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.
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.
I will NEVER let it happen again… but it did once, and I’m not usually a shrinking violet at all. 🙁 🙁 🙁
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 stranger 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’.