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.


detroit dog said...

I am reeling. What's wrong with these people? I think the only lesson learned by the horses, in these instances, is that people are mean. How the hell does a horse associate tires with bad behavior? Selling a horse because it rears? Get used to it? What sad lives for these horses (to say nothing of these people).

I don't see that breaking any animal's spirit encourages trust or loyalty. And in my opinion, trust and loyalty will get you everywhere.

I think you're doing the right thing. And I'm sorry for your friend. The judge was wrong; contracted animal abuse shouldn't be o.k.

Heidi the Hick said...

Oh my gosh, you seem to have found every dangerous trainer out there!!! This is so discouraging. I know how hard it is to find a good one, but I've also trained a few myself, and don't always feel that I've done a good job of it. I can tell you this though, I never did any of the stupid things those trainers did.

A couple of questions:

Do you feel comfortable lunging? I didn't use to, but I've had a few lessons (it's required to pass my instructor's test) and it really is a great way to train for body language and verbal cues without risking getting bucked off.

Do you have a riding coach you can trust? I believe that all riders are actually trainers. You are a trainer- every time you lead her out of her stall you're teaching her what is acceptable to you.

I really recommend finding a coach you trust. I'm not just saying that because I teach lessons, either! If your confidence is improved you'll see a big difference in Siete. You might even be surprised at what YOU can do with her. Horse training is really just breaking everything down into tiny steps and then taking it one step at a time, going back to the beginning if necessary. That, and be firm but rewarding.

Don't feel bad for only riding her at a walk for a while. There's a lot of training that can be done at a walk. Speed comes later. Little tiny steps at at time!

I have one more concern and that's this term:

"snaffle with a short shank and a curb chain. "

I'm assuming it got called a snaffle because it has a jointed mouthpiece? It's not a snaffle. It's a curb. If it's got shanks of any length and is used with a curb chain, it's a curb bit. Don't let a trainer slide it past you in order to rush the horse along. A curb bit is great for a horse that's ready for it but Siete needs to be working in a snaffle (reins attach directly to bit) for a while yet. You're not showing her so it doesn't matter how long she's in a snaffle.

You are such a good owner and really have your priorities straight! She's lucky to have you looking out for her. I know how it feels to be bullied around by a person who seems to know more than you do about your own horse. Trust yourself and know that she can trust you!!!

billie said...

Oh, Victoria, all those stories bring me near to tears. :/ You're the best kind of horse partner there is to be looking out for Siete and her training.

I hope you find the perfect person to work with you and Siete. All the good work you're doing on the ground with her will transfer, and now that she's feeling good and moving well, I feel sure things will go smoothly with the right person.

Victoria Cummings said...

DD - I hate to say it, but I think it might be more the norm than the exception with horse trainers. I've been searching for someone that I trust for a long time and I've yet to find anyone in my neck of the woods. It's very discouraging.

Heidi - Thanks for all the good advice. I assume that the trainer I find will also work with me. Initially, I didn't want to do anything to confuse Siete, but now that she is further along, I'm definitely ready to work with her. I do lunge her, but I don't have a round pen. I wish I did. As you know from reading my blog, I believe that every interaction a horse has with anyone teaches the horse something - good or bad. I've been very attentive to how Siete is treated from the moment she was born.
What's frustrating is that I was really careful about choosing these two trainers. Unfortunately, there were not many choices. Most of the other trainers I watched and interviewed were doing things to their horse that I really found harmful. These two people started out talking a "natural horsemanship" game, but over time changed their ways.
I know that eventually I will find the right person to help us. I have a great horse, and she deserves to be trained with kindness.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I don't know what to say to this except I know where you are coming from, it has happened to me more than once also,(abusive trainers)and not just directed at the horse but myself also. Don't let any one bully you because they think they have the credentials to do so. The only thing to do is keep looking until you find someone you and Siete are comfortable with.It is hard to believe how many uninformed jerks are out there teaching horses a lesson isn't it? I know you are into Natural Horsemanship but I wouldn't dismiss finding a trainer if they don't use it exclusively and follow Parelli or whoever, there are many good,kind, and educated trainers who don't subscribe to all of the Natural Horsemanship teachings, but who can teach a horse what they need to know without being cruel.If you don't limit yourself to one sort of trainer it might make it easier to find one. And you will be there watching Siete and not let anything you don't like happen to her. Good luck in your search.

Carolynn Anctil said...

Wow. I couldn't read most of your post today. It was too disturbing. Once again, I commend you for listening to your inner voice and honouring your and your horses' spirits. Siete is very blessed to be in your care and God help all those other beautiful creatures who are suffering at the hands of the ignorant.

I've never understood the need to 'break' a horse. I'm a true believer in treating every creature with love, respect, caring, and a gentle hand. My philosphy is that the quality of life for my animal companions is completely dependant on me. It's a big responsibility and not one to be entered into lightly or carelessly. It's okay to make mistakes, however, torture is a whole other story, which is what a lot of what you've described amounts to, in my opinion. Might is not right.

Stand firm, Victoria. You'll draw what you need to you.


Victoria Cummings said...

Arlene - Thanks for your support. I don't limit myself to looking for "natural horsemanship" trainers, but I find that if a person doesn't understand the kind of teachings that Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, Mark Rashid and guys like that believe in, they usually are doing things that aren't very considerate to the horses. I'm not a Parelli follower. Mostly, I'm trying to find someone who is open-minded and flexible and doesn't believe that they are the end-all, be-all expert on horses. I didn't think it would be so hard to find.

Callie said...

WTF? Pardon my expression, but what stupidity. I went through a bunch of trainers with my gelding, Dakota while I had him. The horse came with issues. Was gelded, but kept from the herd. Why? I don't know, so you can imagine what was needed. The first trainer was a Cowboy and he was marvelous. All I needed to do was put time on him, but I didn't do it enough. When I was ready to bring him back, unfortunately, Dennis had been killed in an auto accident, so I searched. One referred to me from vet, Unimpressed! We walked into their beautiful barn to discuss terms and I nearly passed out from the smell of amonia!!! Good Luck!

Random Chick said...

Am I the only person who reads and enjoys this blog who isn't a horse person?

I don't pretend to know anything about training horses, but I think that you are doing the right thing. There are so many dog training videos and sessions out there on how to train your puppy the right way, but none for horses. Which is a shame.

Keep trying, I know you'll find a good trainer eventually.

Anonymous said...

Both you and Siete: Stand your ground. Training means learning and that takes time on both sides. The only lesson learned from cruelty is more of the same.

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

What a nightmare. My dad and grandpa trained our quarter horses and the mare I had in highschool came to me trained. What is wrong with those people. You can't count on a horse that has learned to hate you. Just like the poor animal can't count on someone who miss treats it.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

How in the world to be folks get certified as 'trainers'...and if they did things right when they were taking the tests, then where did they go wrong later?

I'm reading an awesome book by Kelly Marks called "Teaching your Horse Perfect Manners" and I loved how she wrote that some people get away with using force on a horse to get them to do what they want...but that's too easy and eventually leads to resentment and roadblocks on the part of the horse.
She said that the true challenge and most rewarding are those that earn the trust and respect of a horse through kindness that makes the horse WANT to do as you ask.

I agree.

Cassi said...

I think that you don't necessarily have to have horse sense but do have to have common sense to know that what you described is cruel and unusual punishment. How sade for Siete. She does seem to be a very smart horse ... and I think that she just might be telling you something. She not only wants you to train her - but needs you to train her. I also think that it will do you some good as well ... don't let those that make all the money tell you that you can't! You have shown time and time again that you are an awesome trainer. Look all that she has learned already!!! No one knows your horse better than you. What do you have to lose??? You seem to know exactly how you want her trained - now put it into practice...

Anonymous said...

I have a friend (also competent, intelligent, experienced, and educated, like yourself)who has similar stories from three different trainers for her OTTB. It really reinforces something I have been thinking for a while now, which is that there really is a market for good trainers - not performance horse trainers, but for the basics. At least you have already taken the first step, which is to trust yourself FIRST - you know the horse better than anyone else.

Cilla said...

one name....Parelli

cilla xxx

Grey Horse Matters said...

Hi Victoria,
I was just reading the comments and have to agree with Cassi, I think you could do a great job training Siete. She knows,loves and trusts you and thats a great start, you have been a horsewoman all your life, you have already been working with her since birth. Since you have watched others train her you know what not to do, and you have all the time you need to do it the way you want it done. The guys you like, Dorrance,Hunt and Rahid are great trainers with the right philosophy and you know how to implement their teachings. If I were you I would certainly give it a try while I was searching for a back-up trainer. You may find you don't even need a back-up. Seriously consider it, at least you know you will do no harm.
p.s. Mark Rashid is my favorite guy, I have read all his books and admire him. I would love to go to one of his clinics one day.

Dinah said...

This brought tears to my eyes. I've been reading your blog for about a month and so enjoy your writing. We are new to horses and have been working with a John Lyons' certified trainer with our two, whose method I would highly, highly recommend. They have many training videos available if there isn't a trainer in your area. From reading your blog and how you communicate with your horses, they would be perfect for you. Good luck and bless you for respecting these magnificent animals.

Pat said...

I wish you had sprayed her (the most recent trainer)in the face, too! Keep listing to your intuition!

billie said...

Victoria, another thought - I recently read a review by a local rider/trainer who took one of her horses to a private Mark Rashid clinic held locally. Apparently a number of dressage riders/trainers wanted his take on some things, and they had him come do a 2-day clinic and invited friends/colleagues they felt would be interested to share the cost.

Maybe you could do something like that at your place. It would be a great way to go, imo - you as primary trainer for Siete but getting a consult with a trainer/mentor you truly resonate with.

The review of Mark's work that weekend was very good. It sounded like he helped everyone who went and the reviewer was glowing about his approach.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had a horse since I was a youngster. And it's been a long time since I have spent much time around horses. But I was born loving them and I will die loving them. This post was upsetting to read. I didn't realize there were so many bad trainers out there! They not only lack common sense...they don't seem to love the animals. Your beautiful girls are lucky to have you. I wish you luck in finding a new trainer.

Anonymous said...

what horror stories! Thank heavens you were present and not absent as most people who hire someone to 'train' their horse. What absolute horror stories. I agree with you, "Get used to it? I don't think so!"


The Giraffe Head Tree said...

I don't know anything about training horses, or about horses period (except that they are the most beautiful animals on this planet), but I DO know that all those "trainers" were nitwits. Good luck finding the right trainer. Good grief, your story makes me furious.

Lasell Jaretzki Bartlett said...

I wonder how many of us get this lesson -- setting boundaries around from whom we learn and who is allowed to touch our horses?

You sure get my vote for goodwill in action!

Do you own Mark Rashid's DVD on long lining? That might be the bridge for you, incorporates lunging, and you don't need a round pen for this.

Will you get up to NH in May to audit his next clinic in the northeast?

I'm sorry we don't live closer. It would be an honor to help you and Siete if that interested you.

Meanwhile, what is keeping you from proceeding yourself? Have you gotten specific about what you want from someone else, what you think you cannot yet provide Siete in her training?

Ewa said...

What's wrong with these people?

It is remarkable, that judge didn't consider injuring contracted horses. Maybe it was the result of so called formal reasons - he sued her for braking the agreement. Maybe your friend should sue him for mis-treating the horses.



Cassi said...

I guess I have seen the stripe on Siete before but haven't really seen it head on like this picture... love the question mark... looks like she is asking you a question!!! lol

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, My Friends, for your responses. I really appreciate your faith in me to be able to take over Siete's training. It does seem to be the next step, although I'd still like to have someone more knowledgeable to guide me.

Billie - That's a good idea about trying to sponsor a clinic here. I'll have to work on that.
LJB - I'd be honored to have your help. I wish we were closer. I am working on finding a way to come to Mark's clinic in May. I don't have that DVD, so I'll get it. THanks!

Andrea said...

I agree that the time has come for you to take on the training of your horse.
Now that doesnt mean that you yourself should not have a trainer there with you.
You need a coach not a trainer.
Someone who can help you learn to feel, to hold to push and to give but that it is YOU that does it and not them. They just teach your how to feel it.
I never had trainers for as long as I rode - I always had good teachers whom i respected. I learned tons from them and even more from my horse that way. Some of the best coaches I have ever had dont look like they could even get on a horse but they had the ability to be able to describe what you would feel all the way down to your little toe.
This is the type of person you need to find. Not a trainer - you need a coach.
She is your horse and you plan on riding and using her so you might as well start now.

Rising Rainbow said...

I don't have respect for a lot of trainers, that's for sure, but even I think you found some real beauts in this group.

Finding the right trainer is really difficult. The best way I know is references coming from like minded people.

Many of the horse people I know around here have no clue what they are looking at, so I know I can't depend on what they say. That's why it's important to find people who have the same values and expectations for their horses.

Good luck in your search.