What is your goal as a trainer?
   

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What is your goal as a trainer?

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    02-02-2010, 12:01 PM
  #1
Weanling
What is your goal as a trainer?

I have been having a bit of a personal battle lately. In the world of horses, we tend to go towards a common ground of wanting the "rideable" horse. However, what exactly defines "rideable"? Able to carry a saddle and rider? Responsive? Respectful? Willing? What about physically correct? Athletic? The list goes on as what we expect of our proper rideable horse.

Here is my dilema, I have taken classes and worked with numerous mentors to learn about the correct biomechanical function of the horse. True correct function goes against many of the training methods that horses are trained to respond to. Horses are simple to teach to respond off of pressure, and combining that quality with the fact that horses have to be 80-90% lame before showing signs makes the horse a recipe for disaster and ultimate physical failure as they will compromise their body terribly and repetitively, masking the problems, as a simple means to escape pressure.

On the other side of my life, I grew up doing everything from hunters to barrels to cattle work. I've seen the bond formed and tasks that can be accomplished between the horse and rider team with a job. I look at pictures on forums and for sale ads, as well as horses I see passing regularly, and see physical issues that one trainer I work with would label as an "unrideable horse" without proper rehabilitation, yet this horse is plodding along the trails or over fences daily. Through the horses obedience, I see a good relationship, yet also problems popping up with muscle soreness, foot soreness, joint problems, and other constant lameness issues. Often, I can look at a picture of a horse and see the physical issue that is causing their problems, and I have been successful in helping many of these problems, but here is the thing, it is boring, time consuming, kills my drive, and essentially you are starting a horse from scratch, as taking them out of their holding patterns puts them in a compromised place as their body is their main source of protection in their world.

The average rider wants to do whats right by their horse, but I also completely understand wanting some enjoyment out of riding them. At the same time, I know that I am a bit sore everyday as a result of my job, so is it completely wrong for the horse to be? Anything with a job is going to ultimately suffer some type of physical discomfort, right? Where is the happy medium in there? Where do we draw the line between what we need for function and what they need for function?

I see many people put a time limit on their training, and even through my personal experience, I know that setting your goals high for your horse and putting the work into it will get those goals achieved quickly, but I also know through my experiences that the body pays the price. Just to make it a little harder, I find that spending too much time on the body makes my horses that are bred to have a job become rather bored. With most behavioral problems that I've been approached with, I've found a physical issue to explain it. Its easy to train the behavior out without even thinking about the physical imbalance, but eventually one imbalance leads to another and you are left with a very obedient, lame horse. The truth is, it is one of those things that sometimes I think I was better off being blind to whats going on under the skin. Not because its the best thing for the horse, but because the time limit that people put on their horses makes it impossible to fix everything that they've done physically in a reasonable amount of time.

Its easy to do something to a horse when you can't see the long term affects, but what we've come to look for in a horse is the image, which can be terribly manipulated. The practicallity of going towards ultimate correct self carriage in every horse is pretty bazaar. So where does that leave the trainer? Are we serving the horse, or are we serving the rider?
     
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    02-02-2010, 01:19 PM
  #2
Green Broke
Good post.

The bottom line, in the end, is that regardless how you hash it, horseback riding IS a selfish sport. I don't care how much your horse appears to love you and enjoy being ridden, asking them to perform the way we do obviously puts a strain on their bodies that nature likely never intended. All you need do is walk down a line of stalls and see the horses with bowed tendons, and sway backs, and digital flexor injuries, and any other wide variety of injury directly related to being worked and ridden and realize we somehow justify what we do to them by claiming "they love it".

We've all found little avenues to make ourselves feel better about it - for example, we are outraged when people ride yearlings and often two year olds. However, the one article with scientific reasoning and study behind it tells us that NO horse has EVER matured fully in the spine before the age of six years old. So yes, every year we give them is beneficial to the horse, another year of maturing, but realistically, both that 2 year old and that 4 year old are classified as "undeveloped". You risk less chance of injury riding the 4 year old, but you risk even LESS chance of injury riding the 6 year old, so were do we develop a "cut off" line?

Essentially, when it comes to horseback riding, it ALL serves the RIDER. People do not medicate their horses to make them "comfortable" - they medicate their horses so they can return to function. Trainers do not work horses at the pace the animal needs - they train at the pace the owner demands, or whatever pace is going to be most cost effective in the end.

The business of horses is nothing but money, but unlike other businesses so often we forget we are dealing in live animals with brains and understandings. They aren't china dolls, you can't cover up a chip and sell it for the same price and expect nobody to ever notice. People keep the doll with a chip - people don't keep the horse with the chip.

And don't get me wrong, I make no attempt to be self righteous, we are ALL guilty of it. We're just all afraid to admit it because then we're forced to think about it, and how maybe our horse isn't all that happy being made to gallop around a demanding course that could break his leg. How they'd probably be a lot healthier if they never saw a human on their back. I'm not saying stop riding - I will stand up and admit it, I am selfish, and I will not stop riding my horse. But I try to make a conscious effort to make him as comfortable and happy as I can, and listen to what he's telling me about his health.
     
    02-02-2010, 02:36 PM
  #3
Foal
I agree, good post Bug.

Having worked with national level trainers and owners, even good ones, plays heavily into why I have no interest in showing much. I think there is a line between reasonable expectations and pushing into injury. This line varies for an individual horse and it is the horse trainers job to know where this line is. Some cross it. I won't. This isn't to say accidents don't happen, but I won't willingly push a horse past it's physical abilities for something as paltry (IMO) as public praise and a ribbon.

Why would someone who loves horses enough to want to put themselves into the equine industry "circus" push a horse past what they are really capable of? Money and reputation. I understand this, because in order to be a "top trainer" and have a stable clientele they must get their horses winning. Otherwise they have little to nothing in short order and the bills don't get paid. In the case of some owners I've worked around, I've seen more than once that their interest lies solely in winning and besting their peers, with less than adequate concern for the horse...unless it fails their expectations...then just displeasure and drugs or a new trainer. The owner puts food on the trainers table, and therefore calls the shots, even if the trainer knows better. I think many trainers get desensitized to the horse in the focus of getting their job done every day. Not necessarily malicious at all...I think it just ends up that way if a trainer wants to have a job.

You asked "What is your goal as a trainer"

For myself, I don't do much outside training. I guess I'm rather more a trader. But I trade so that I can train MY way. No hard time limits, no making a country pleasure horse out of a random 3 year old brought to me so they can make the blues in the upcoming show season. An added benifit for my being a trader is that I am free to make sure that the horse and owner are well matched. How often does someone pay for a "show horse" and the owner just isn't suited to it?

I want to produce quiet, sane and sound family horses. Broke to ride and sometimes drive, reasonably trail safe, taught enough to at least open show in whatever discipline they are suited best to, in case a prospective owner would want to do that. I am well aware that this won't bring in much money, but fortunately I'm set up to make this feasible. There will always be someone looking to get their girl a first pony, a husband horse, or something for the trails. When I get a horse in that really does have alot of genuine show potential I turn in that direction with That horse.

I think that even if I'm not turning out $10,000 flash show stock (that may well break down in 3 years), I'm doing just as well offering 1500-3000 horses that have had the time put on them and being honest about what they can be reasonably expected to do. I won't be a "top trainer" and that's ok. If I do better than break even I'll be happy. My primary motivation isn't winning, it's the horse.

My goal is to produce a long-term, sane, usable mount..to answer your question.
     
    02-03-2010, 08:22 AM
  #4
Weanling
Thank you for the replies, but I was actually looking a little beyond that. Even beyond show horses, I know back yard horses that are physically ruined before they are 10 just because of poor riding skills and no self carriage skills on the horses part. This horse will continue riding for another 10 years or so despite its poor patterns. When someone approaches me with this type of horse, saying that its gaits are so rough that they can't ride the canter without falling off, I have two options. I can either just put some miles on the horse, teach it to lighten to the bit and be more sensitive to cues and easier to ride, but never change anything physically and have it out in a relatively short amount of time, along with some training for the rider of course. Or, I can fix all of the physical damage that has done, change muscle patterns, redistribute the weight on the legs, get the legs striding evenly and topline releasing, and therefore make the horse sounder for the rest of his life, but this option would take a year or so of consistent slow, controlled work without the owner being able to enjoy the horse at all.

Which is right? The owner always wants whats best for the horse, but of course they want it in 90 days or less. The example that I gave is actually a 8 yr old qh gelding.

So often, all we focus on in training is the obedience, what we can get done with the horse. Conformation is something that we breed for (ideally) and can make the job of training the horse easier. However, all horses have the same skeletal system, and with the correct training can have good posture, just like people, some just have different tendencies with their posture. Sure, some are never going to make it to the olympics, but if we know how to teach them to use their bodies correctly in order to avoid pain, should we do that? It doesn't fit into the demand of the horse market by any means, but does contribute to the longevity and usefullness of the horse.

I run into this problem all of the time, especially with older horses that have already done their time and are on the brink of serious lameness. Is it still right to send them to a home where they will be worked? Yet, aren't more horses happier if they have job anyway?

Basically, if the person has the knowlege to make the equine athlete better physically with the rider than without it, do they have the obligation to do so? I was taught that once I'm on that horses back, I'm their personal trainer, I've ridden horses consistently and had back problems melt away with a rider on their back just by assessing their self carriage issues. But, does the amount of time that it takes to do it correctly justify that beyond the horses possible "training for enjoyment" by a person?
     
    02-03-2010, 08:32 AM
  #5
Foal
The obligation is in the hands of the owner. The best you can do is tell them your point of view, give them options, and then give them what they choose tot he best of your ability.

Sucks. Yep.
     

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