Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Being the mugwumpI am, I can't write an article about working with trainers without going back to why we should use clinicians. It shouldn't be a surprise. I have said more than once Ray Hunt changed my whole world. And I don't think it's much of a secret why I dropped out of the race to the top in the horse training world.

Buying Local Has It’s Limits

By Janet Huntington

When I first starting taking lessons as an adult I rode with well known APHA trainer Devin Warren.

I was training out of a color breeding barn and needed to update my sadly behind the times show skills. Devin was training my boss’s stud, River, and the boss wanted me to maintain him when he was home.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? OMG. I didn’t have a clue how to ride using the new and improved performance horse. I didn’t know what to do with my hands or legs, my concepts of drive were completely off kilter and the show world was a blur of confusion for me.

Devin was patient, funny and had no problem yelling at me when I needed it.

The problem was I just didn’t get it. I felt awkward and foolish, hated much of what I was being told to do and simply didn’t understand a lot of the information being thrown at me. Devin was busy and had only so much time. I realized I needed to accept responsibility for my horse education.

I was in desperate need of a clinician. I needed somebody who trained to show. I was completely capable of getting a horse down the trail, but I needed some concepts I could absorb and apply to the show world.

I found an introductory offer of a training tape for $10 in a horse magazine. Not quite my clinician, but some sorely needed information for not much dough. It seemed well worth the risk.
When my tape arrived I got to meet Larry Trocha, a cutting horse trainer from California. His method of training made complete sense to me, it reminded me of the training philosophy of Monte Foreman, the trainer I had followed since my youth.

I called and ordered more. I talked to Mr. Trocha and he helped me put together a tape package which would compliment the program I was on with Devin.

It worked out great. Because I could watch my tapes as needed and practice technique on my own. Even though I was listening to a cutting horse trainer and riding all around with Devin, I began to understand drive, balance, frame and leg control.

This opened my eyes to looking at clinicians. I began to go to as many as I could. I rode when I could afford it and observed the rest of the time.

I also began to read. Mainly books about dressage because the theories seemed to come into play no matter what I was riding or who I was riding with.

I also had a great secret weapon when I rode with the trainers who had knowledge so beyond mine. Common sense. Strong convictions about what worked and what didn’t. I had a personal opinion about what was fair or not fair to my horses and I had enough education behind me to back up my thoughts.

If I thought something was wrong it took some honest conversation to convince me otherwise.
If I didn’t agree I didn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I did things during my training years I wouldn’t do now, but I am willing to bet we all have. I developed this conviction through the clinicians I observed and rode with.

My absolute favorite thing about clinicians is they don’t ride my horse. I do.

When I work with a clinician I am learning his opinion by training my horse myself. This is all I’ve ever wanted. To learn how to be the best horseman I could be, so I don’t have to let anybody else ride my horse.

Local trainers can be hard to understand, demanding, short on time, patience and sometimes, just plain wrong. They can be dishonest or cruel. They are jealous of their clients and unwilling to share them.

When you ride with a local trainer you represent him/ her. So he wants you to win. He wants you to be horsed the way he thinks will make you succeed.

This is not a bad thing, but something every horse owner who seeks out a local trainer needs to be aware of. You very well may be pressured to “change up” on your horse. You may be encouraged to put your horse in training and feel it’s the only way to get there.

In a clinic it’s about what you and your horse can do together. The only time I’ve seen a clinician (well, a good one anyway) tell someone they needed a new horse, the horse was in obvious pain.

Clinics can give you a lot of knowledge for not a bunch of money. If a clinician wants thousands of dollars to ride with him I’ll go watch him work instead.

Clinicians prepare you for trainers.

I think a good horseman is a person who spends his life learning. When you first start with horses it’s your primary responsibility to learn how to care for them safely. This includes feet, feed, medical care and proper riding technique. Then you get to learn about how a horse moves, how you can direct them, in other words, begin to advance your knowledge.

It should never stop. The better you get, the better off your horse is. If you ride with a clinician you will come away with knowledge, if you ride with a trainer you will too. It doesn’t matter which route you take, you’ll always be riding with yourself and your own moral compass.

Going to clinics and watching tapes taught me to think. Going to trainers taught me to really ride. Becoming a trainer helped me really delve into what makes a horse and ultimately, myself tick. I don’t regret any of it.

Knowing what I was willing to do and how far I’d go while training my horses came from myself. I rode with people who I admired and hated. I picked up what worked for me and dropped what didn’t.

If I saw a spectacular result from a method I couldn’t condone I would figure my way around it. I do it to this day.

Clinicians and their videos can reach everybody, no matter how far out in the wilderness they are. Help is available for everyone. Videos can arm a rider with enough knowledge and ability to think on their own.

Clinician, video or trainer, none of them are worth a thing if we don’t learn to think.


  1. Great post Mugs.

    Cinicians bu audit and if able, riding with, along with reading, watching, and asking a LOT of questions is what has enable this underfunded cowgirl become the educated rider that I am (and always learning). I think people undervalue the importance and knowledge you can gain from reading, watching and asking.

  2. Awesome post! I just wish I could do better putting what I learn in DVD's and clinics to use... but it sure is fun trying! And I guess it will come with time:)

  3. Yes, yes to all of it. And if you have a really good local trainer, one who also believes in life-long learning and becoming a better horseman, they might go to the clinics with you.

  4. Excellent!

    In addition, I'm always interested in asking trainers which clinics they've attended lately, which books they've read in the last year, which new DVD's they've seen. If the answer is none, I don't want them training me or my horse. The last thing I need for a trainer is one who already knows everything and isn't interested in learning anything new!

  5. I agree 100% of what you wrote.
    I have a collection of dressage books, that taught me that a horse with his head between his knees broken at the third vertebra, is NOT a collected horse.

    I am buying as many DVDs from clinicians as I can. To see how to get there. One can find very good offer on EBay.

    I have now found a young trainer that trains in biomechanical correct way.

    I woudl like to ask you a question. The young trainer I am working with, was b*tched about by an older trainer, because young trainer keeps his horses the first year in a snaffle bit. Older trainer is known to be quite hard but has most his 2 yrs old in a shank bit within 6 months of training ...

    I would like to know if the USA trainers are really nasty to each others, or do they hold rank and they help each others?

  6. A-MEN! I believe this absolutely applies to pretty much everything horse (especially training). Major points for you in not just following blindly (and why do people do that anyway??).
    Drives me up the wall (living in the Reneck Riviera as I do) to hear idiotic advice followed simply because it was stated with complete authority. Apparently I'm a non-conformist, always wanting to know Why? It should always make sense :o) Excellent post.

  7. This is so true. The main clinician I ride with is a really good horseman himself, but he never takes credit for it- he's always talking about where he learned things and he's still going off to clinics himself, buying books and DVDs and sometimes showing us parts of them at clinics to clarify what he is talking about.

    I get very sceptical about any horseman who says they invented something because the fact is they didn't.

    Muriel, what is better about a 2-year-old in a shanked bit? Here in the UK we wouldn't even be sat on a horse until they are four ( a whole other debate, but the competing two-year-olds thing would have horrified American trainers of a century ago as much as it does European riders now - the more you look at biomechanics and skeletal maturation the more it seems like an odd thing to do ) so you have plenty of time to get them good with basic tools before you try to ask them for refinement. When I see western horses in this country at any level aside from the very top they are almost always overbitted and I think a lot of that comes from a horse that never got time to work well in a snaffle, partly because there seems to be a rule that they can only have a snaffle at age x and then must be in a shanked bit by age y. I just don't see any reason to put a particular bit in a horse's mouth except that they are absolutely ready to work in that bit.

  8. Aarenex said -"In addition, I'm always interested in asking trainers which clinics they've attended lately, which books they've read in the last year, which new DVD's they've seen."

    There's a problem with this philosophy. Trainers often ride together and help each other within a specific discipline. Their clients are not invited. Advice and help is freely given. They rarely charge each other for this service.
    Then if Don Murphy or Sandy Collier are in town they might "ride with" a few local trainers-again, no clients are invited.
    They are not called clinics and they don't come from DVD's, but the information exchanged is incredible. Nor is it discussed outside of the arena it was shared in.
    So I wouldn't want to miss out on a good trainer because they haven't been to a clinic or two.

    Muriel said - "I would like to know if the USA trainers are really nasty to each others, or do they hold rank and they help each others?"

    Muriel please. Are all the trainers in your country perfect people without vice or jealousies? I doubt it.
    Horse trainers in the US are like people all over. There are good ones, bad ones, kind ones and cruel ones all mixed into one bag. I was kind of hoping that was the point I would get across.
    To be a good horseman you have to be responsible fo your own education. It's the only way to tell the good from the bad.

  9. I love your comment about having a personal opinion about what is fair, or not, to your horse. I think that is especially important if we go to a clinician that we are not very familiar with. We may be asked to do something that we believe is not in our horses best interest. If that is the case we better be willing to bow out of participation in that portion of the clinic. I feel strongly that we are personally responsible for watching out for our horses best interest, even in the face of the big fancy clinician, maybe especially then... And yes, being thinking horse people is really the bottom line. Thanks for the great post!

  10. Can anyone recommend some good DVDs for an intermediate rider? I've looked into possibly buying some, but they're so pricey that I don't want to waste my money on a dud.

    I don't have any solid lesson experience under my belt, so dressage videos would probably go over my head (some of the dressage lessons I've watched might as well have been in another language.)

    Basically... I'd love to find good, solid riding advice (like the advice on this blog), but in a DVD presentation. I'm open to any and all disciplines so long as it's not OVERLY technical.

    Recommendations, anyone?

  11. Well when you don't know... you don't know what it is that you don't know...

    Thinking and learning is good, in whatever form it comes to us.

  12. Mugs,
    In my working sector, NOBODY would bad-mouth another professional in front of a client.

    But I have come accross it in the horse-world HERE. Farrier b*tching about others farriers, instructor sl*ging off a colleague, Trainers who would not acknowledge the work of a colleague, Barn owners critizing each others to the clients O_o. A LOT! It is NOT the clients doing it. It is the pro between each others, leaving clients a bit lost. Who do you believe? Who is right? Is my horse having proper care, and correct training?
    Hence the reference to DVDs!!!

    I was wondering if it was country-specific.
    Because my friends, who have worked in the USA, keep telling me that in your place, it is much professional attitude.

    Glenatron, Yes I agree that futurity is an atrocity. It seems that the mentality are changing. This year, there are more horses for the 4-yrs-old futurity. In Germany the futurity is for 4 yrs old.

    I do not know where to put pressure on AQHA, NRHA, NRCH, in order to change it.

  13. Becky - the place I go to look for interesting books and DVDs is the Eclectic Horseman site- they seem to cover a lot of the things that are interesting and useful to me. I get a lot out of the Horseman's Gazette video magazine, but if you're looking for riding-specific detail you might find Wendy Murdoch useful - I've not watched her own DVDs but articles and the Gazette sections I have seen from her seem very sound.

  14. Muriel- It's a gosh darn good thing you have a working sector you can feel so doggone good about.

    Now please stop bad-mouthing mine.

    This blog is about learning together through conversation and insight.
    We don't attack each other's disciplines.

    I don't start my horses until they are three. They stay in either snaffle or hackamore (bosal) until they are five.

    I don't announce it from the hill tops to people who start two-year-olds though.

    I assume I can still learn from them and if they choose I will share what I know.

    I will not hire a farrier who critisizes other shoers or gossips about the barns he works at.

    I too worked in a "sector" where the trainers did not slam each other.

    As a matter of fact I learned my sense of etiquette from those very trainers.

    We proved our point in the show ring.
    We proved our point when our clients told others how happy they were with their horses.

    In my humble, not worth much,very American opinion, people who trash talk other riders, trainers, barns, or golly gee whiz, even whole countries, are showing their own insecurities.

  15. You are so right about some local trainers wanting you to trade up! I rode a perfectly good horse that wasn't papered all through school, but when I really wanted to get into the jumper ring my trainer insisted that I buy a EXPENSIVE and papered horse, the EXPENSIVE part sticks with me because that is what she exactly told me, "Buy an expensive horse, you are sure to get a good horse that way!". I moved barns two days after that comment and met a new trainer who appreciated what I had, my horse was talented and didn't need alot from me, she reversed alot of what the other trainer had slammed into my mind. She was also the first trainer I worked with who took me to clinics!

  16. I don't quite understand the anger directed at Muriel. She's dismayed at the cattiness she witnessed between trainers in her country and would like reassurance that US trainers offer a more supportive community than she's experienced at home. She's rather idealistic about the US and probably too hard on the trainers in her home country, but I don't see what's offensive about the question.

  17. Becks -
    Mug said it all.
    'This blog is about learning together through conversation and insight.
    We don't attack each other's disciplines'
    She is making a strong point to all of us to stick to the topics and not get into the very thing Muriel was complaining about.


  18. oops, meant to reply to Breton, not Becks. Sorry,

  19. Breton - I might have been confused as to which country Muriel was talking about. But broad-spectrum criticism is wrong no matter what country we're talking about.
    Muriel- I'm sorry if I was mean-I can be a cranky witch sometimes.

  20. I went to a beginning reining clinic this weekend, and it was a lot of fun for a non-western rider (or at least not since equitation in college) like me. It was fun doing spins and slides (which I'd never done) on a well trained horse. I obviously learned a lot of new stuff, but it was interesting , too to relate why things that you just wouldn't do on a horse of another discipline is exactly what you need to do for this, and also where there are similarities that could benefit your other discipline.

    And spinning and sliding were way fun!!!

    I must say, if I hadn't been reading this blog all along, I'm not sure I would have been interested enough to try the clinic, but I am so glad I did. I also had a little more of clue and understanding of the whys and hows, since they differ quite a bit from my usual riding... Thanks, Mugs!

  21. Found this amazing quote. Just sounded so like Mugs! (where have we heard that before?)

    “Understanding the theory of riding is an essential basic so you can choose the right methods during practice. A rider will need to continue to search for the best methods throughout their whole riding career because of the dimension and complexity of this subject. Therefore, we will never reach the point where we can say: “Now I know everything.

    On my search looking for the truth I have met many people that share my experiences, opinions and ambitions, and I’ve met some that have completely different ideas. I would like to advise every horseman never to judge different philosophies before having tried them because we can learn a lot from each other.

    On the other hand: Never accept training methods, which are based on constraint and subordination of the horse by force!” – Gerd
    Heuschmann (www.gerdheuschmann.com

  22. See Dee Dee? No trainer or clinician actually comes up with something new.
    It's just how we translate the information and where we get it from.