Monday, July 13, 2009

Training timelines - reasonable or ridiculous?

A friend of a friend has had a horse in training for over a year now. The horse came into the barn with a history of schooling second level dressage. I don't believe he'd been shown yet, and being a big goofy young gelding, he was definitely still having the occasional big goofy moment. Normal enough, right? His owner wanted better manners both on the ground and under saddle, and this trainer promised to deliver.

The trainer did a lot of ground work with the horse and his manners
did improve. But every month, he was not quite ready to ride yet. He had a lot of issues, you see, and she was trying to form a relationship with him on the ground first. His owner kept writing the checks, and they weren't small checks. Over a year later, the trainer has not yet been on his back.

My personal opinion? This is ridiculous. The previous trainer had no problem schooling second level dressage on the big, goofy young horse. Many of you ride BGYH's daily, amazingly enough, and deal with the goofy moments and move on, and shazam, the horse gets trained. The only thing that has progressed here is the bill.

At the same time, I understand being hesitant to criticize a trainer's progress. We've certainly seen the other side of the spectrum - where the client thinks the horse should have a reining spin, a sidepass and be baking cupcakes at the end of thirty days. Most trainers have had to deal with those clients and it is certainly frustrating.

And as the owner, we know we're not watching every session. We don't know what problems the trainer is encountering. Another friend of mine just had a very funny experience where her four year old headed off to the trainer and promptly put on an impressive acting job entitled "I have never been handled. I swear it." In reality, her horse longes, ground drives, wears tack, and I've laid over his saddle - but when he saw the new person coming with a saddle, he swore he'd never seen such a thing before. That's typical horsey nature. We had a good laugh and noted that his grand plan had been ruined by the humans' ability to communicate and compare notes.

So - you don't want to be the client from hell and you certainly don't want to push/rush your horse. But at the same time, you don't want to be used or scammed. So how do you draw the line? My take on it is that you always want to be able to see progress. If a horse starts out not even halter broke, and at the end of thirty days he ties and longes and wears a horse blanket and is started clipping, hey, I think that's pretty good! Now, if he starts out with all the ground work done and done well, I'd assume he'd have some rides on him by the end of thirty days. Sure, there's always a deviation from the "norm." I've seen horses come into a new barn and need a few weeks just to begin to get their head on straight in a new location. It happens.

Now, what if the horse is a broke horse with a problem, and the problem doesn't seem to be getting fixed at the end of thirty days? To me, a good trainer should have some idea what the stumbling block is and be able to tell you. Perhaps the horse has some soreness somewhere? In my opinion, the trainer's job is broader than just riding. Since trainers often work with clients who do not have the knowledge they do, being able to identify soreness, recommend treatment, evaluate shoeing, and recommend if a vet or chiropractor is needed is part of the trainer's job. I am very wary of trainers who fail to pick up on soreness, and unfortunately I've seen a lot of that. If nobody notices pain, it tends to quickly turn into misbehavior, which is then punished, and a vicious cycle begins - one that tends to keep the horse in training with Clueless Chrissy to fix the misbehavior!

Make sure you're not solely relying upon the trainer's word about your horse's progress. You really do need to make those visits and watch the horse being worked or ride the horse yourself to know if you're getting your money's worth. Not to mention to ensure your horse is good weight, uninjured and shows no signs of abuse! If the distance is great, video updates will show you a lot of what you need to see and I think it's reasonable to ask for them. Look at it like you look at a daycare matter how much you may like the person, you're entrusting them with something extremely precious to you and a little checking up is in order. Good trainers, like good daycare providers, will welcome your visits as long as you respect their schedule and don't expect them to drop everything and entertain you.

A good trainer is also going to be honest about your horse's potential or lack thereof. You may not like what you hear. You may hear that your horse isn't good at the discipline you're interested in, that your horse is never going to be seriously competitive, or that your horse isn't right for you. Don't get angry when a trainer does this - they may be doing you a huge favor and saving you a great deal of money! If you aren't sure you believe the verdict, get a second opinion like you would with anything else, but remember it's so much better to get an honest opinion than smoke blown up your ass and paying for $5,000 of training on a $1,500 horse.

It's always been a problem in horses that a fast talker can make an awful lot of money doing a frighteningly small amount of work. And let's face it - lots of times the training dollars are coming from women and lots of women still feel uncomfortable about confronting any kind of service provider about whether or not the work is acceptable. They were raised to get along with people and not make a fuss, and as a result they are wonderful targets. When an amateur or the parents of a youth get scammed for thousands of dollars, it makes the whole industry look bad and may even scare them completely out of horse ownership. But ultimately it's your job to protect yourself - make those visits, watch some training sessions and make sure you communicate what your goals are. If your kid finished the 1st grade and had no clue how to read, I bet you'd be the first one in the principal's office screaming, so make sure you have some reasonable expectations for your training too. You're not a bitch just because you'd like to see your horse get trained at training - so speak up!

The gorgeous pencil drawing is something I found online by an artist named Joyce (don't see the last name) but here is the link if you'd like to purchase it as a print or on cards.