Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Get Used to It? I Don't Think So!
I’m gearing up to look for a new trainer for Siete. I haven’t had great experiences so far, even though I’ve tried really hard to find people who are kind and won’t hurt my little horse.
When Siete was ready to be started with a saddle and ridden, we lived in Virginia. I searched for someone who was gentle and used Natural Horsemanship techniques. Everyone kept recommending one man. He was a cowboy who spent years on the range before he moved into showing horses. These days, most of the horses he trained were ridden English, not Western. He talked a good game. In fact, he pontificated on and on about everything.
Fortunately for us, he had just left the fancy Hunter/Jumper barn and moved to a place owned by a wonderful lady in North Carolina. She was an experienced Western Pleasure trainer who had won championships at the AQHA World Show. I felt really comfortable keeping my horses in her stable, and we became good friends. The trainer was a different story. We started out disagreeing. He told me that while Siete was in training for the first month, she wouldn’t be turned out at all. He wanted her to be totally dependent on him for whether or not she could do anything. I said that was ridiculous. She’s a young horse who needs to have time off and run around and play. Luckily, the owner of the stable agreed with me. It was a clue of what was to come.
Siete was a model student, but she hated the trainer. She would pin her ears when she saw him coming. I was there almost every day to watch what he was doing. I insisted that we move at Siete’s pace, not his. He informed me that in over 30 years, none of his clients had ever said something like that. Most of them wanted him to “fix” their horse in 30 or 60 or 90 days. I said I had no deadlines, only that I wanted this to be a kind, good experience for my horse. We were moving along so that by the end of the first month, he was long lining her and started riding her.
Like many trainers, he was trying to ride six or eight horses a day, so it was all business. He showed no affection for Siete, even though he did sing her praises for being a willing, smart young horse. The trouble came when I had to leave for a week so that I could sign the closing papers on the house we were buying up North. While I was here, he switched saddles, using one with an Arab tree. When I returned, he was out of town. He had been suddenly called away to his uncle’s funeral. To my shock and horror, I found a gaping wound on Siete’s side where the girth had cut into her. I freaked out, and so did my friend who owned the barn. She discovered he had also cut one of her horses’ mouths with a bit. She broke off their partnership, and he sued her. The judge ruled in the trainer’s favor because they had a written agreement, which he said was legally binding no matter if the man was injuring the horses.
I was very upset that despite my best efforts, Siete had been hurt. She was understandably resistant to being girthed up. I spent many months working with her, putting my saddle on and trying to get her comfortable with the cinch again. My saddle fit Silk, but was too narrow for Siete’s Foundation Quarter Horse back and withers. I also didn’t feel I was capable of teaching her what she needed to learn. Once we settled in our new house, I began searching for a trainer again.
There was a well-respected Western barn about a half hour away. When I went there to check it out, I saw four horses saddled up and tied to these long ropes that hung from the ceiling. It was impossible for the horse to drop its head while it was tied. I asked what they were doing and was told that it taught the horse “patience”. Every day, each horse in training stood like that for at least a half and hour. Later, someone else explained to me that it makes the horses’ necks so tired and sore that they automatically drop their heads into the desired position for Western Pleasure when they are ridden.
I also saw a horse in a round pen with a saddle that had two car tires attached to it with chains. The tires hung behind the stirrups and banged against the horse’s back legs. The horse was freaking out. It was wearing a bit and a bridle, and the reins were tied to the saddle horn so it couldn’t lift its head. The horse was in a panic. It had pulled the saddle sideways so the cinch was cutting into its side. I protested that this was cruel to the horse. The trainer told me that the horse had been “bad” and “was being taught a lesson”. A lesson in fear and hatred of people, I answered. So, there was no way that I was going to bring Siete here for training.
I finally found a young woman who would come to our place to train my little horse. She was highly recommended for her caring, gentle ways of working with horses. For the first six months, everything went along smoothly. As the trainer grew more successful, she had less time and patience to spend with us. She would rush in, full of horror stories about the other horses that she had been working that day. She called Siete a “brat” if my horse didn’t do what she was asking. I could feel all her bad energy and tried to tell her that it was affecting my horse. Siete was progressing really quickly, so the trainer changed from a D-ring snaffle to a snaffle with a short shank and a curb chain. At the same time, she started teaching Siete to side-pass. It was too much, too fast.
One day, when the trainer pulled in the driveway, I went into the corral to lead Siete out, and she flattened her ears and began racing around, pinning me to the fence. While the trainer was riding her, my horse started rearing. Once again, I felt that I had failed Siete. I knew that I couldn’t just fire the trainer. I felt that she had to come back and successfully ride my horse so that Siete wouldn’t feel like she had been rewarded for rearing. The trainer didn’t seem to know what had caused the problem or what to do about it. We both thought that Siete seemed sore, and I believed that there was something physical bothering her. The trainer asked her mentor, who was a famous dressage trainer, what she did when a horse started rearing. “I sell it.” the woman told her. We both agreed that was a stupid answer. I decided that we had to go back to zero.
I told the trainer that all I wanted her to do was get on Siete and walk her, using the snaffle bit, no curb chain. I just wanted to be sure that my horse would be willing to let someone ride her without rearing or protesting. Siete was fine, which was a big relief to me. Over the next couple of seesions, we slowly added on trotting and finally cantering. When I watched, it seemed like Siete might be lame, but I couldn’t tell which leg it was.
As I discussed it with the trainer, she began hosing Siete off since it was a hot day. She wet my horse’s body, and then turned the hose directly on Siete’s face. Siete was startled and reared up.
“What are you doing?” I yelled.
“She needs to get used to it.” the trainer told me.
I don’t think so. I wish I’d grabbed the hose and sprayed the woman in her eyes. Needless to say, she never came back. Siete was diagnosed with Lyme disease shortly after, which would explain what she was trying to tell us. It hurt, and the soreness was moving around from joint to joint.
For the past six months, Siete hasn’t been ridden. I watched her run in the pasture yesterday and was pleased to see her extending her back legs normally. Now, my search for the next trainer begins again.