How many horses do you trial before finding a good fit for your program?
Just curious if any other therapeutic program directors/instructors could weigh in. We have a couple of our "old reliables" who are realistically approaching their retirement. We've been trialing new horses for a couple of years now, and to be honest, we just aren't coming up with new horses that are a good fit for the program. I've been working with the program as a volunteer and (recently) instructor for about 4 years now, and in that time, I can think of about a dozen horses who have come on trial, with only 1 who has stayed on as a horse that has the right temperament for the work. The others have been perfectly nice horses in their own way, but just didn't like the job.
We would like to expand our programs to serve new types of clients, but we don't have enough horses, or the right size horses, to carry out our desires to expand at this time.
In your experiences, how many horses do you trial before you find a gem that works in your program? How long do you let them try the work before moving on? What has been your best referral source?
hate to say it but "it depends"
I always hate to say that but it just does. I've been in the therapeutic riding industry for almost 20 years and I know how frustrating it can be to find good horses. The length of time that it takes to find a good horse is so dependent on where you are looking for your horses, the season, your situation and requirements and the amount of time you can give them on trial. Sometimes it can be a matter of extending the trial period by another 30 days and see if they become better able to tolerate the conditions or become more mellow as time goes on. How long do you give a horse for trial and what kind of assessment are doing prior to taking them?
For every 15 we get calls about, I go and look at 3, and maybe take 1 on trial for 30 days. I call 4-H clubs, local ranches- most people have no trouble finding us! The tough part is communicating to people that we need middle aged, fit horses. A good number of the calls we get are horses approaching 30, who are great for the grandkids to be led around on, not going to work! Educating the public is hard! We spend a LOT of time schooling and conditioning and keeping the horses challenged outside of their regular classes- this has really helped decrease burnout, as well as the feeding schedule they are on (free choice slow feed round bales 24/7). I know this wasn't part of the original question, but I throw it out there since keeping them happy as long as possible is tough :)
I do special groundwork exercises too that encourage a lot of relaxation, which a lot of incoming horses need practice with. I am rarely handed a horse that's perfect for program right off the bat. With the right temperament though, I've been able to get some that would have flunked the initial evaluation safely and happily working in classes. The biggest thing I look for is try, and a desire to be with people. That being said, some of our newbies wouldn't be able to handle ALL of our riders (the ones that randomly scream/kick/exhibit impulsivity). I start out all new horses with our consistent, steady eddy riders who aren't going to throw crazy things their way. Once in program for a few months, and having built up their confidence, they've turned into nice versatile mounts. In the end, if they are making it obvious that the job is the not right fit for them, we find them a better home. I never try to fit a square peg in a round hole, and would never compromise a riders safety by keeping an inappropriate horse. So please don't take this as a "you can turn anything into a therapy horse with enough time and training" :) PM me and I can show you some of the relaxation techniques and exercises we use- my instructor (who developed them) and I presented at the PATH International conference a couple years ago with them, they've helped our horses a lot!
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