Monday, November 29, 2010

Time to Clear Up The Big K- Or “A Minion with an Opinion”

Funder said: I love Big K stories. You make him sound like such a Buddhist guru.

This is when it really hit me, I have to balance out the stories about The Big K. He was definitely my guru for many years. We had a deep and complicated relationship based completely on horses.

The kidlet told me there were rumors flying constantly about what our relationship actually was. Which is absolutely hysterical on so many levels.

All K and I thought about or talked about was the horses. Our mutual obsession was what turned us into people who could read each others minds and finish each others sentences. Of course as all you horsaii know, working through training a horse makes you work on yourself.
As I learned to control my hands, legs and emotion I became a much stronger person. As I became stronger I developed an opinion.

A minion with an opinion is a bad thing when it comes to trainer/mentor – minion relationships.
The level of training I had climbed to was awash in abuse. Abuse towards horses. Abuse towards people. The trainers I met and worked with did things to their horses I couldn’t handle. Horses in my world were investments, commodities, tools, nothing more.

The horses were worked hard and early, we started two-year-olds on January 1. Which meant they were often 18 months old or so.

Colts and fillies were kept in box stalls, isolated from each other and under lights 24 hours a day. They were never turned out. They were in their stall, tied to the rail or being worked.

There was no room or time for kindnesses. Again, towards the horses or each other.

When I first started riding with K he was just coming up in the reined cowhorse world. He had top tenned at the AQHA Worlds and won a few major Colorado events.
He was smart and thoughtful and taught me a lot about riding through issues and how to read my horses.

As he rose in the ranks the pressure of his position began to change him. It began to change me too. I developed a very strong line I wouldn’t cross. It caused a deep rift.

K can be a very hard man. He can be impossible to understand. He pushes himself, his horses and the people around him to the absolute mental and physical limit.

I’m spending a week with him next fall. It will be the first time I’ll have ridden with him as an equal, instead of someone he needs to mold. It will be interesting.

I’ve written about many of the things K and I talked about but I’ve avoided the darker side.
I still haven’t decided how much I’m willing to write about those parts.

K and I have made peace after a very bitter split.

I’m wary, but he seems to have found himself again. We have begun to talk the way we used to, which is great.
But from where I stand and from what I’ve seen, I would never, ever leave a horse of my own in training with anybody. Other than myself…

I’ll toss anybody who wants to ride up on one of my horses, but nobody trains on them except me.

I didn’t go stomping off in a fury and refuse to compete either. I love reined cowhorse, I love cutting and I love the history and technique behind developing a spade bit horse.

I love learning.

I love training my horses.

I can’t morally do to a horse what I saw being done in order to win.

I would have never become the caliber of trainer I did if I hadn’t ridden with the people I did.

See what a Mugwup I am?

I am glad The Big K and I are friends. I’m working out the latest mental knot he gave me and it’s a great problem. I’ll share it eventually. But we have a wall between us now. We’ve talked about it. I built it and I’m not of a mind to take it down. It’s a point of sadness between us.

I’ll compete again. I want to see if I can win on a horse I’ve trained with what I’ve learned and the moral code I’ve developed. I don’t know if I can, but it keeps the future interesting.


galyn said...

bravo for you! it might take a day or two (or more) extra to train a colt...but it is NOT necessary to abuse one

Half Dozen Farm said...

I never got the "big fuzzy teddy bear" kind of picture of the Big K from your stories. I always kind of figured as much as you've said here. But maybe it is because I know several cowboy trainers and they are all tough as nails. They sure know horses, but they can be brutal (figuratively speaking). That was the way I projected the Big K in my mind while reading your stories about him.

I'm glad that you have morals that you aren't willing to compromise. So many people don't and are so wishy-washy. They rely on the tv (or internet!) to tell them what to think and believe.

I've enjoyed reading your articles for your newspaper job. While reading them, I imagine what it would be like to live in a place so cool that would actually print articles like yours in the newspaper!!! If our newspaper did such a thing, I would subscribe!

Any Tally/Cupcake stories coming soon? ;-) (nag, nag, nag)

Happy Holidays!

mugwump said...

Half Dozen - Fountain is indeed a very cool place....the horse community isvery strong here.

Justaplainsam said...

Im glad you were able to work with Big K. Im not sure what to do about mine... I'll tell you one thing though,

My horse will NEVER go into training ever again.

Susan said...

I would rather have no friends than compromise my relationship with horses.

GreyDrakkon said...

I never got the impression that everything was sunshine and roses with the Big K, maybe I can read between the lines a bit too well for that. He seemed like the kind of person who could give a good boot to the rear when needed, but also...I don't know. I sensed a darker undercurrent at times.

I'm glad you've become a person who's stubborn about standards, yet flexible enough to change your mode of operation when it's called for.

Breathe said...

Outgrowing a teacher is always tough on both student and teacher.

But grow, we must.

Walls can be good things. But a wee bit of erosion ain't bad either.

burnttoast said...

I think one problem is how winning is defined. You may win a 3 year old futurity, but if the equine winner is dependent on steroids and vet intensive support, is that really winning? If the same horse is not pasture sound at 12, is that winning? Unfortunately, in the short term, that is winning. In the long term, IMO, it is not.I am struggling with this, as I try to "protect" my 2 year old from a trainer I trust, BUT. The best thing I have is that he feels she will be good but not major good. I can argue I want her sound for the long term, and do every time I see him. If she had major potential, there would be no stopping him, other than pulling her out of training.

redhorse said...

Can I get a "like" button for Susan?

I spent the last 3 years without a horse of my own to ride. My gelding is 4 now, and being trained by a wonderful young rider. I wish I could have done it myself, but I don't have enough experience to do it right. For me, the answer was finding this young lady. I think some of the younger trainers are getting away from the "Big K" methods. I am more than willing to support them in their efforts. If you can find them, the younger generation of trainers may be the answer to all of our training prayers. Lets just hope they can make a living and hang in there.

Nancy (aka Tony's person) said...

You rock, mugwump! I've often wondered if a horse trained differently from the harsh methods used so widely can win. I will follow your journey happily.

mugwump said...

burnttoast- you said it so's the definition of winning. It's also the definition of what's considered desirable training.
That's where I got to know exactly what good training is.
I still only can go by my own definition, but I can honestly say I worked hard to develop it.

redhorse-I would suggest becoming a follower of Susan's blog....that's how I know you guys like me.

Becks Horses said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becks Horses said...

Sorry it only posted half....

I never let a trainer touch my horses, I wanted to know how to be able to do it myself. That being said I did work trainers horses. I worked horses that were just 18 months. Horses that were kept in stalls and hardly allowed to be horses. I also worked with horses who were head shy and flinchy, I never knew why until the day I watched my first trainer beat a horse so hard it could barly stand. I pulled from the program that day.

I spent three years in a jumper barn who started their jumpers at age 3. Theses horses were never sound, they had a private vet who lived on site and injected every horse in the barn.

At 14 I moved to an all around barn and worked with a less vicious trainer. She taught me A LOT about proper horse care. She also taught me that there was no need to be mean. She taught me to walk away and end on a positive note. She was also the first trainer I ever won with.

In 2008, after the all around trainer retired, I moved barns and went into business for myself.I was sharing a barn with another trainer who was mean, mean to an extreme. Her horses cowered in their stalls the second she stepped into the barn, hearing all 12 of her horses suck into the wall,that will stick with me forever. The day I whitnessed her pounding on her horses was the day that I drew the line. My morals were always there, it's just to bad I didn't stand up sooner.

Anonymous said...

Being 17 and trying to make a break into the A circuit jumpers often leaves me questioning where to draw the line. I cannot afford big, nice and perfect horses. I cannot afford lessons. As a result, I am a working student aboard horses I can find in back lots, rescues and kill pens. Two quality horses kept at home and trailered to work. Being a working student (or minion) gets you in the barn and right next to the trainers, riders and horses day in and day out. Where I am now, all the feet are shod, all the buckets are full and horses are turned out. Some of the riding though makes me cringe. Talented riders being encouraged to "make that horse listen!" and throw their body weight against the bit. Setting grids 3 feet (or more) short so that the horses are forced to rap their legs on wooden rails. Nothing is ever beaten and they're absolutely babied on the ground. I've seen these things done before but I've also never worked at a barn of this caliber. I just wonder what is necessary evil/pain applied to the horse and what is not... :(

I don't want this life if I have to treat my horses like that to take them to the next level...

Fyyahchild said...

Every time I read this stuff I wonder if I've been incredibly lucky or incredibly naive. I've been very happy with the trainers I've been using. I've spent a lot of time at their barns, I've watched all of their other animals closely. I've spoken to them about what I want for my horses and they are respectful. I'm not sure if I'm headed for the top with either of them but I'm happy, my horses are relaxed and happy and I'm having fun. I have no idea what I want as far as showing any more but I guess I'll figure that out as we go along.

Anonymous said...

Argh - reading this makes my brain spin....I WAS a trainer and I quit because I would not do the things required to win. Not all of the "problems" are obvious abuse. For a long time I was confused and awed by the horses that had no life at home in the barn or tied to the rail, but seemed to like to show....They DID like to show - it was the only form of mental stimulation for them that didn't involve apprehension or absolute boredom. Think of being shut in your room where you eat, sleep and entertain yourself for at least 12 hours a day, then spending 4 or 6 or more hours (tied) sitting in one spot on some bleachers, and then getting to shoot hoops for 20 or 30 minutes after which you shower and go back to the bleachers or back to your room....that 20 or 30 minutes of movement and strength would be heaven!!!! Just think of what a road trip would mean to you....

And then there has also been some discussion of how horses react to abuse...some humans can actually come to "love" and even defend their abusers. They actually begin to think they they are in the wrong nearly 24/7 and that the "good times" are only through the kindness of the person that they feel like they continuously let down. Some new studies reflect that horses can reach a similar place...they actually look to their abusers for that tiny act of kindness and provide an extreme reaction of "gratitude" for that brief moment "off of the hook."

The physical abuse is easier to point a finger at and is often horrible. The mental abuse is often as bad, but often have you seen a horse just blow, often hurting someone, and the owner is standing there saying "I just don't understand - he's never done that before..." Something finally flipped that horse's brain for the final time and he acted out.......

mugwump said...

Anonymouus- Such a solid, good point. I've never looked at it from that side. It's valid and scary.
Of course they would love to's so often the onlypositive reinforcement a horse gets.
I'll be chewing on this one for quite awhile.

Jen said...

This definitely puts a few things together for me in understanding the Big K thing. I'm pretty determined at this point to just continue training my horse on his own (let's face it, I'm in medical school & have no free time right now, but when I'm done....). I don't care that he's 10 years old & green. He's got a forever home with me & he's happy & well cared for. He's never known true abuse, although I have screwed up a lot in the process of learning who I was as a horse person, instead of just doing what I saw/was told. I've seen a lot of trainers do things that would make me sick if it happened to my horse, and it's piddly stuff compared to what I often read. Even when I was young & first starting lessons & didn't know a thing about training, I instinctively knew that one of the trainers couldn't be right, with her harsh & often cruel methods. For now I'll just enjoy my horse & his lovey dovey personality and be thankful that it hasn't been wrecked.

And I have always had the same line of thought as would be considered cruel and neglectful to treat people like we do stalled horses - keeping them locked in 12x12 boxes & maybe letting them out for short periods. People aren't even herd animals like horses are; horses are MEANT to be in large areas, able to roam freely. It makes me laugh that I'm paying LESS than our stall boarders & I'm quite confident my horses are MUCH happier (though they might disagree mid-winter - we're in the midwest :-) )

Anonymous said...

Hi Mugs, I am Argh Anonymous, back again :)
I found an interesting article pertaining to the mental thing - it is written regarding Arabian Horses, but has some very thought provoking things to say. It's not too long, so if you get the chance go to

Funder said...

I'm so late getting back here!

I also figured Big K was a hard man. I've also learned a lot from guys like that - including my own limits.

I hope you continue to talk about the dichotomy between "I love to compete" and "I won't do certain things to win." I opted totally out of breed shows (TWH) because I think the whole thing is so immoral and cruel to horses - I know there are good trainers, but I never met any. Anyway, that's how I moved to endurance - it's all about keeping the horse sound and competing (not winning!) for as long as possible, preferably decades.

HorseOfCourse said...

To me, so much of being around horses is about joy and relaxation.
I guess even without the abuse, you miss out some of that when working professionally with horses?
But gain a lot of experience instead.

To be able to have the best of both worlds now must be fun, Mugs. I am looking forward to follow you on that future road.

Anonymous said...

Argh Anonymous, that is a scary article. I'd never thought of PTSD in those terms :(
Especially scary is the thought that anyone - myself included - may cause their horses harm by accident and not realise it. Horses have evolved to hide pain and other debilitations in order to not be picked out as an easy target by predators.
I guess the best thing I can do is to really get to know my horses, to be able to spot the slightest change in behaviour. Also, to continually question myself and my methods, and to stop and re-think if I have any doubts.
I'm glad I've been blessed so far with a majority of good horse people in my life, and the intuition to get out if I come across something I don't like. :(

Chris said...

"I love learning.

I love training my horses.

I can’t morally do to a horse what I saw being done in order to win.

I would have never become the caliber of trainer I did if I hadn’t ridden with the people I did."

I love these points - there's nothing like continually learning - about horses, better approaches, different ways :)

It's a blessing to love what you do and wonderful to hear of morals coming into view. These (and ethics) are often lacking in the horse industry!

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