A friend of mine called me, angry and crying. During a riding lesson, her trainer yelled at her and reduced her to tears. She refused to do what he was telling her because it seemed like it was hurting the horse. When she got off and led her horse out of the arena, the teacher followed her, continuing to yell and berate her.
“Get out of that place.” I told her, “Take your horse and move somewhere that they wouldn’t dream of treating either of you that way.”
Honestly, I don’t know if she will. It takes a lot of effort to find the right stable. The first time I moved Silk from one barn to another, it took me a year to find one that I liked. When we left, I had to sneak her out without warning to avoid an ugly confrontation. The sad part is that I hear stories of intimidation by trainers fairly often from other riders that I know. It takes courage to stop and defy someone and get off the horse.
What I can’t understand is why anyone thinks that horse or human will learn if they aren’t relaxed and in a trusting environment. Horses, with their highly responsive and intuitive powers, attract us because they tune into our emotions. Unfortunately, this brings a good number of dysfunctional people into the horse business. Egos run high. The urge to dominate both horses and students is rarely discouraged. Often, trainers work with five or six horses a day. If they have a difficult time with one, they rush on to train the next horse in line with all their anger and frustration as emotional baggage that they dump on this poor unsuspecting animal. Someone at the barn might be hammering on them, so they take it out on their students or the horses they are training. It's a world where toughness is considered a virtue.
Years ago, I had a wonderful trainer for Silk. When she left to start a new career, a young woman took her place at the barn. She was a very skilled rider, but the pressure of the job quickly eroded her sympathy and respect for the horses. I was taking a lesson with her in an arena full of other riders and horses. She wanted me to bend Silk, and I wasn’t doing it the way she thought was right. She ordered me to do it again and again. Silk was getting agitated. I didn’t know enough at the time to realize that it was hurting Silk because she was stiff. The trainer told me to get off, and she mounted Silk, not adjusting the stirrups to fit her own longer legs.
Silk seized the moment and took off, bucking. The trainer jumped off my horse. In this arena with about five other horses and riders, she began beating Silk with the reins. I ran to them and grabbed the reins from her and started screaming at her. The other people and horses were freaked out. From that moment on, Silk was branded as a “dangerous horse”, and I was a “difficult boarder”. The lesson I learned was that I had to protect my horse above everything else.
It’s not okay to hurt the horse. It’s not okay to intimidate anyone into doing something that they are afraid to do or that they believe is wrong. Anyone can call themselves a trainer. Their experience in well-known barns, working with other famous teachers doesn’t give them the right to be bullies.
We owe it to the horses to stand up and refuse to follow instructions when we know it will hurt the horse or endanger ourselves. It’s the least we can do for them. What Silk taught me over the years is that when I stand up for her and Siete, I strengthen my ability to stand up for myself in all other situations that present themselves in my life. It's like a muscle that you're afraid to use at first because it might hurt or be sore. Over time, you find your power, and it becomes second nature to not let anyone push you around. Not you, not your horse, not ever.