Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What You Don't Know Will Cost You!

Back when I first started blogging, I posted a series that started with Are You a Good Advocate for Your Horse? This intent of this series was to address the issues that might befall a horse while is in the care of others, whether it be a boarding barn or a training facility. As owners we still have responsbility for that horse but do we take that responsibility on or do we abdicate it to others.

Another aspect of this issue is that it is affected by what we know. If we don't have a lot of experience with horses or training in the first place, we are more likely to make mistakes. It is hard to select the right trainer for your horse or even the right boarding facility for your horse when we're not informed.

The thing that has been most obvious to me since I began my journey in the horse industry is that people can easily be fooled by the bottom line. I consistently see people who think that the bottom line for training is what that trainer charges by the month.

For me, I think not so much. The bottom line is what it costs to get the horse trained to the point that you need it to be trained. If you pick a trainer who charges $600 a month for board and training over one that charges $800, that is only a savings if the trainer can get the job done in the same amount of time as the more expensive trainer. If the cheaper trainer takes twice as long to train the horse, then it has cost you more money and it has also cost you time.

Add into that scenario the fact that the cheaper trainer may not be able to get the job done at all. If the trainer can't get the job done then it's probably reasonable to assume that the horse may end up with some issues as a result of that training.

A horse with issues takes longer to train than a horse without them. If the horse is moved to the more expensive trainer at this point, it is going to take more time and money than it would have taken had the horse gone there in the first place.

Now, obviously just because a trainer is cheaper does not mean that the trainer is less skilled. However, there is some kind of reason that trainer charges less for services. Understanding what that reason or reasons might be could affect a decision about using such a trainer.

For example a young trainer starting out who has lots of experience before she/he became a professional may start out charging less money because she/he has not established a reputation as a trainer yet. If that is the case, there should be evidence of that skill whether it be references from horses sold, ribbons in the show ring, something that supports that this trainer can indeed get the job done.

For many horse owners, evaluating a trainer is a big problem. To be able to make a judgement on the skill of that trainer just by watching them ride and/or show horses, an owner would need to be well versed in the requirement for the discipline that is being considered. There is lots of evidence to suggest that few owners really have the skill to do this.

One of the things that I have seen in the show world is the trainers who are charging less usually have a smaller show string. Those trainers need more horses to make ends meet so they have discounted their fees to encourage those people affected by the bottom line of the monthly fee to use their services. The number of training horses these trainers have drops considerably in the off season.

The trainers that charge the highest fees usually have a waiting list, even in the off season. Usually the only time they actually might add a new client is during that off peak time when some of the regular horses go home for a rest.

Those trainers will usually have multiple trainers and assistant trainers as well as grooms working for them so they can get all of their work done in a day.These trainers also will have elaborate trophy rooms with pictures, neck garlands, ribbons and awards documenting their success.

The only question about using one of these trainers might be their training methods. Are they within the scope of what is humane for your horse? There are lots of successful horse trainers out there who are very hard on horses. The result will be barns with lots of turnover of the horses themselves. Horses that cannot take the pressure of abusive training methods usually end up culled from the show string but many times actually end up ruined.

Not knowing for sure in any of these situations can cost both you and your horse. The learning curve can be very expensive. But despite what the bottom line ends up to be, the horse is the one who pays the biggest price in the end for the mistakes that owners make as they go.

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  1. You are so right, you have to research, word of mouth and research the trainers very well!

  2. I agree with you so strongly that we have to be strong advocates for our horses. I board my horses and I have sent horses to trainers. My major rule when my horses are being worked by others is that I want to watch the horse worked at least 3 times a week. I will adjust my schedule as much as possible to accommodate the trainer and I show up on time and prepared to pay attention.

    I do this because I want to be there as an advocate for my horse if need be. I also find that being present for the training helps smooth the transition from trainer back to me. I can watch how the trainer works and hopefully mimic that once we get home.

  3. My number one rule in putting my horse in a new situation is to also watch the people who are going to be working with my horse whether it be training or just turning out. Are they (sometimes very) firm, but gentle when the horse needs it? There can be big problems with a very dominant or testy horse and a very timid horse. The dominant ones (like Rhythm), will go 20 miles with a little break and will need some retraining and the timid ones can become more so instead of more confident. Also, the finished product is important. If you want a steady trail horse, don't send him to a show barn who rides exclusively in an indoor arena. Also, watch other horses in the barn work, if 1/2 are lame (I have seen this) DON'T send your horse there. Check the condition of the stalls and the turn-out. Are they safe, and clean? They are horses, they don't need to be spotless, but broken fences and equipment in the pasture can kill or maim horses. I have seen a lot of people sending their horse to local a amish, and although the horses came back really broke for trail (and did well western 4-h), they also came back really really skinny (skinny enough that I personally wouldn't work until they had gained), with loose shoes. Some amish are much better though, and they have healthy horses who are unflappable and they are usually pretty inexpensive. For me, at the time that I was going to send my horse away, I was fairly inexperienced, and spending the money on a turned out show horse would have been a waste because I wasn't at the level that I would have used the training, so it would have been forgotten and wasted. Now that I am looking to show, if I were to get a young horse, I would look VERY deeply into where it would go exactly as MiKael said. But the bottom line is, are the horses well tended to and cared for. Even if the trainer is out of this world, if your horse ends up wormy, underweight and in danger on colicing because of frozen water, well that won't work. I like to see a trainer with a fairly long list of stipulations... then you know they are paying attention to detail. And as Katee said... watch them ride your horse. 1-then you know you are getting what you pay for, and 2- you know they are getting ridden.

  4. I am always very involved with anything a trainer is doing with my horse. The only times Kaswyn has been in full training was when I was pregnant both times, and then I would make sure that I could be there a few times a week to see how the training was coming along. I'm lucky that I can trust my trainer and I know that her training methods are correct and non abusive, but I still make sure I know what she's doing and how he's acting just in case he starts doing something uncharacteristic and she just doesn't happen to catch it.

    You can never go wrong by being too involved - in both the training and care of your horse.

  5. A lot of things to consider. So the newbie's? I assume getting word of mouth recommendations is an important thing?

  6. Its a true test to find the right trainer for you and the right trainer for your horse. I have had a few, been fired by a few. When I met current Trainer Tracey it was a slow process we both watched each other for awhile and got to know one another before we moved into the training of Abu. We had to be able to communicate or it would have never worked. She was just the most amazing fit, she knows when to push me and when to push him. It is truely a gift when you find the trainer that is not all about the mighty dollar but one that wants her students to suceed. She has become my friend, my trainer, my coach and my advocate when needed. I am so lucky to have such a gift in my life.