Friday, May 29, 2009


Once exams are finito, I'll get to blogging here more regularly, but for now, you'll have to check out the progress of the individual horses I am working with at my Through The Eye of Equus blog for equine-related fodder. So for now, just a few quick tips on trainers, since it's that season!

How to choose one:
WOM WOM WOM. Word-of mouth is huge. It's how I get a lot of my work, and that's how it should be. Ask people around you who they used, who they've heard of, or who they recommend. Next, do your homework - check out these trainers' backgrounds. Get references, read testimonials, spectate at their clinics or go check out their demo's. See what they're all about (albeit if it is only the side they are willing to show you). Talk to them, visit their facilities. Take a peek at their horses (look them over for bit or spur marks or surface behavioural issues), their tack room (look at the pieces of equipment they use), watch them work with a horse and evaluate that horse's response and level of relaxation with said rider, and, above all, ask questions! Ask what they do, how they do it, what they use to accomplish said goal, etc. If you can, get on a few of their horses. "Show me your horse and I'll tell you who you are" - the horse tells all, so you can gauge a lot about a person just by riding their horse(s). Give us young trainers a chance, we sometimes know what we're doing ;) I've met some fabulous 15 year-old trainers I'd send a horse to, and some horrendous 40+ year-old trainers. Evaluate the person themselves for that they bring to the table.

What to expect:
Expect what the trainers says will occur to occur. On the other hand, understand that each horse is different. Some can be started under-saddle in a few days, others take weeks to be comfortable with the saddle alone, let alone a rider atop! Check on your horse - often. Look for marks, level of relaxation during and outside of a session, and for progress within the sessions. If you schedule for an appointment to see your horse worked, come early. Arriving early allows you to see a bit "behind the scenes", a bit of what the trainer had not originally anticipated you to see because he/she was expecting you on time, not early. Please, at the very least, arrive on time. Contrary to popular belief, we actually do not have all day to stand around your horse awaiting your arrival (lol). I will personally give you 10-15 minutes - at most - before I start working your horse whether you are there or not. I have to get your horse done within a specific time frame (with some flexibility of course - horses do not run on a clock) so that I can get on to the next horse.

Through the trainer's eyes:
- Trainers are not here to groom your horse. My eyes nearly bugged out when I heard someone comment that a trainer had not taken the time to trim a client's horse's whiskers. Whiskers are purely aesthetic. They do not affect your horse's trainability. And personally, I don't like to touch a horse's whiskers much anyways. They're there for a reason - because he needs them. Of course we like our horses looking trim, but anything besides a bridlepath, shiny coat and nice mane and tail? That's your job (or your groom's). We've got more important things to do. Like train your horse. Which might not always encompass a perfectly groomed tail, either.
- A trainer is not here to get your horse fit. Again, your job. Our job is to start or tune-up your horse, plain and simple. If that happens to include getting him fit or that was part of the deal, no problem. Most of my work however involves short and sweet sessions - horse is challenged, progresses, etc. Fitness is not our primary goal, that's something you can work on afterwards.
- Trainers like tired horses? Well sometimes it certainly works in our favour. But my goal each day is not to have to get your horse drop-dead tired before I can work with him. That sounds more akin to a facist government than a partnership (our goal) if you ask me. The trainers who are working their client horses into the ground - not the ones I'd be voting for.
- Please do not drop in unexpectedly, expecting us to be working your horse, or to drop everything to work your horse in front of you. That is what appointments are for. Surprisingly, we actually have other horses we work with. There is also a good chance we might not even be there! Stop in on your horse any day, by all means, but if you want to see him worked, give your trainer a shout first.
- This may come as a shock, so make sure you are sitting before you read any further, but we don't actually enjoy being bucked off. It hurts. You're not bringing your horse to me because you want someone else to ride out the bucks, you're bringing your horse to me so that I can work with it in such a way that it doesn't buck in the first place.
- You're paying us for our opinion. Don't expect us to follow your orders (within reason, of course). If I do an assessment on your horse and I allow him to play on the longe line, that is my prerogative. Don't tell me not to allow him to play on the longe line. (On a side note, if your horse has been cooped up for the last 24+ hours, don't expect him not to play on the longe line when he finally gets to stretch his legs!). If you want someone else's opinion, for sure, seek away. But don't try to fit your trainer into a mould into which they do not belong. Choose instead the trainer who best suits you and your horse's needs and wants.
- Please please please do your best to teach your horse some ground manners before he comes. Again, this may come as an absolute shock, but I do not particularly revel in being violently run over by your horse because she's never been taught to respect a person's space. I do not typically leap for joy when your horse bowls past me to get to his buddies. Yup, not on my priority list. Of course my job will encompass teaching your horse manners and earning his respect, but to a point.
- Training takes time. Sometimes it takes a lot of time. Please try to understand. Don't expect the essentially wild horse you just brought in to be w/t/c under-saddle and carrying a green rider within 30 days. Yup, proooobably not going to happen.

I am generally pretty understanding, but just thought I'd, perhaps a little sarcastically (lol), add in the above points for consideration. Please try to see things from our perspective sometimes! It's tough work - we do it for the love, not for the money. Or the bruises. Heck, I've got a constant stream of bruises that I never have any recollection of even. We don't do it for the bruises. Promise.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


I have honestly watched frustrated people yell at their horse "why aren't you listening?? I told you to stand still!!" while washing their panic-striken horse. I wanted to walk up to them and point out that their horse is not listening to what they "told" him earlier because he does not understand english...but it was probably a bad time.

First off, just a little point: don't wash your horse if it is not absolutely necessary! A horse's coat has a lot of natural oils and dirt that are essential to his well-being, from keeping insects off to protecting him against the elements. Washing all those minerals and dirt off is like my taking away your coat in mosquito season while we're fishing on the lake. Or while we walking in the rain. Not exactly ideal. So if you do not absolutely have to wash your horse (such as for a show), don't do it. If your horse is sweated up and you feel he needs a rinse, at least skip the shampoos that can strip his coat of much-needed essentials. And allow him to roll afterwards - his coat needs it!

Okay, so back to the topic. Most horses hate having water sprayed over them. They fidget, they rear, they won't come within ten feet of the wash rack. Why? They're is not because they are stupid. The best thing you can do is to achieve a high level of trust* between you and your horse. A high level of trust in you = a high level of trust in your leadership = your horse follows your leadership. Just as an example, my flighty Quarab will be poking along when he spots the Velocoraptor (aka funny looking rock) hidden in the bush. If he's not following my leadership, if I have not earned my place as leader in his book, he's going to take leadership into his own hands and book it for the nearest spot he deems safe. However if I have earned a sufficiently high level of trust for him to trust my leadership abilities, he'll flick an ear back at me, ask if it's okay, I'll reply with an "yea no worries bud, I'll keep the Veloco at bay", and he'll relax and move on, no questions asked. Same follows for the washrack. If he can trust my leadership, he can trust whatever I throw at him. He might not particularly enjoy the water, but he can be relaxed being sprayed because he trusts that his leader - me, will keep him safe from the water dragons lurking in the hose. Our off-track Thoroughbred Link was extremely fidgety in the washrack to the point of rearing and kicking at us...sort of a problem because at the time we purchased him he had to be washed daily (ring worm...long story). As we worked quietly and patiently with him though he learned he could stand still no matter what we threw at him.

So, how do we earn that trust? By working quietly around our horses. Acting predictably (no slapping for "misbehaviour"...that's unpredictable in a horse's books), quietly, and patiently. Using approach and retreat rather than forcing them into some situation. Playing with them in such a way that they gain trust in us, where they can learn to read our body language, understand what we are asking, and thus trust us because they can read us. Just hanging out with them! Chilling with your grazing horse or just rubbing him quietly out in the pasture or in his stall is one of the biggest yet easiest trust-earning tasks you can do - spend un-demanding time together, time where you do nothing but enjoy one another's company. As a side note though, always make sure you are maintaining a balanced level of respect in your relationship with that trust. Establishing trust does not = no respect, allowing your horse to march all over you.

As far as the actual water issue (which resolves too as you earn that trust), start at the legs and work your way up so that the horse has a chance to acclimatize itself to the water. Use lukewarm water if possible, rather than bone-chilling teeth-clattering water. Use approach and retreat. Retreat when the horse seems uncomfortable (ie. remove the water from that particular area), approach when he is relaxed (ie. move the water back up to the "uncomfortable" area as he is calm)...and keep doing so, moving the water further and further over the horse's body each time. Take a break (even turn the water off, but at the least remove it completely from the horse) when the horse does particularly well and stands calm and relaxed. Above all, remain relaxed yourself! A yelling, negatively-charged and tense predator hanging at the end of the horse's leadrope does not exactly encourage relaxation in the horse. Look at it from the horse's perspective.

*Just as a quick aside, having trust in you and having trust in your leadership are not the same thing. A horse can trust that you are not going to hurt him, but a higher level of trust is necessary for the huge bunny rabbit to have trust that you can keep him safe from Velocoraptors (aka plastic bags, funny-shaped rocks, cars, grass poking at funny angles...etc) hurting (read: killing) him.