Many riders who love their horses realize that they do not have enough time, enough knowledge or experience to help their horse develop to the level that the rider is seeking. Sometimes the best way to set both the horse and rider up for the most success is to hire a trainer to put some time into the horse. This training time can be spent on basic foundational development of good behaviour and safe responses to the aids, or more advanced work in a specific discipline. Once the horse has an understanding of the trainer’s expectation and cues, the owner can begin to learn how to keep the conversation consistent for their horse, and, therefore, have success working within the program that the trainer has already established. This can provide less confusion for the horse, and a safer ride for the owner. Some people just love to ride their horse knowing that they are well looked after at a barn where someone keeps their horse healthy and going in a positive direction. Having said all of this; I will make a gentle suggestion that you watch your trainer.
Before choosing a trainer, ask to sit in for a few of their sessions with horses they presently have in training. Ask yourself whether you think your horse will feel safe and confident working with this person. Listen to your gut. Once you have chosen your trainer, continue to watch at least a few of their sessions with your horse – especially early on in the process. Periodically stopping in to see how things are going should never be considered interrupting, but rather a keen interest in your horse’s progress. Many trainers will welcome you to watch sessions. Take advantage of this opportunity! What you see should make you feel relaxed and involved in the experience. You will also pick up on some of the new experiences that your horse is learning from. Listen to your gut! When you watch, if you are cringing at a method or approach they are using, ask questions. Get explanations. Horse training does not need to be ugly, and really should not be. It is a developmental process that takes time and commitment from the owner and the trainer. If anyone is in a rush to accomplish something quickly, the horse will suffer some emotional and physical blows in the process.
Avoid sending your horse to a trainer who does not allow owners to attend sessions. If their reason is simply because they do not have time to explain everything they are doing during a session to an owner with lots of questions, then you will not learn how to work with your horse along the way and that’s not worth your investment. More often, a trainer will not allow you to watch because they are going to attempt to achieve results in whatever means they need to, or the only way they know how. You need to listen to your gut – these secretive “behind the barn” approaches to training are not good for your horse. He may lope off with his correct lead at the end of the 2 months with the trainer, but he may also have developed other negative patterns while avoiding forceful or intimidating measures.
I bought Nekoda when I was 16. She was a weanling and barely halter broke, but she had a very good disposition and was usually easy to handle – even though I hardly had a clue. The first farm I boarded her at was being managed by a horse trainer. She attempted to show me how she taught horses to stand tied, because it must have driven her crazy that I would not leave my filly tied unattended. She took Nekoda into a stall, tied her head up high and short to a ring in the corner, closed the stall door behind her, and told me not to go back in until Nekoda stood quietly for 10 minutes. That filly reared, spun, cut open her knees on the stall walls, slipped and fell, and went into a full body sweat within three minutes. I stood outside the stall watching, with every part of my inside voice saying, “This can’t be right. Is this okay? How is she learning anything right now? She’s terrified!” I listened to my gut. I untied her and decided from that moment that this trainer approached horses differently from myself, and I did not want her input with Nekoda. Many horses are taught to tie by simply leaving them alone and letting them figure it out themselves. The end result is usually a horse who stands tied, but what else have they learned within this process?
Listen to your gut. If it seems forced or painful, it most likely is. Horses do not learn well when they are uncomfortable, scared or in pain. Keep it simple; find a trainer who rejoices in their horse’s accomplishments and brings them along at their own individual tempo.