You know you have found the right trainer, not when they tell you everything you want to hear, but when they tell you the truth.
This has become a new favorite quote of mine. I can see where it would be so applicable in many
areas of life.
A parent of a student with a high level of special education needs, knows they have found the right teacher when the teacher explains the special education services the student needs to make true success, rather than tell the parent that the student is ready to be placed in mainstream classes to socialize with peers.
An athlete knows they have found the right coach when the coach informs them of endurance and strengthening exercises they need to do at home to reach their goals, rather than telling them to get plenty of rest between practice sessions.
In all areas of life, when we trust someone else to teach us, or guide us in the right direction towards reaching our goals, it would be most favorable for that person to direct us to sit back, relax, take the easy route, and simply let our goals happen. However, we all know how obviously unrealistic this is. We have been taught by others, and seen in our own experiences, that success comes when you put the work in to start at the start (your baseline), address the problems (identify your weaknesses) and work up to your goals (step by step, as long as it takes). So why do so many horse owners seem to think that these same rules do not apply to our horses?
I recently had someone contact me about working with her horse. To paraphrase the description she gave me, she said her horse had great groundwork, could stand to be saddled, could turn, and could stop. She continued on, stating the problem was that her horse was acting spooky and getting moody under saddle. The moodiness was characterized by pinning her ears.
She went on to explain that she needed her horse safe to trail ride, thought that some consistent riding would accomplish that, and she simply didn’t have the time to do it herself. I could have easily appealed to her interest, and increased the odds of her choosing me to train her horse by telling her what she wanted to hear. I could have agreed to put some rides on her horse in a 30 day training package and probably would have made some minimal and temporary progress with her horse, enough to have satisfied her with her choice in trainer for the time being. However, by following this plan, 6 months from now the band aid on her horse’s problems would have ripped off and she would be back at the search for a quick fix trainer. If I were lucky, she would have come back to me and we would repeat the same quick fix, and gotten ourselves started in this vicious cycle that would have ended up profitable for me, a waste for her, and really unfair to the horse.
That is not how I operate. I genuinely try to appeal to the best interest of the horse. Starting where the horse is and progressing as the horse is ready. I am not in it to make money off of people resending their horses to me over and over time and again. I am not in it to apply a quick fix or push the horse outside of its comfort zone to produce quick results that won’t last. I will always be honest with an owner, and will never sacrifice the truth, to tell an owner what they want to hear, or to sell a training package. I treated this case no differently.
I explained to her a typical scenario when I have seen moodiness in horses in the past. It’s quite possible that her horse may have become a little lazy. Regardless the cause, it was important to me to get this horse responsive again. I explained how I would work through groundwork to get respect and responsiveness back and that groundwork was much more in depth that lunging, grooming, and picking up feet. I also gave a quick explanation of desensitization and the necessity of balancing out the responsiveness with desensitizing to create a calm and willing horse that will develop trust in the handler and learn how to keep a level head while riding. With trail riding being this horse’s purpose, I also talked about wanting to address destination addiction to ensure there was no barn/trailer/buddy sourness. All of this was the truth. These are truly things that need to be addressed with all horses and are often overlooked as people rush through things selfishly focusing on getting their horses to do the things they want, when they want, rather than taking time to address a horse’s training adequately.
I ended our conversation as I do all of my initial training contacts, offering to meet her and her horse to really assess where we were starting and get an accurate idea of what needed to be done. Unfortunately, it did not come as a big surprise to me that this owner has not gotten back with me. I am assuming she has chosen a different trainer who appealed to her interests by offering to put rides on her horse, without taking the time to meet the horse and assess a starting point. This is usually how it goes. People want the results they want in the way they feel will be easiest.
In trying to appeal to public interest, this sadly used to be how I operated. With the first horse I had in for training, outside of my own, I rushed through exercises to try and get to where the owner wanted her horse to be in the 4 weeks I had her. I made some progress, and the owner was pleased with the progress, but ultimately, I do not believe the progress will be as lasting as I would like. And that is when I made the decision to stay honest and upfront in addressing the horse’s needs with all horses that I consider training, even when it costs me a client. Those who are searching for a quality trainer, will know they’ve found it, when they hear me tell them the truth.
My passion for riding and training my horses lies in the working cow-horse. From the time I first got involved with horses this has always been an area of interest for me. However, I never realized I was capable of learning and doing it myself until I started training. With the skills I acquired (and am still acquiring), and the progress I see with the horses I train, it has opened my eyes to the limitless possibilities of my riding career. Since then, I have begun educating and training myself and my horses in this new area. In all areas I am passionate about, I thoroughly enjoy educating myself further and developing my skills.
I eagerly attended a Reined Cow Horse clinic this past weekend with my older gelding Broker. It was about a four hour drive for me. As I have not been able to find any clinics or many valuable educational opportunities in regards to working cow-horse in my area, the four hour drive for me seemed worth it. And it was! It was a lot of fun, I met some great people, and have added a couple people into my circle of awesome. (circle of awesome = people whose opinions I value, and consider their constructive criticism something I can truly learn from) One of the best parts is, that they will continue to be doing clinics on a monthly to month and a half basis in an attempt to bring about more interest in the working cow-horse in our state. I am excited to say that I now have a consistent resource for learning and self-improvement in this area of my training and riding.
I brought Broker to the clinic, and will continue to bring him as I get started in this new area of riding. While I realize there may be some limitations to how far we can go and how well we will be able to compete in this area, I do feel that there is some benefit to learning with an older horse such as him. He will be more forgiving of the mistakes I make as I learn. He is a very special horse to me and him serving this role as the horse I will be allowed to make mistakes with as I progress will only further solidify his special place in my heart. In learning with him, he will be paving the way for the future horses I train in this discipline. No horse will ever be able to replace him. We have learned so much and have come so far together.
In working with him, with his build and his age, I have realized that it is more difficult to get the quick stop necessary for working a cow. When I run into areas where my horse or I have difficulty, I am not afraid to speak up to others and get ideas and opinions from others in how to best improve a skill on a horse I am working with. However, I am very selective in who I ask for these ideas and opinions from. I only ask them of people who I consider experts in the world of horsemanship. Often times, these are the same people I place in my circle of awesome. Typically, when I seek input from these individuals, it is well received and they seem to appreciate someone who is working hard, dedicating time to their improvement, and not afraid to speak up to ask for outside influence. However, that did not seem to be the case I encountered this morning when asking for some outside ideas. I asked for some help from someone who I revere as the utmost of experts in the world of quality horsemanship. Rather than providing me with a new idea, or a tip for working with my horse on this skill, it was simply implied that there are no tips for me, I just need to reach a level of perfection in what I’m doing and then continue to practice at this level of perfection. This was hard for me to accept. As I am looking for improvement, I obviously do not consider myself to be at a level of perfection yet. So how am I supposed to automatically be at this perfect level, to practice at this perfect level? I was a little disheartened by the lack of resources provided by someone I typically rely on. Although surely I am wrong, in my heart I took it as him saying, “You’re not an expert. You’re not at a level of perfection. So you cannot practice at a level of perfection. So you will not be able to accomplish what you are trying to accomplish.” Luckily for me, one of my intrinsic drivers towards my goals is determination.
I am a very determined individual who is not afraid to put in the time and push myself out of my comfort zone to take action to accomplish the things that I decide I am going to accomplish. This would be no different for me. Although Broker’s build may be big, and I may not be an expert practicing the skills he needs to work cows at a level of perfection, I will not let either of those factors stop us from learning and improving our skills to be able to accomplish our personal goals in the world of working cow-horse.
People don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.
I actually enjoy mucking out horse stalls. Not because scooping poop is an ideal way to spend my free time, but when I’m not pressed for time and can muck at a leisurely pace, I relax and find myself getting lost in thought. As I continue to seek out the opportunities necessary to make training horses a successful and full-time career, “What can I be doing better?” or “What am I not doing that I should be doing?” are often the themes of my thoughts. Today’s topic went back to my “Why?” I’ve already blogged specifically about why I train horses; to TRAIN horses to be calm, yet responsive to cues, and to change the mindset of others who feel that dominance and submission are the tools necessary to break a horse. Today’s thoughts drifted back to the beginning. I paused for a minute and looked at my own horses as I realized, it all started with them. This goal of a successful and full-time career training horses started with them. And I started asking myself, “Why did I decide to train my own horses?”
I reflected on Lakota first. She was in my immediate sight and I often think of her first when I think of training, because she seems to have the most to learn. When I first bought her she was very high strung. Her eyes were big, her head was high, and she quickly turned away or bolted from anything out of the norm. She was nervous about trailering. She would toss her head, pull back in the trailer, and kick the trailer. At first she wouldn’t even back out of a trailer, this progressed to rushing off the trailer backwards when I was trying to load her. She was sensitive to every touch. I could barely pet her behind the withers without her twitching, much less put a saddle on her without her quivering and snorting. She wouldn’t let anyone near her back feet. The first time the farrier was out I think he spent an hour on just one of her rear hooves. It took a long time for me to get her showing any signs of relaxation while working with her.
Why did I decide to train her myself? Because she is going to be a horse my daughters will ride. I want her to be responsive. I don’t want them to have to use force to get her to do the things they are asking. Too often I see young riders pulling and kicking on their horses as hard as they can to try and get their cooperation. I’ve seen annoyed horses act out in dangerous ways with their riders, and people act like it is no big deal. What is that teaching the next generation of horsemen/women? As well as responding to cues, I want Lakota to have the mental skills to remain calm. In new situations and moments of surprise and uncertainty, I want to be able to trust the horse my daughters are riding, to keep a level head, and keep them safe. From what I have seen as typical, and not knowing many trainers in my area, much less the methods they use, I was certain that to achieve these two goals from Lakota, I needed train her myself. I’ve been working with Lakota for about a year now. She has come a long way. She does great with trailering. I pick up and clean all four feet in a matter of minutes on a daily schedule. The farrier is out regularly with no troubles. She will flex laterally, disengage her hind end, walk, trot, and lope on a loose rein, steer, and back up softly. She will walk, trot, and lope over small obstacles on the ground. We are currently working on side passing. My oldest has ridden her on leadline. My daughter is only 3 years old but has already made up her mind that Lakota will be her horse and they will do mounted shooting events together. In her words “Ride Lakota fast, shoot balloons.”
About the same time I started training Lakota, I started retraining Broker. He was my first horse. Before he was my first horse, he was my sister’s first horse. He is an older horse, who has always been a great horse, until he started bucking. It didn’t take me long to realize, as most bucking issues are, it was a result of inconsistent and improper handling. In this case, it was my handling. With him being my first horse, I didn’t know any better, and I allowed him to be disrespectful and lazy for long enough that it evolved into bucking. Why did I decide to solve this and retrain him myself? Because he was my first horse, who had been patient and forgiving in a lot of situations in the very beginnings of our relationship. This lasted until he realized, at the time, I was not an effective leader and someone needed to step up the plate, he felt it might as well have been him. And I let him. I made that mistake, and I owed it to him to be the one to work with him to fix it. After re-establishing our roles, so that he realized I was a leader who he could trust, and also one he should respect, we began working on the bucking. It did not take long and I was able to ride him again without a buck. Until I started asking for a lope. This is where I really saw the laziness come out. The buck was back when I asked him to lope. However, I now had tools to work on this. I put the time in and we worked through this. He is now my willing partner when we ride and if I give him a job to do, he is more in tune to me than ever before. I’ve realized with him, I can actually start working on and accomplishing some of the things I have always dreamed of doing in my riding, but never thought were possible. And this was all done by re-TRAINING my horse… not breaking him.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.