Everything Else Everything else Training

Breaking out of the ‘box’ of obedience, if necessary, to protect your horse.

There is a court case pending regarding a horse that was very badly injured during a session with a famous trainer, somewhere in the world. The owner of the horse was so shocked by what was going on (on the lunge) that she did not intervene until it was too late. The horse sustained very serious and lasting damage.

I read the details with mounting horror and indignation, but then remembered this:

Years ago I booked a group session (my first and only time with this person) with a top eventing trainer. I took a lovely 5 yr old homebred of mine – big, gangly, and in my opinion not capable of doing simple changes yet, so I’d never even tried. I take my horses slowly, my decision… my fault, in this case.
The trainer was unhappy about the horse’s inability to do simple changes as instructed, so told me to dismount. He got on, and proceeded to force the horse, with very strong yanks and kicks, to do ‘simple changes’, repeatedly. The horse was about as gobsmacked as I was… he took it, and I stood there like an UTTER idiot and let it happen (there were 4 or 5 other riders and a few spectators, I was just a little nobody – and HE was the Big Name).

The horse ground his teeth from that day forwards. He never had before. The bottom had dropped out of his world, it had all been gradual and patient and kind till that point.ย 
When I told my regular trainer (who was only over from Germany once a month) what had happened at the clinic, what I had ALLOWED to happen to my lovely young horse, he was livid with me. As was I.ย 
I will NEVER let it happen again… but it did once, and I’m not usually a shrinking violet at all. ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™

Here’s my little theory:
We are trained from a very early age (by parents, teachers, then bosses etc) to submit to authority. It is very very difficult to break out of that habit and say “STOP RIGHT NOW” to someone we have already acknowledged to be our superior… It’s not like watching a strangerย kicking a dog, say, when we’d step in immediately (I hope!), it is a ‘Trainer’ who is supposed to know more than we know, so we stand and let it happen and ignore the warning bells… it happens, far more easily than you’d think. I have been there and done it, to my shame.

Of course, I am not talking about someone getting on an obstinate horse and convincing it that it really should go forward, that, say, hopping a tiny ditch is fine, that it should get its feet wet… that a totally reasonable request (for its experience, age, level of training) should be granted. Sometimes horses totally need that, and they need good determined sticky riders to get it done. I’m talking about the extremes… which can, unfortunately, happen.

So, please, don’t ever let anyone do that to YOUR horse. If you ever have misgivings, please make sure you consider, while very consciously and deliberately discounting the veneer of ‘famousness’ and authority, exactly what your horse is being asked to do in a lesson or clinic situation. Is it fair? It is reasonable? Very occasionally our horses need protecting, even from ‘experts’.

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  • Completely agree – it’s very difficult to say “this isn’t for my horse”. This mentality does stem from everywhere in life however. For example school you sit in designated space for set hours of the day etc etc. For any truly philosophical geeks see Foucault, Docile Bodies!

  • This happened to me once, I had had successful lessons with a professional rider with my tense and stressy horse, she was very good at teaching me on him and had me riding soft and patient. But she asked to ride him one day and I trusted her because she had taught so nicely, but when she rode him it was totally different, really strong legs forcing him into a strong, holding contact. He got to a point of trying to throw himself onto the floor and I was not brave enough to tell her to get off before that point because who was I, at 17, to tell a 4star rider how to ride my horse? He had never reared before then and 5years later he is much better but will still go back to rearing and refusing to move if things get too stressful. Maybe it is good in the long term that I will without a doubt tell someone to stop if I’m not happy with how they are dealing with things, but it’s such a shame i had to learn this at the expense of my very special and beloved horse ๐Ÿ™

  • Sophie, yes, exactly. It’s very difficult to counter that much training.

    Jess, any horse which gets to the point of throwing itself on the floor (btw I’ve been around horses for nearly 40 years, and I’ve never seen one get near that point) has absolutely been pushed to the limit mentally. That’s awful, poor horse and poor you. It’s a very tough lesson. ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™

  • What wise words. But so very difficult to disagree with or take a different line to someone you have deliberately sought out as a role model to learn from.

  • Kerry, terribly sorry but I must disagree with your theory. Whilst I do agree there are some weak persons who do not step in, in my experience MOST owners do. I do not say this to offend you, in fact I applaud that you have learnt the lesson.

    I had one trainer take to one of my young horses with a whip. I marched in, took the whip and whacked the trainer fair across the back with the same whip. No whips are used on my horses.

    Needless to say I am more than happy telling the story to anyone who asked about said trainer.

    I would like to think that as responsible horse owners all would take charge and protect their horses. Stop with the hero worship.

  • Doug, it’s good to know that you were strong-minded and confident enough to react immediately to protect your horse. From talking to friends, and from reactions on the FB wall to this piece, and on here, it seems that women (so far, anyway) aren’t necessarily that quick. It’s not hero-worship, far from it, it’s indoctrinated obedience to an ‘expert’, I think. ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿ™
    Anyway, forewarned is forearmed, I hope. I certainly won’t ever let it happen again.