Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fixing Me, Not the Horse

In the past, I’ve worked with trainers who are quick to call a horse “bad” or “spoiled”. When I first bought Silk, she was very high-strung. The trainers who were at the barn where I boarded her always blamed my horse for things she did “wrong”.

There was a list of problems that they tried to correct. She would refuse to do a flying lead change, even though we knew that she could do them beautifully. She would sometimes buck when they asked her to lope. She hated to be lunged on a line, but she was well behaved without one in the round pen. They would warn me that I had to be tough with my horse and “fix” these problems before they escalated.

It took a couple of years of feeling frustrated and worrying that I had bought more of a horse than I could handle. Then, one day, I started thinking about how amazing Silk was. For the first ten years of her life, she never was allowed to run or graze in a pasture. She had been abused by one owner. The next owner admitted to me that she “lunged the crap out of that horse” before she had the nerve to get on Silk. I realized that it was remarkable that Silk was still as well-mannered and good to me as she was. If I were her, I would be really mad and not even let any of those crazy two-legged creatures on my back.

I stopped trying to “fix” her. I began to appreciate all the things that she did well and tell her how wonderful she was. In fact, I told anyone who would listen. I got rid of the trainers who had those “bad” attitudes. I found ways to allow Silk to do what she enjoyed, including eating grass and running around with other horses. Instead, I worked on “fixing” myself. I learned to ride better. I became less fearful and trusted Silk more. I didn’t get mad at her, no matter what she did. I questioned what happened to cause her to react as she did, not blaming my horse for anything. Was there something I could do to help her feel better or understand what I wanted more clearly? Silk calmed down. People who knew her couldn’t believe it was the same horse.

So now, I’m trying to take a similar approach with Siete. I’ve never trained a young horse. I want her to enjoy learning. She is very trusting, but also tries to challenge people. I need to help her be respectful and not do anything dangerous. As I work with her, I find that I often compare my reactions to what Siete does to the way I relate to my 12 year old daughter. They both should learn to be kind to others and to know how to be safe. They are beautiful blank pages, and I must remember to “fix” myself before I make any marks on them.


the kittens' mother said...

That's a lovely story Victoria. I just wish those bad trainers would appreciate horses as much as you do. By the sounds of things, it is the trainers who need to have a lesson or two about how to really get the best from horses!
All my love to you and the girls, from Meg and the cats xxx

jamie said...

Aha-yep I see the seven. Thanks for clearing that up for me. Love her registered name also :) Happy Trails

Grey Horse Matters said...

Unfortunately the horse world is overrun with unqualified trainers. Anyone making money from training people or horses should be required to take a rigid learning course and be licensed, there ought to be a law! Best not to get me started on that, I'll never stop.

It often seems that when trainers can't figure out how to get what they want from a horse they immediately blame the horse, when in fact, they should look to themselves for fault. If you are a qualified trainer you will assess the situation and look for different ways to bring about the response you want from the horse. Even if you have to work outside 'your' box. I am glad to hear you found your own way of doing what needed to be done. Your way obviously helped Silk find her self worth and in turn she loves and trusts you for not giving up when she needed a champion for her sanity.

billie said...

Jane Savoie had an article in a recent Dressage Today about being an advocate for your horse - I really resonated with what she wrote - (although it seems it really shouldn't be this way) that we have to protect our horses from bad trainers/clinicians/instructors.

I also just this past weekend heard about the Swiss Olympic rider who pulled out b/c she doesn't feel the trip to Beijing, with the quarantine and the travel and the heat/humidity, will be good for her horse.

I so applaud what you've written here. The first thing we should ALL do when our horse gives us a behavior we don't like is look at what WE did just prior to that, and at bigger picture stuff too.

And I love that gorgeous equine eye!

Strawberry Lane said...

Love the photo.

How lucky your horses are to have someone like you to reinforce their good qualities.

There are too many trainers that have "attitude" written all over them. The horses pick that up... and so do we.

You are my kind of horse therapist.

detroit dog said...


It's amazing that we always expect animals to understand us, but we don't take the time to understand them.

Like all relationships - it's all about communication.

Heidi the Hick said...

Great post!

Aren't horses incredibly forgiving? When I think of the mistakes I've made compared to how rarely I've been bucked off...yeesh.

We are all trainers, every time we get on our horses. By becoming better riders, we get better horses!

I had to learn to reward my horse's good behaviour. I won't let them get away with poor behaviour but I don't have to beat them for it, and I try to make the good easier for them.

It's not easy but it's worth it. I have so much learning to do and I'm looking forward to a lifetime of being taught by horses!

I like , so much, that you focused on how amazing your horse is.

Rising Rainbow said...

Good for you. I am a firm believer that the horse will try to do what we ask. I also believe those trainers blaming the horse are doing so to protect their own image. What kind of a trainer would they be if they couldn't fix a problem or worse, what if they were the cause of the problem.

Unfortunatley, I am with grey horse matters. Don't get me going, I could talk forever on this subject.

I did a series of posts, Are You a Good Advocate for Your Horse? about this time last year. I'm in the processing of working on another series that I'll be posting soon.

Most people turn over all control to the trainer and just accept that the trainer is right no matter what. That's not good for the horse at all. This is my number one complaint about horse people, I think. I know there is a learning curve when one firsts gets into horses but I know people who have been doing this their whole lives and still putting their horses into harms way.

Gecko said...

I love how you referred to Siete and your daughter as 'blank pages'. What a wonderful way to describe it! Congratulations on not following the others in finding 'problems' in your horses. =)

Netherfieldmom said...

I, too, have been comparing parenting with horse training! Often I think, if my horse were misbehaving on this level, yelling or spanking would not be my response. Why would I treat my child more harshly than I would treat a horse? etc. To be a good trainer, I need to be patient, firm, kind and consistent. Huh? Wonder where else I can apply that? Horses can make us better people, if we pay attention. :) Thanks for sharing.

Kimmie Kay said...

That was beautiful Victoria and as a mother I couldn't have said it better! You write so wonderfully and your blog always gives me such a "zen" feeling...thanks for that!

Annie C said...

Victoria: I love your expressive writing and that you share your experiences with your horses. I am saving to buy land, build a barn, and buy a horse...a dream of mine ever since I was little. I am currently 40 and it may take as long as 10 years to get to where I need to be to feel that I can competently care for the horse that I choose or whom chooses me. I love your wisdom. I totally agree that working on one's self is the right approach with one's horse, and is basically how I was trained to care and ride the horses I've been given the opportunity to ride and care for. They all have such distinct, amazing personalities that to squash that by putting each into a box or defining by bad behaviors seems very, very wrong. Thanks for your insight and wisdom. Blessed Be,

Victoria Cummings said...

I really appreciate your reactions to what I've written. This is a subject that really separates the horse world, in my mind anyway, into those who "get it" and those who don't. I am fortunate to have met so many of you who agree.

Callie said...

I agree with Grey Horse, I've had a few of those myself. Nice post!

jodi said...

Hi Victoria:

There's a blogging award for you over at Bloomingwriter... enjoy!