Friday, May 16, 2008

Training, training, training, training, training!

I rant about this a lot but I'm going to rant about it some more!

The #1 reason horses wind up in bad situations really isn't fugliness, despite the name of this blog. Oh, sure, it's a contributing factor, but it's not #1. The #1 reason horses wind up in bad situations is lack of training.

How many ads do we see for horses who are free because of "lack of time to train" (AKA the horse has scared the shit out of me and I am afraid to try again), "too much horse for me," "kind of a brat," blah blah? ALL the damn time. Constantly. The auctions are full of these horses, too. They are the "lead-throughs" - five year old unbroke grade critters. They are always a "great prospect" for SOMETHING. Sure they are. Um, it's a pushy ass five year old that doesn't even lead without running people over and took five people and a cattle prod to load this morning. The only thing that is a prospect for right now is dinner for some horse-eating person in a foreign land.

MOST buyers/adopters do not want or do not have the skills to manage a very green horse, much less a horse who is only halter broke.

Furthermore, there are MANY more prospective owners who are scared off by vices like pulling back, kicking, biting, refusal to load in the trailer, etc. than there are prospective owners who look at that and say, hey, I know how to fix that, no problem.

Therefore, the largest part of the market is for well broke horses. Those are pretty much made, not born, and they're made via many hours of training and riding...which hardly anybody seems to want to do anymore, at least not for less than $500-$600 a month minimum. These days, even a lot of the kids have wised up and are charging. This generation just isn't as suicidal as we were, LOL!

Now we've discussed this to death before. We've blogged about how tough it is to find a decent trainer and how the cost doesn't make sense when you're looking at a horse who might be worth $800 tops, dead broke, in this market. We've discussed rescues that rescue, rescue, rescue and then warehouse, with a herd of horses steadily getting older (aka depreciating) and no more trained than they were the day they left the auction. And we've discussed, and continue to discuss on my other blog, how fear is preventing many of us from taking on horses who need training - even if they are our own.

I do feel like the latter point is part of the solution - there are just too many of us with, as I put it before, decades of valuable training knowledge soaked in fear. Part of the solution for horses everywhere is for all of us to figure out how we can continue training horses, whether that means focusing solely on ground work or changing to a less demanding discipline - I have many friends who evented at 20 who now think dressage alone will do JUST fine, thank you. I have other friends who have decided that the western saddle they used to scoff at looks like a great idea, and they have turned in their hunt boots for a pair of fringed chaps and are riding western pleasure now. You know what, there is nothing wrong with that. You need to figure out what works for you, but we cannot afford to lose you. The horses cannot afford to lose you.

My next point is going to tie in with our Friday Featured Rescue!

Rescues MUST train. It is an unavoidable, NECESSARY part of rescue.

I am sorry, there are no two ways about it. If you're 65 and on disability and living on as shoestring, you gotta stop rescuing. You're just warehousing these creatures. Even if you are feeding and deworming and trimming...they are not getting any more valuable sitting there in your field in their kinda-sorta-halter-broke condition - and if something happens to you, they are toast. The Training Fairy is not going to stop by one day and get them broke. And you are not going to find adopters who want them the way they are. NO ONE is finding very many of those adopters! They don't exist, not in the quantities that the unbroke horses exist in - that is for sure. YOU HAVE TO TRAIN. Either you do it yourself, you send horses out for training, or you partner with people who can train, but you, as the rescuer, have to ensure training happens if you want these horses to get good homes. It is the only way.

In keeping with that, I want to spotlight a local rescue that is doing just that. A friend of mine founded Cowgirl Spirit several years ago, had great success with it, and then gave it up due to (I know you'll all be shocked), rescue drama. LOL. Well, she just got it back and we're firing it back up again for 2008 to do what it did before - rescue, train and rehome. (Yes, I am personally involved on this one) Cowgirl Spirit takes unbroke or "problem" rescue horses and trains them, then competes with them at drill team competitions. I have seen drill work very well to refocus a silly green horse. They are just too busy with the turns, stops, patterns, gait changes, etc. to screw around. It keeps a busy mind focused on something productive, not screwing around.

Drill is also an ideal discipline for rescue horses because it doesn't require any particular kind of horse. Any breed, size, color, etc. will do. They don't have to be pretty movers. It's all about the training. It's also a great discipline for riders who are intimidated at the thought of showing. You don't have to have flawless form or a $3300 saddle (OK, I admit it, I would kill for that saddle, it would look so pretty on my colt...sorry, got distracted) - you just have to be an effective rider who can work in partnership with the horse. After they have been through a season of drill, you have a well broke horse who has seen a lot, done a lot, and is extremely adoptable -- and that means more horses can be rescued, without the rescue winding up with a huge inventory of horses who are going nowhere.

This is Salsa, a mare who has recently started performing at drill competitions. To give you an idea of what they started with, this is shortly after she was rescued from slaughter:

"She tends to be aggressive in the paddock, often pinning her ears or swinging her butt towards you in an attempt to intimidate her handler. She's also bitten, or tried to bite us, when asking anything of her. Shortly after she arrived, we tried working with her in the paddock with a lead rope to see if she was at least halter broke. At first thought, it appeared she definitely was not! She consistantly pulled back on the lead rope, cornering herself, rearing up, and basically acting fearful and aggressive towards her handler. After about 15 minutes of working with her, trying to get her to give to pressure and take a step in the direction we were requesting, we quit for the day..... That is, until, a short time later, when a few of Cowgirl Spirit team members were in her paddock, re-inforcing the boards in her paddock and scooping out the manure became too much for her and she scaled the 4 foot fence from a stand still. Off she went, cantering across the yard."

Fun, fun! Now THAT horse did not have any chance for a home. Pretty obvious how SHE wound up at the kill buyer's! Who would want her at their farm? Someone clearly did not bother to do a THING with her prior to her rescue. Shame on you, whoever you are.

Here is some recent video of the team - Salsa is the bay mare in all of the video of the four horses riding together. This mare has not been easy, but thanks to patient and consistent handling, she has turned the corner. She is performing at competitions and handling all of the excitement. She still needs finishing and isn't for a beginner yet, but a confident rider would have no problem with her, her ground manners issues have totally resolved, and she is available now for adoption.

Oh, and she no longer jumps out of the pasture!

Cowgirl Spirit does need donations, although they have to apply for a new 501(c)(3) due to the ownership change, so they donations are not currently tax-deductible. If you would like to contribute, the paypal is

Some of you have asked that your "Colin" donations be re-routed to CGS and that will be happening today if possible - I have just had a terrible time finding the time to sit down and add everything up, deduct the paypal fees, etc. - but it will get done today or tomorrow for sure.

Speaking of Colin, he is one happy horse. He is gaining weight and looks much better. Now that he is not in the mud, his feet will improve. He is going to get at least a month off and then we'll see where we are at and if it is time to resume his riding career. Oh, and he is in LOVE with my big bay Thoroughbred mare, who looks a lot like them - I have a perfect pair of bays with white markings trotting around together out in the pasture. I will have to get a picture of that!

All right, everybody - have a great weekend and, if you have some time, please put some training on a horse who needs it. I don't care if it's training him to clip, training him to load, training him to be ridden or training him to pick up his feet. They are not going to train themselves. Take part of what is going to be a beautiful weekend for a lot of us and help move a horse a little closer to a safe and productive future!