Friday’s Opinion

Maybe it’s a sign of changing times, or something that’s just now more apparent with the advent of social media – but it seems there’s a growing number of professional horse trainers that show grave concern about telling too much. This isn’t about their personal business (they’re pretty liberal about sharing here), but instead, an expressed attitude that information in the wrong hands is dangerous to the horse. They’re probably right – but how dangerous are those hands without guidance? Or with some of the popular products out there now claiming anyone can do anything with any horse if they just follow the program correctly – often provided as a $699 DVD series?

The fact is, you don’t need a license to own a horse (or to claim to be an equine professional in most cases, for that matter), and people are going to do dumb things with horses. If they can’t find a good resource to help them achieve their aims, many will either seek out a bad one or go it alone in a way that may make no sense to the horse, getting either or both hurt.

Consider being part of the learning process for horse novices

I get a little information can be dangerous, but if outstanding horse professionals worked harder to explain more fully what they do – and how they achieve it – novices might decide to seek learning from better guides.  Generally, the “get professional help” answer won’t be heeded. More often, the people this message is directed to have no idea where to start to find honest and competent providers. Sometimes I wonder (particularly given where the income comes from those singing this song) if this response is meant in a truly helpful way (if so – it’s not – that statement doesn’t do anything to extract a novice from a predicament) or if it’s a reflex designed to push people to their business (it doesn’t).

Instead of horse professionals telling people they’re ill-equipped to understand what it takes to figure out how to reach their particular horse “without professional help”, why not consider how we might develop strategies to guide them better with what they’re going to try to do alone anyway? This would make for a much happier world for both equines and the majority of people who comprise the horse/human experience. Plus, in my experience, most figure out pretty quickly if they’re over-faced with a challenge. When they decide on their own to pull out the checkbook, the people who get their business are those who have given generously to try to help them in their quest. Or, they refer their friends and acquaintances to the provider with glowing endorsements.

Together, horse trainers can change the world

As an equine industry, we could do a lot of good allying to try to get more appropriate information out to novices and first-time horse buyers in a way that is inviting. Few backyard horse owners are financially equipped to engage a trainer. These people may charge more for a month of expertise than the purchase price of the horse (yes, everyone eventually learns the cost of feeding and caring for a horse far exceeds the purchase price pretty quickly – even with the expensive ones). But, these folks tend to have a thirst for knowledge, are avid readers and will invest in products and services that help them with the tools they seek to get where they want to go. They also comprise a very large segment of the equine realm. Their activities will shape the quality of life for a huge number of equines. If we start here, we could change the world for the horses of the future.

Horses – and humans – rise to expectations

It’s interesting, when it comes to eager learners – be it horses or humans – I’ve found they rise to expectations. If you assume a horse is going to be bad and approach her with trepidation, tenseness and an attitude that you are omnipotent, she usually responds with anxiety, stiffness and resistance about not being included in the conversation. Conversely, if you conclude a horse is ready, eager and excited to learn and offer her opportunities to express, be heard and included in the training decisions, she will relax, relish training and perform beyond your hopes while offering ideas to make training more rewarding for both.

Over the years, I’ve been amazed by the capabilities of novices when offered the tools to understand and excel. I’m not embracing the “close to the chest” philosophy some trainers purport. Give novices the opportunity to absorb your knowledge and you may be amazed at how perceptive and effective they can become with enough information to proceed smartly with their horse partnering objectives.

This goes for instructors too. If you think lessons need to start with kick and pull – think again. You’ll be astonished at how quickly and easily the least experienced rider can learn to recognize that tension works against the horse and how seat and body position control the horse. Start here and they get giddy to see how very subtle hand and leg cues get immediate responses to their requests. Try it and see them smile when it all comes together. You might be surprised how quickly they get it and how fast they improve as riders with a basic foundation that starts with more complicated, but more effective, principles.

Where do we start?

Horse Sense and Cents strive to provide smart, practical and affordable options for horse lovers across the globe

The Horse Sense and Cents™ initiative was created largely due to frustration with standard practices concerning young horses and novice riders. Formula approaches don’t work with either, yet the industry at large tends to embrace strategies that systematize programs with the belief that every horse and human will learn best with an inflexible regimen. Horse professionals who really care should work together to change this norm. We’re starting the charge with books designed to appeal to both novices and professionals on a variety of equine topics, affordable e-mail coaching for those who don’t have access to good local providers and/or lack the funds for on-site or remote training support and a mastermind group for professionals committed to reaching inexperienced horse owners. Our goal is to help anyone interested in having more rewarding interactions with horses get the knowledge they need to craft a customized approach to care for and reach their particular horse to keep him happier, safer and eager to build a partnership.

Do you have ideas on how we can make the future brighter for horses and their human partners? Please share in the comments below. Suggestions on what we can do to make Horse Sense And Cents™ a better resource for those in need? We’d love your feedback. Issues you’ve had or great experiences you’d like to share? Consider allowing others to gain from your wisdom by adding a response below. Thanks.

4 Responses

  1. It’s the same with editing and writing – one can just hang up a shingle and start a business without credentials. But books are books and horses are real live creatures, so it’s much more tricky. Having a fine young horsewoman in my 13 year-old daughter, I have come to realise what a lot of care and knowledge horses need. Just like children! No manual comes with them either, so as much information as possible about raising horses and children should be made widely available, in my opinion.

    1. Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting, Rosanne. I’ve quipped more than once (particularly when talk starts about having some government agency step in to control an industry) that the world might be a better place if we required a license for having children :-). So glad to hear you’ve encouraged your daughter to interact with horses. This young experience will serve her well into adulthood with the responsibility, accountability and dedication learned/required from her early horse activities.

  2. Encouraging “working student” arrangements would be of great benefit to both pros and novices in search of learning that’s otherwise beyond their means. I’d particularly like to see more people consider very part-time arrangements, such as trading a few hours of barn work for a lesson each week.

    Back when I managed a barn and was a 4-H horse leader, my 4-H kids could work off private lessons and coaching/hauling for shows by helping me clean stalls, care for equipment, and get the horses ready for shows. It was the classic win-win–they got knowledge and experience they couldn’t afford otherwise (both from the lessons and from meeting my rather stringent standards for how things were to be done), and I got relief from the never-ending chores.

    1. Great point, Helen. I have an employee here now that I’m donating a lot of time to (lessons, young horse training instruction, bandaging and other horse care guidance, etc.), but she’s a gem and seems to have some incredibly natural instincts with horses (with very little experience) and the rapport to back it up. She’s also sharp, responsible and an absolute joy to be around – so she’s a real keeper. We’re both fortunate – she landed at a place through dumb luck where she’ll get the kind of education not available anywhere else in the area, not only with the direct guidance she’s getting, but moreso with the experiences she’s being allowed partake in (other facilities would have hired as grunt and kept her in her place) and I may have found a future barn manager (at a time when I’ll need to start thinking about scheduling travel time for some of the Horse Sense and Cents initiatives) who’s willing and able to do things the way I want them done instead of cutting corners or arguing about it.

      Going back more than a couple of decades, I was managing a stable that included boarders, lessons and trail rides. I had a ten-year-old gal that wanted an extra lesson a week but her parents couldn’t afford it. She was a super talented rider and a kind kid. She was also tiny – probably didn’t weigh 50 lbs. I put her in charge of watering the horses in the morning. She did her job without complaint. One day I came into the barn while she was still working (usually I was in the office doing paperwork and planning at this hour) and was shocked to witness her work. Watering the 26 horses in the barn required filling buckets at a hydrant and hauling them into each stall to top off. It never occurred to me (should have) that she couldn’t lift a full bucket. So this poor little gal was filling the buckets with about 2-inches of water (what she could carry) and probably making about 200 trips into the stalls during the course of the morning. Wow! I gave her a different job after I realized what was going on and had a new-found realization about how incredible this kid was.

      The right kid can be a tremendous asset to a barn – with the win-win you suggest. Sometimes it’s a challenge finding them, but when you do, you remember them forever – and change their lives in the process.

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