Sunday, February 11, 2007

Are You an Good Advocate for Your Horse? Part 1

Over the years I’ve seen all kinds of relationships between horses, trainers and owners, but the one that is most common, I’m afraid, is the relationship between the owner and the trainer where the owner has the trainer up on a pedestal. The owner believes, and sometimes the trainer demands, that the trainer knows everything and is not to be questioned.

The problem with this scenario is there is no one to advocate for the horse. The trainer has free rein to do whatever he/she feels like to the horse whether it is reasonable or not. Like a child, the horse needs someone on its side, viewing situations from the horse’s perspective and determining whether or not the horse is being handled in an appropriate manner. Without this, who knows what is happening behind closed doors to your horse.

I have seen many horses being ridden into the ground in the warm up arena because they had a bad class. The trainer kicks and spurs the horse in a major temper tantrum because the horse was naughty. I’ve also overheard trainers telling their clients that they didn’t win because of politics. In both of these scenarios, the problem was usually not the horse or politics, but the trainer. The horse was not trained properly to get the job done.

This is not to say that sometimes the horse is not at fault. Each horse has it’s own personality that certainly contributes to how it responds in a class or training session. But when you have a trainer who is continually making excuses for his/her lack of success with the horse or in the ring, chances are it’s the trainer’s problem, not the horse’s.

So how do you know if your horse is being treated properly? First off, I’d say look for the obvious, spur marks in your horses side, welts on its body, scars on its mouth. If you horse has thickness or white scars on the corners of its mouth, it’s being treated inappropriately. These occurrences are not the result of a one-time thing; they are the result of persistent heavy handedness. The same is true about scabs on shoulders or sides.

In addition to looking for the obvious outward signs, watch your horse for signs of personality changes. Is it happy? Is it sullen or depressed? Is it grumpy about work? Does the horse not want to be saddled or bridled? Watch your horse being worked. Be there as much as you can to see what’s happening. Is the trainer constantly fighting with your horse or putting the horse down? When you do see a problem between trainer and horse, what does your gut tell you?

If you see or hear things that you’re not sure about, talk to others about it. And not just those in your barn, they are likely to have the same kind of issues as you with standing up to your trainer. Go outside your circle and ask other people? Get all the input you can so you can be an informed advocate for your horse.

This issue of being an advocate for your horse doesn't just pertain to training issues. Do you have questions about feeding, products used on your horse that you don't ask? Do you see things around the facility that you think might be dangerous for your horse? Is the facility taking proper care for fire provention? Do they have an emergency plan in case a horse or person is injured or becomes ill? Do they have a disaster plan? Are these items posted? Dressage Mom in her comments on If Disaster Happens What About Your Horse? worries about such things. Do you?

This is part one in the subject about advocating for your horse. Remember, if your horse can't count on you, he has no one....

Part Two


  1. Hi MiKael

    That is so true, and why I find it so hard to part with my horses, because when they leave I loose control of their welfare. Unfortunately this is all too common.

    Looking forward to the next instalment.

  2. This is so true. Trainers must get results, and get them quickly. Owners don't want to pay a trainer to get the job done in a "natural" way, which could take months or years. They are paying by the hour. The trainer who doesn't get results quickly won't be invited back, so they do whatever it takes. Often the horse is the innocent victim. Owners need to open their eyes and realize that the blue ribbon may not be worth it.

  3. this subject can send me off on an all out rant.

    Ive also seen the 'damage' trainers can do to a horse.

  4. I have seen bad trainers and unfortunetly have worked for one. She wasn't the worst but she sure did have a temper. She could be very unkind to horses and riders. I did learn a lot from her but mostly it was what "not" to do.