slam against trainers who make you work for the answers. There are plenty of students who don't know *how* to ask questions too, and a direct answer might be intimidating for them.

    This was a good post and has had some good replies. Thanks Mugs.

  39. Wow, GREAT post. You've touched on things that I have been dealing with lately with some of the folks at the barn where I ride. I don't want to be lengthy but I'll answer your 4 questions with my own experience as the guide:

    Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)? - NO. Because there are times when you need the visual of someone more capable than yourself on your horse showing you that it can be done, how it looks when done correctly and by riding your horse themselves understands exactly how it feels to do what you are trying to do on that particular horse. NOW , HERE"S THE 'exception'. My trainer of over 30 years is getting to the point where chronic back problems have limited his ability to get up there and do this. But his understanding of feeling and the knowledge I know he has would not change my opinion of his worth as a trainer.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him? - NO. If my goal is to ride. I would want my trainer to be able to do what I outlined in my answer to the first question. If my trainer was afraid to ride the horse for obvious reasons, such as the horse has dangerous issues like chronic rearing well, then I don't want to ride that horse, either.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise? - NO. How would I progress if someone wouldn't/couldn't challenge me to go farther? This is where the time comes to evaluate and either accept or move on. Example - there are people who promote themselves as Dressage trainers. Yet they have never shown or trained a horse successfully above maybe 4th level. They may be great to get you into a training level or first level class and even do well. But to progress to the higher levels, if that is your goal, wouldn't you need to ride with someone who has been there and done that at the higher levels with a successful track record?

    In the barn I am at now, there are women paying the same as I would pay to my trainer to a girl who promotes herself as a trainer. However, my trainer has been training/instructing for over 40 years with a very successful record of winning students and well trained horses. I've seen this girl ride and watched things and I feel she has nerve asking in payment what she does for her level of experience. Even when I diplomatically mentioned to the women who think this girl is such a great trainer that their money would be better spent on quality knowledge (and not meaning they should use my trainer but to look to one of several trainers available with a quality track record of knowledge), they make excuses why she's 'perfect' for them. Hey, they can spend their money as they wish but I guess I think with too much logic where my dollars are turned.

    Anyway, hope my points made some sense. It's a busy Monday and I'm trying to multitask as I post!

  40. Holly, I rode with several guys who were a lot like the Big K, and I could no longer do that, even if I wanted to learn the event they were good at. Reason? I have too much respect for myself now to put up with that shit. Scuse my French. A lot of these guys who are really talented at showing/training are almost sociopaths (mugwump can speak to the Big K, I'm talking about the ones I rode with), when it comes to dealing with students. By this I mean that they have zero sympathy for where a student/assistant is coming from. So, yes, it pays to look for a trainer you can get along with and who works for you as a person, especially if you're at the stage of life (which I am) when achieving some "horse-oriented goal" is no more important to you than enjoying the process and experience. Good point, Holly.

  41. Excellent post! Right on point. I had the pleasure of meeting Ray at a clinic a few years back and he was simply amazing. He gets right down to business and strips off the fluff.
    I was given an award and wanted to pass it along to you. You can find it here:

  42. Not to hijack the post, but how do you train or teach this:

    "When I walk towards them I expect them to look at me with a pleasant expression and clear their hip away from me. Always."

    I have a horse who generally behaves under saddle and on the ground. He is dominant, and so we have periodic "refreshers" on respecting my space. But for the life of me, there has been NO END to him pinning his ears at me and a general nasty attitude about things. How do you train a pleasant expression and attitude?

    Btw, I have gone through the whole gamut of pain-related issues (teeth, chiropractic, joints, etc), although perhaps there's something I'm missing. I'm starting him on a supplement for digestion and ulcers this week ....

  43. GrouchyBayTB- Sounds like ulcers to me, BUT! Im kind of big about my horses not snarking at me. If you watch a group of horses the lower horses in the group do not pin their ears at the upper level management.
    So I expect the same.
    I don't care if they pin their ears when I cinch them up, as long as they look away from me, not at me.
    I just poke them with my finger in the cheek until they turn away, no big thing.
    Anyway, if you're doing some swinging the rope work until they move their hip away stuff, don't quit swinging until they perk their ears and look at you like, "WTF?" Then quit.
    I do the same with horses who are aggressive about their food. I swing my rope at their hip until they move off the food. I keep it up until they look at me with their ears up, then I leave and let them have their food.
    I don't know what's going on in their head, but they look pleasant enough.

  44. Really thought provoking post & comments.

    I do think that there's a lot of people out there who are overly sentimental about their (and other people's) animals. I can't necessarily trace it to the Horse Whisperer fad, as it wasn't quite so popular in the UK.
    I think horses are attached to the very romanticised vision in america of "The American Dream," and so there's a lot tied up in that. I do think a lot of the time it's to do with people growing up insulated from the gory realities of life.
    As the population gets more urban, that's pretty inevitable.

    There's a fair amount of twaddle that still gets spouted here, but there's a certain amount of ruthless practicality too - transporting horses live any distance to slaughter is prohibited, but horse slaughter isn't it. The tradition of feeding
    aged hunters to the hounds originated here after all.

    This is probably unpalatable to many, but I do see horses as animals. Animals that I have great attachments to sometimes, but still; horses, not people. That doesn't mean that I owe them less care and consideration than I owe
    people - in some cases I'd argue more.

    I've worked for a hunt - and I've shot horses for the hounds (and fed them to the hounds too).
    Would I shoot my own horse if I felt it necessary? Yes.
    Would I send its carcass off for rendering? Yes.
    Would I ever let a horse of mine go off alive to a slaughterhouse? Hell no.
    Could I send a cow to slaughter? I'd prefer not to, but yes.

    So, I'm as irrational as anyone, I just set my sentiment meter lower than some.

    I sometimes get irritated by carrot-stickwavers and the ripping off of novices, but mostly - if it makes them happy, leave them to it. As long as it's cared for, the horse couldn't give a monkeys whether it's ridden or not. I do get annoyed when gimmick-sellers are giving people bad advice or when I see people getting into dangerous situations due to slavish following of rules. I also feel that sad that they are missing out - but you know, some people do get as much from the handling of the horse, the grooming, the care etc as they do from riding.
    I've had livery
    clients like that - one lady was a pretty good rider, when she could be coerced into the saddle, and she wasn't frightened, but she rarely if ever rode. When I first met her I was worried at the amount we were charging her for a horse that she just came up to see 4 times a week or so and petted and freeschooled. She was happy with the arrangement though. So now I let 'em get on with it.

    Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?

    Depends - if they were teaching me to drive, then of course!
    If it was a ridden activity... I've had lesson with topflight trainers who don't ride anymore. No qualms about lessons from them. However, I doubt I'd have them as a sole trainer - it's incredibly helpful to have your trainer ride from time to time and tell what exactly is you and what's the horse! And yes, that can be done from the ground, but it's undeniably easier to do from the saddle.
    If they'd never ridden to that level, and their knowledge is only theory - then no.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?

    Again, assuming it was a riding horse to be trained - no. If they're afraid to ride it and I can tell, or it's enough of a big deal for them to tell me this, then however talented they are, the horse is not going to to get the quality of training it should be getting. I'd find someone else. If they were afraid to jump, I'd still be OK with them starting it, or doing dressage with it - but I'd find someone else to train it over fences.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

    Fairly unequivocal no. If they are scared of their own horses, then houston, we have a problem. Maybe I'd be OK with them 'spotting' for me from the ground, but if they are only at the level I am, then they can't truly help me progress, IMO. If they had the ability and now can't / won't due to fear - judgement call.

    I'm one of those people who finds teaching easier than riding. I have a friend who has more talent in his little finger than I have in my whole body - but my students learn faster, and more consistently than his. I've longed for his ability to get on a horse and make it look better simply by sitting in the saddle, but he wishes he could put what he does into language as easily as I do. All teachers have limitations, you just need one that complements you.

  45. Grouchy Bay--I had a grouchy bay! I loved this horse more than any other, I think. He always "scowled" a lot and he was cold backed, but he was absolutely and utterly dependable under saddle once warmed up. He did more for me than any horse I ever rode. Near the end of our time together, he would put his head under my arm for comfort. I knew he loved and trusted me in the way in which he understood those things. But he never quit pinning his ears when I walked out to catch him. I believe it had to do with the fact that he had been very harshly treated before I got him. It was an expression of a jaundiced view of humans and life in general, and like yours, he was a dominant horse. If he could intimidate people, he would.
    My rules were/are different to mugwump's. I ignored his scowling. I never tolerate even the vaguest gesture at nipping or kicking. So if he kept his nose and butt away from me, he could pin his ears. This horse got that point readily enough. I never had a problem with him. It taught me not to assume that grouchy horses aren't good ones.

  46. Hi Mugwump - hey, where do you get your climbing rope leads? I have the normal ol' nylon halters and cotton leads. I see the nylon leads but don't like them cuz they are so slippery.

    My young spaz gelding is learning ... and I'm all for the tie them up and let them freak out all they want...

    I was doing this regularly while I worked my mare - tied him to my trailer and let him just wig out all he wanted. One day he pulled back hard enough to break the tie on the trailer, fell over backwards and then ran all around my front pasture. Bad. I know.

    He hasn't done it since (that was this past spring) but I don't ever leave him tied to the trailer anymore either. I tie him up to a RR tie that is FIRMLY planted in the ground and has a big ol' tie ring and I will leave him there to figure it out. Now I tie him with 2 cotton leads and hope he doesn't bust them both - so far he hasn't. I know that if he gets loose it reinforces the whole "pull back like a big shithead until I am free" thing...

    When I go somewhere... and he's in super freak out mode I can't tie him to the trailer cuz he'll bust the tie on the trailer or the cotton rope.

    If there is nothing to tie them to when you take them out and about to get them used to dealing with the world, what do you suggest?

    Longing them? Holding on to them and walking them around?? I know you advised someone that walking them around and letting them graze would not happen with you...

    What would your solution be? Thank-you!

  47. Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?

    No. Can't preach what you don't practice in my opinion.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?

    Definately not - wouldn't the horse get away with bad behavior if someone was afraid of him?

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

    No. If they are afraid, it would mess with my confidence. I want someone that can TEACH me and that I can model myself after.

    I ride cuz it feeds my soul. I think my trainer is the key to my understanding the wonderful sport of Dressage. It's like going to church for me... you try, you ride, you study and it's always a work in progress. I will never be bored learning about my horses or the dicipline I chose (I'd be willing to do others but I only have the $$ to pursue ONE really well).

    I have a 9yr old racetrack reject mare who is very confident. It was scary but really cool to school her to her new job. neat to see theory on a "clean slate" she is schooling 2nd and 3rd level dressage. Just cool. She's taught me a ton.

    I have her 6 yr old 1/2 brother and he is NOT at all confident. Scarey as well but for different reasons. Again - tho - it is so cool to see them come along and I think with all this re-training it makes me a better rider, makes me think about how the theory affects the horses and I use my brain to apply it.

    I think it also increase my ability and my confidence... tho' I do struggle sometimes with confidence. Who doesn't?

    I do all of this for my own inner happiness. I have no goals of showing nationally or winning anything big or getting my name out there or becoming a big trainer or anything. Personal goals and satisfaction.

  48. Laura- Not me.
    Shanster- I really don't know what to say. I have always been able to find a place to tie my horse.
    I have seen people loop a rope behind the front legs, then run it between the front legs and up through the halter, then tie. This lessens the momentum when the horse sucks back.
    My trailer is built to hold my horses, so they haven't broken my ties. I train them to stand tied before I haul. I haven't been given a horse to train for pulling back who I wasn't able to fix before I hauled them. I'm not saying it can't happen, just that it hasn't happened to me.
    I get my climbing rope from those pay-to-climb training places/schools. They give it to me.
    The two ropes is something I have done often BTW.

  49. I guess I'm thinking like a schooling show and trailers everywhere and a small barn where it's busy and the boarders are there etc. Not really a place for a whack job freaking out to be tied...

    Have you ever had them bust out of 2 cotton leads?

    The climbing ropes... do they put a bullsnap or something on them for you?? I am not talented enough to trust a knot I'd put into something to hold!

    I'm not opposed to tying to trees or whatever but sometimes there aren't any around in the plains of WY?

    If not tying to your trailer... where do you tie them? Trees?

    I'm not trying to be difficult - honest!


  50. Oh - and hauls o.k. and started going places but I worry that if I tie him to the outside of my trailer to "get over it" and something he's never seen before scares him, he'll pull back and bust that trailer tie...

    When I first brought him home he lost his mind and ran thru 2 fences - didn't even slow down - hit them, flipped over them and kept going. I've never seen a horse lose it's mind like that. No one was ON him when that happened. He's mellowed since and I'm riding him both outdoors at my place and at an indoor up the road.. hard to get that image outta your head you know?

    I want to expose him to stuff, take him places but I also want to be safe...

    Just curious what your ideas would be?

  51. Thanks, Mugs and Laura!

    I'm currently using something close to Laura's approach with him. We've made a lot of progress in 5 months - he used to try to bite , kick, etc. So at this point, *just* ear pinning is pretty good. Laura - He sounds a lot like your grouchy bay. Mine is an OTTB, and before me, he was turned out 24/7 for 3 years with a group of mares (he came to us pretty food aggressive). In between there, no one knows. The woman I bought him from said she got him from a man who wouldn't enter his stall without a 2x4. (He has NEVER been that aggressive with me.)

    Somehow along the way, he apparently got a good start at dressage, and I (along with the help of a great instructor) am slowly bringing that out. I've already learned so much from him, and hopefully there's many more years to come.

    Anyway, like yours, I think mine has seen many a rough day, and his first reaction -- always -- is to NOT trust the human in front of him. I've said since I got him that the first time he nickers at me (if ever), I will either start crying or fall over - maybe both.

  52. Shanster, I really don't know what else to say. Except, no, the climbing places just give you a pile of stretched out rope. I buy my snaps or tie the rope straight to the halter.

  53. Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?

    At this point in my life, no way. I'm an adult re-rider who deals with confidence issues herself. I rely on my instructor (also an adult female) to help instill that confidence, which (for me at least) means her actually getting on and doing the stuff I perceive as scary. Especially on my horse when he's acting goofy. (I LOVE it when she ever-so-politely asks, "May I get on for a moment?")
    It means a lot to me to see another grown adult woman with kids actually doing the stuff I aspire to do.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?

    No way. I would be concerned that fear would hinder the training process and could even lead the trainer to use methods with which I don't agree (or at the worst, abusive methods) to compensate.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?

    No way. Same answer as #1, really.

  54. Allright. Well - maybe I'm just giving in to the 'what-if' game?

    Hopefully nothing will happen when I take him to a schooling show...

    He's been obedient under saddle in the indoor and mostly o.k. outside at my place but if he even LOOKS like he might freak out, he gets a lot of longing before I get on.

    I mean he WAS a racehorse...they are supposed to be used to commotion right? Racetracks aren't exactly peaceful places right?

    That running thru the fence thing... kinda psyches one out! :)

    I try to not think about it too much.


  55. Would you take riding lessons from someone who understood the theory of what you wanted completely, but wouldn't lope their horse (not including physical disability)?
    Yes if I felt that they could show me what I needed to know or help me with position and form from the ground. Like telling me if I've dropped a shoulder, or have uneven contact, or need to do ___. Not if I thought their own fear would impair my progress.

    Would you entrust your horse in training with someone who was afraid of riding him?
    Personally no, I know a trainer who lately is more likely to be afraid of the horses they're riding, the result is they will tell the owner to do something (like ride with longer reins) but their fear keeps them from being able to do that themselves.

    Would you be willing to trust the theories and accept the approach to horsemanship of someone who was afraid of their own horses and/or unwilling to ride them past your level of expertise?
    No, I used to take jumping lessons with someone who was afraid to jump their own horse. The result was that I jumped 1' to 1'8" fences for 2 years until I saw one of her past students come back and give us a lesson. She had jumped the instructers horse over a 2'3" fence and let us all jump said fence. About that time I realized I needed a new instructer so I found a new barn where the trainer actively competed and jumped much higher fences than I had ever SEEN and the result was that I became even more hooked on jumping and made it up to about 2'6-2'9" before she stopped giving lessons on lesson horses. I found that if my trainers wouldn't ride past a certain level, then they were less likely or willing to let me move on past a certain point b/c their own fear translated into a fear for their riders.

  56. I have a couple of different thoughts about the post and comments to the post. I understand and agree with your dilemmas and points regarding horse keeping. These are the same issues or arguments that animal welfare science or Ethology runs into all the time. There are ‘facts’ and ‘values’ at play with both housing and training (along with use/breeding/slaughter). To make it even more complex there are also prescriptive values at play. These are the ‘ought to’ or should values statements. It is hard to determine the welfare of the animals we keep as it can seem like apples and oranges. Is a more natural approach to life a ‘better’ one? Can we honestly say that a wild horse with mange, snow past their bellies and in a body condition score 2 have better welfare than the horses we keep safely tucked away in stalls? Or that the stalled horse who has all of their biological needs of food, shelter, water and protection but is grossly overweight and foundered? These are tough questions you are posing MugWump and unfortunately each person brings their own values and expectations to the table. In regards to your questions about fearful trainers and training horses I hate to make blanket statements but I would have a hard time in seeing the value of having a fearful rider in training a horse. Horses pick up on these things and I could see real trouble brewing with certain horses if they were trained by fearful riders. Coaches are a different subject. I see the merit in learning from anyone who has achieved higher levels than me whether they ride or not. Having watched several horrendous cowhorse wrecks in the last three years has taught me that there is something to be scared off. I like my face the way it is!
    I want to ask you MugWump about your opinions regarding the modification of our equine companions in terms of drugs and surgery. I know that you used Regu-mate with Sonita and I have used it myself on show mares. How do you feel about Depo-provera for stallions or surgical alterations such as tail nerving via alcohol injections? I have been fed the industry ‘bullshit’ PPMF about how this is what you must do to ‘level’ the playing field. Even more disturbing than the rhetoric, is the associations that do nothing or condone the practices? These are some of the issues that I am currently struggling with personally. Sometimes I think it’s enough to walk away from……

  57. I just found your great blog!
    Your thoughts on the horse's future are right on! In this tough economy we really have to be mindful of our horse's resume. My daughter and I just sold our non-registered very well bred mare who we thought we would own forever! Her training level is her assurance of a good life, with or without papers to prove her parentage! Yes, we spent many hours in ground work (showmanship skills)...BUT...we also spent MANY, MANY hours in the saddle!
    This is a very opinionated mare who knows her mind, we loved her for that. It was a challenge to find the right fit. There were days that I worried about the relationship that we've fostered being the one thing that made it impossible to place her in the right home.
    Yes, we have read a good bunch of books, attended horsemanship seminars, etc...This mare was trained using these foundations. However, we need to be careful in our allowances of personality or quirkyness because we understand "it". This mare assessed people immediately and made short work of showing them their shortcomings in their horsemanship skills. The things that we find funny, or personable or cute might not be so humorous to others!
    We finally found a great home for our mare, our horse's future is assured, they appreciate and love her for the reasons we did. But, MAN it took a lot to find the right fit

    I have seen my share of people who saw a video or read a book or attended a seminar and now boldly call themselves "Trainer". My thoughts..."Really?!? Show me what you've accomplished."
    Would I trust or entrust my horse to these people...not just no, but HECK NO!
    I want my horses to be calm and responsive when I work with them - fear and inexperience does not foster that sort of calm attentiveness. The horse didn't read that book.
    However, I would trust someone who's resume boasted appropriate credentials but disabilities prevented them from continuing to that level.

  58. Here is my best piece of advice to people who want to ride youngish/green horses and are afraid... make friends with nutty people who are great riders and seem to have no fear of any horse! No, seriously. One of my best friends and riding buddies can (and will) ride just about anything... and ride well. So--I buy nice horses that she wants to ride and she gets them trail and show broke for me and then I take over (often after 2-3 years). Then I get another young one for her to play with while I get to know the one she's finished with. She also has her own horses, but is highly entertained by the challenge of new/different ones. I highly recommend this arrangement to all of the chickens out there like myself, who want to ride, but who only want to ride good, proven horses. :)

    I have a young QH gelding that she's not terribly fond of, but, luckily for me, another really good rider at the barn was looking for a horse to ride while hers was resting up from a nasty injury, so she's been riding that one for me, including on the trails, and turns out she rather likes the horse. I told her to go for it--ride him on the trails and in the show ring as long as she wants. In the end, I will have yet another well-trained, well-broke dressage, trail and pleasure horse... without involving any trainers at all!

    I do ride all of mine even while my friends ride them, and I push my comfort zone gradually until I'm comfortable with the horse. Works out well for me, for my wallet, and evenfor my friends--because apparently they like riding my horses. :)

  59. tierra - my best buddy sent her rambunctious wonder boy to another friend of ours who isn't afraid of riding through the bumps and bucks recently. She sticks a little better as well because she is younger and slimmer. This friend likes to start mustangs so she had a lot of fun working my other friend's horse. She worked him at home and then on the trail with the other friend watching on another horse. It worked really well and cost a lot less than her previous experience of sending the horse to an older "trainer" who was afraid or not able to ride him through his issues. This horse, who liked to "show out" by bucking or shying sideways has greatly improved by being ridden by someone who could stick it out and correct him instead of giving in.

  60. KD--see? We could resolve everybody's riding/training problems with friends like these. But how do we find more of them? My riding friends are also younger and slimmer and all better riders than I am.

    But then, I am the only one with a truck and horse trailer... ha ha...

  61. I think I will print out this post and have it laminated. Seriously! You said it- everything I have been struggling to put my mind around, perfectly and succinctly. I have often found that there is a paradox between the love we claim for horses and the way we use them or project our ideals of "happiness" upon to them despite the ills they suffer for it.

    This will change the way I relate with horses in the same way that your "Big 4" theory did!

    Also, thank you for stopping by my site. I was inspired to start my own blog as a result of reading yours and have since rediscovered a passion for writing. I am going back to school in the hopes of developing a career that will put my love of writing to use. I never would have thought that reading a blog named "Mugwamp Chronicles" would change my life but it did...and I have you to thank you for it!

    A thousand blessings to you and yours this New Year

  62. >>I think our horses should be rideable in case something happens to us and end up being sold. If they can be ridden they have a much higher chance of survival than a horse who will put his nose on a cone when we click our clicker.<<

    My thoughts exactly. If they're sound, break 'em. No excuses. Send them out if you can't do it yourself. They NEED that insurance.

    I am pretty animal-rightsy but even so, I consider horses (unless they are old and retired) to be my employees. That means I, as their boss, am required to be fair, consistent, give them sick time when they are sick or hurt, cover their medical/dental costs, "pay" them aka feed and house them, and praise them when they do well. However, as the employees, they have to work, whether or not they feel like it on a particular day. I read some of this b.s. about horses don't want to be ridden/wear a bit/wear a saddle/go in shows and I think, well, hell, I don't want to go to work either, but I do what I have to in order to keep the hay on the table!

  63. >>A natural talented rider does not always analyze their own riding much. Many ride on feel, which again can be difficult to explain to another person, espescially if the talented rider is not a talented communicator...<<

    I believe this is true. I think I was a good instructor, when I taught, because I was NOT a natural talent in the saddle. I knew what it was like to have things not come easily. I was told many times that I was the best "explainer" out of all the trainers they'd been to.

    And I did not teach above my own level of riding. I taught the kids up to about 2' fences and when they were winning at that level, I passed them along to someone who jumped big fences so that they could continue to progress. I never marketed myself as an expert rider, but rather as someone who was good at putting the basics on a rider. The trainers I passed people on to always complimented me on the fact that my students were truly solid without stirrups, could feel leads and diagonals without looking, etc. I think there is definitely a need for someone to teach those basics and you do NOT have to be a great rider to be that instructor.

    But if I would have not been able to canter my own horse, hell, I wouldn't have tried to lead a pony ride professionally...I mean, come on now.

  64. This is such an interesting conversation. Especially on what we expect from our trainers.

    I have had many trainers in many disciplines over the years. Sure, some were better than others, but they were all better than me. I had trainers who won nationally with Arab park horses teaching me to ride country english pleasure. An interesting part of showing as a youth (in the ARAB world, at least) is that only youth show in Equitation, so yes, I was trained by adults who may have not shown in my discipline for upwards of 10 years. But they know what is correct and what wins. When I learned to jump, My trainer didn't show, but she used to foxhunt, and that was more than I knew or had ever done. When I played Polo for college, I learned from other, more experienced, students and pro players as guest instructors. Both of those types of polo players are VERY different, but they both knew more than I did.

    After 16 years and almost as many trainers, I feel I am qualified to break and train my own horse. I bought a 5 year old and in less than 6 months, have made him a pretty darn good riding horse. He isn't a finished show horse, and he doesn't do everything perfectly, but he is ridable.

    What kills me, and where I agree with quite a few posters here, is when people train (their own horses or other people and their horses) who are unqualified. If you are afraid to lope because of a bad fall, but you still know how to do so, it is debatable if you should be able to teach someone else how to do so. If you are afraid to lope because you have never done so before, you are absolutely not qualified to train anyone or any horse to do so.

    I suppose my feeling is this: If you have never done it you don't have an opinion on it. At least not one you should be sharing.

  65. Ouch, your feelings on clicker training are very clear. I was on the fence for a while about clicker training. I talked to others on the COTH board about it and still had doubts. When I got my green mare last fall, I decided to give it a try and if I didn't like it, I could always return to a more traditional method.

    First, let me say that I'm a poor example of a clicker trainer. I don't use a clicker, just a consistent reward word and a treat. The treats are phased out after the horse has learned the task. I haven't done much targetting or other tasks that I didn't personally see a point for. What I do is, pick an objective and reward her for the smallest step and then bigger steps towards that objective.

    I really didn't expect to get very far with clicker training before deciding against it. My green mare came with all sorts of issues: rearing when scared, fly spray phobia, velcro phobia (flymask), bath phobia, saddle pad phobia, (she was scared a lot) and you could just manage to get on her, but that was it. With her rearing, I wasn't too anxious to get on her. With clicker training, we (my trainer and I) worked on her phobias and began ground driving/ long reining her.

    Today, she is much better. I posted here before anonymously (anybody know my password) about my riding goals. I also post on COTH too. I'm the one that's riding without a saddle or a bridle out in the pasture. We're working on turning with leg pressure and recently trotted for the first time, whoo hoo. That's on my previously rearing, phobic, but still green mare.

    Yeah, I can't believe it either. What started as an experiment has become more for me. I love how my mare loiters around waiting to be trained. I love how she trys to figure out what I'm asking. But mostly, I'm glad we didn't have to sell her. She came with a rearing vice that I didn't know about and definitely didn't want, no sane person does, and just about everything frightened her into rearing. I bought another horse just because I didn't think she would come around. Funny thing is, now I ride her way more than my broke gelding and if I had to sell one, it would be the gelding.

    Whew, this got long. I guess my point is that clicker training can be a valid training method and worked well on my phobic ninny.

    I don't know if you have tried clicker training, but I would invite you to try it out before bashing it. No need for a clicker if you can say the same word the same way everytime. You seem to be very against hand-feeding treats and I can understand that. I am wary of it too and if she ever gets pushy or biting that'll be the end of the treats. And there's no need for handfeeding treats, if your horse loves scratches or something else. The point is to reward the slightest try with something your horse loves. Maybe you already reward your horse with release or getting off. ;)

    One is Enough

  66. I love these Rants. God bless you mugwump.

    Sometimes I am glad I am as old as I am.

    My uncle bought me my first horse in 1968 - he was just back from Vietnam and I was 8 yrs old.
    A sorrel, flaxen maned quarter pony named Ginger - who was smart, sweet and knew every trick in the book; and taught them to me as well.

    You didn't get a horse back then EXCEPT to ride it. And ride her I did- daily. Then at age 10 we got my large appaloosa who was also very smart and quickly figured out that I was smart too after the couple of years I spent on Gingers bare back.

    Groundwork? Never heard of it. Lunging? No time.

    But we rode miles and miles of trails.

    And if we needed to open a fence we didn't dismount to do so. Same for swimming rivers and ponds or putting up with honking cars or trains roaring by or charging bulls or barking dogs or mounds of dumped garbage or log piles.

    Problems tying up? Never even thought about it. Mom sent me to the local little grocery at least once a week. He knew to stand there with some sense when I looped a rein over the post out front.

    But most things were taught from the (normally bare) back of my horse, not from on the ground; besides to lead and stick at my shoulder with no halter. He took grand champion in trails (Youth Show) in Ohio in 1975.

    Then no horses from age 24 - 47.

    Now I have another Appy- 12 yrs old and much in attitude as the old one, (smart and likes me a lot) and he is learning the same way. He was used as a 2 speed barrel horse, but I can tell he had good, solid training before that. I rode him bareback our first 3 months.

    Do I have scaredycat moments at my age? Yep, sure do. Sometimes it wins. But 90% of the time I (and the Appy) do.

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