What Does Trainer Say?

Recently I had a lengthy discussion with my trainer about horse care, and I was so happy to hear that we have very similar philosophies on how to keep horses happy and healthy. She also had some new perspectives for me, so here’s the rundown on what we talked about:

  • Memory foam saddle pads- Not a huge fan. She made an interesting point that when the rider is posting or landing from jumping, the foam doesn’t spring back that quickly, so it’s not truly absorbing much shock. She’s a big fan of the classic sheepskin pads, because those move with the horse and are more breathable. I’ve been lusting after an Ogilvy pad, but now I’m going to consider it more. Readers with a memory foam pad- I’d love to hear your perspective on this!
  • Turnout- horses need it. End of story. She talked about how she worked in a professional dressage barn for a while after college, and one top mare received absolutely no turnout because it would throw out her back. Read that: this horse was stalled indefinitely because they thought any movement not under saddle would hurt her, and they couldn’t risk her career. Horses are made to wander and move around all day, not stand and wait for their rider! I feel so very strongly about this. It’s one thing to stall your horse when injured to keep them from getting hurt further, but horses are simply not made to stand still all day. The more outside time, the better. Addy is a case in point: when she had very limited turnout, she was a devil pony. Now she is so level-headed. I attribute that almost entirely to increased turnout.
  • Bits- better a softer hand with a stronger bit than a heavy hand with a gentler bit. Even the mildest bit can deaden a horse’s mouth if it’s being pulled on non-stop. If the horse is not responding to the simple snaffle, try a french link. If they’re heavy on the french link, try a slow twist. My trainer’s philosophy is this: if the rider has independent hands and can be trusted to release more once the bit is changed, that’s probably the right way to go. That’s why we moved up to a slow-twist with Addy recently- I’m able to be lighter with my hands than I was with the french-link and she respects my aids more. If the rider is still going to cling to the mouth, do not make the bit harsher. It has to be a conversation.
  • Regular saddle pads- probably not causing your horse to go lame/move better. This may be a little controversial; I’ve read quite a few product reviews by fellow bloggers that feel very strongly that certain pads make their horse feel better, and I don’t want to step on any toes. Maybe I just haven’t found that magic pad yet. But I use different pads all the time with Addy, and it had never affected how she goes. Whether or not she had turnout that day, how cold it is, how hard the footing is, how floppy-potato I am, all these things definitely make a big difference. But swapping out one all-purpose pad for another hasn’t done a goshdarn thing. Trainer is in agreement- equipment absolutely changes how a horse moves, but it’s not at the top of the list of factors she checks for. The first is always the rider.
  • Showing up for work- we actually chatted about this for quite a long time, because it’s so nuanced. If a horse really hates his job, then it’s probably not the right fit. Addy loves jumping, so we jump. Some horses hate jumping, so they don’t. There’s always the give and take to figure out what a horse’s “calling” is- the discipline that allows them to shine and be happy in their work. But there are always going to moments/days/stretches when a horse does not want to do their job (humans have those moments. Dogs have those moments. Every creature has those moments where they say “won’t.”). Or they want to do their job, but they want to do it their own way instead of listening. Case example: Addy loves jumping. Addy occasionally ducks out of jumps that she finds scary. In these cases, it’s my job to give her support and encouragement that the jump won’t eat her, but in the end she is going over that jump whether she wants to or not. She knows her job quite well; she needs to show up and do it. This is a rather rambling bullet, but here’s the TL;DR version: the horse needs to like their job overall, but the rider needs to push the horse through those off days.
  • Expectations- horses will generally feed back to you what you expect. Whether that’s expecting and enforcing personal space on the ground or expecting a spook in the scary dark corner. By anticipating a spook, the horse senses that there’s something to be scared about. By not enforcing boundaries on the ground, the horse knows he can get away with being pushy. While not always the case, if we expect better from our horses then we often receive it.

Readers, please share your perspectives on any and all of these topics! We all have different approaches to horsemanship and I’d love to hear yours!

36 thoughts on “What Does Trainer Say?

    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 10:34 am

      It’s so nice! I feel like so many horse people are totally crazy (myself included), so finding someone whose crazy I agree with makes everything better 🙂


  1. T (Happy Pony) 04/13/2015 / 11:27 am

    I agree with your brand of ‘crazy’ too lol. I tried what’s felt like a million different combinations of tack with my little mare in an effort to give her the benefit of the doubt, At the end of the day though, consistent riding and training is making all the difference. We’ve gone from a backward, sulky horse to a forward, happy one and I’m back using the equipment I started out with.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 12:06 pm

      Hooray for happy forward mare! It’s always such a detective search to figure out what’s going to help your horse, glad you were able to figure it out 🙂


  2. Lauren 04/13/2015 / 11:56 am

    I agree with your trainer’s points! Also needed to read the ‘showing up for work’ bit, since my horse didn’t exactly do that yesterday and I’m kind of freaked out by it now. We all have off days!

    I use a Thinline half pad btw. Old school, but it works well and I like it a lot more than the memory foam half pads.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 12:10 pm

      That’s what she tells me whenever Addy ducks out! (which is not frequent, but does happen if I don’t set her up correctly) It always makes me feel better- I’ve certainly had days where I needed my boss to crack the whip to get me working, so why wouldn’t my horse? I’m sure Simon will show up on your next ride 🙂
      I’ve heard some really good things about the Thinline pads from a couple different sources, I’ll have to check those out!


  3. Jenn 04/13/2015 / 11:59 am

    I know there has been some serious love for Ogilvy lately, but sometimes I think it’s a bit exaggerated. I will admit that I do own an Ogilvy pad, and I own an Ogilvy because my saddle isn’t custom-fit to any one horse (Roger included), so the Ogilvy helps with saddle fit. Does the Ogilvy magically solve 100% of saddle fit issues? Most definitely not, and I think this what I struggle with when people proclaim their eternal love for these memory foam pads. For me, an Ogilvy makes sense, not only because my saddle isn’t fitted exclusively for Roger, but because his body will be constantly growing and changing shape in the next few months (at least), so the conforming abilities of the Ogilvy memory foam saves me from having my saddle re-fitted every few weeks. However, I don’t think that Ogilvy memory foam pads are the end-all-be-all of tack, and the decision to purchase one should be carefully considered. I definitely don’t think that someone should buy a $200 piece of foam just because they are “in” right now, and the need for one should be an individual decision for each rider and each horse.

    In other news, I TOTALLY AGREE with your thoughts on turnout and bits.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 12:16 pm

      I agree with you totally on the Ogilvy- every piece of tack you put on the horse should be for the benefit of the horse and rider, not because it’s trendy. Although I will say I’m planning on putting a bonnet on Addy purely because it looks cool 🙂


  4. Amanda C 04/13/2015 / 12:37 pm

    For the most part I agree with her, although I love my Ogilvy pads and so does my horse. The difference in him with them is quite noticeable. That said, nothing works for every horse. The best thing is to keep an open mind, educate yourself, and pick what works best for you and your horse.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 12:39 pm

      Agreed! Something might be pretty and trendy, but the true test is if it works for you. Being pretty and trendy is just a perk 🙂


  5. Genny 04/13/2015 / 1:39 pm

    Wow sounds like this was an intense convo! Glad you two are on the same page about so many things. 🙂 As someone who now owns a spooky mare, I will say in my case it doesn’t seem to matter what I’m doing or how our relationship is, if she wants to spook, she will annnnnnnnnnd probably never at the same thing.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 2:06 pm

      It was so funny- we were in the middle of a lesson and somehow I ended up in the middle of the ring talking about all this with her for almost an hour! Addy definitely dozed off for a while (we did end up finishing the lesson after Addy woke up from her nap). Spookers gonna spook, sometimes you just gotta ride through it!


  6. CallyJumps 04/13/2015 / 2:27 pm

    RE: pads, the only thing I use other than a square pad is a Thinline; IMO it’s more for me than her, I find it absorbs a bit of shock for me and I find it much easier to sit the trot with it. I notice no difference in her way of going with anything else, unless it alters the saddle not to fit. She doesn’t seem to care whether I use the nice PRI pads or the cheaper TuffRider squares.

    My BO just sent out the email that we’re switching back to night turnout next week, and I am so happy about it. They end up being outside a lot more, getting a lot more grass, and moving around more. Mine does so much better with it. She wouldn’t do well out 24/7 (she does love a fan and shade in the summer fly season!) but the whole wonky stockiness in the hind legs pretty much disappears when she’s on night turnout.

    I do think there’s a difference between “showing up to work” and needing to work correctly. Mine doesn’t like dressage, and I know it. She is never, ever going to light up in the dressage ring the way I feel her do to fences. But learning to carry herself properly, and building those muscles, is really important to her strength, rideability, and ultimately soundness. So whether she likes it or not, she has to do it.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 3:04 pm

      We just switched Addy to almost-24 hour turnout when weather permits, and she’s loving it! Basically Owner Lady and I have just said to toss her in a field whenever possible, and she’s more mellow and laid-back than ever. We’ll see how it works as we get into hot sticky fly season :/
      I’m a big proponent of those “homework” rides too; Addy isn’t a fan of straightup flatwork, but we have to do it so that when we DO jump things work the way they should. I try to make it as fun and distracting for her as possible, but when push comes to shove she needs to do the work she is asked to do. She may not realize the flatwork is helping, but I certainly feel it!


      • CallyJumps 04/13/2015 / 3:50 pm

        The flys are here already; I had to put on fly spray this morning. UGH!

        I think it’s really the difference between making a horse that doesn’t like flat work do correct dressage, and making them be a dressage horse. One is important, one is square peg in round hole, and going to end in misery for everyone.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. emma 04/13/2015 / 3:22 pm

    love the point about expectations – i really do believe that horses are veritable self-fulfilling prophecies haha.

    in any case, sounds like an extra conversation. i kinda love picking my trainer’s brain, and am always kinda interested when she thinks differently about something than i do – and usually it’s for a pretty good reason that i hadn’t thought of before haha

    also agree about some of the saddle pad / half pad comments – altho lately i don’t use any extra padding at all, preferring my saddle to fit such that nothing extra is needed.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 3:28 pm

      Seriously! On days that I expect Addy to be a goof she always delivers, and on days that I forget to expect that she’s perfectly behaved. Little mindreader!
      Despite riding for most of my life, every trainer I’ve had has always been able to blow my mind with the reasoning behind any differences of opinion (luckily I’ve had a string of absolutely fantastic trainers, so that helps!).
      I think it’s fantastic that you’re so careful with your saddle fit, it makes such a big difference on their backs!


  8. Holly 04/13/2015 / 3:24 pm

    The turnout thing is HUGE. Lucy came from a barn where she got 3-4 hours a day and that was it, and it broke my heart. She’s a pacer and will destroy a stall because she hates it so much. Luckily, she’s at home now and she has free range of a stall and a BIG paddock that’s connected (the gate stays open). She’s so much happier and by choice spends most of her time outside, whether it’s wandering or napping. She lives in a fly sheet, and yeah, sometimes she gets some bug bites, but if they really bother her – she goes inside (and that’s happened twice in eleven years, so obviously not a big issue). I know it’s fancier and nicer to have your horse boarded on stall board, but if I ever bring her out, I’d have to seriously consider if it was worth it because I think it would sacrifice her happiness.


    • hellomylivia 04/13/2015 / 3:30 pm

      Lucky Lucy getting all the playtime! Some horses do really well on stall board, and some just don’t- sounds like both our mares fit squarely into the second category. I’d love to get my girl all fancied up for some bigger shows, but not a chance if that conflicts with her turnout- I’d much rather have a happy sound horse than a “fancy” show horse.


  9. Elinor 04/13/2015 / 4:45 pm

    Never a memory pad for me. I do use a nice ThinLine Trifecta on top of a regular thin pad. Had made a bit of a difference for us.


    • hellomylivia 04/14/2015 / 7:13 am

      I keep hearing about these Thinline pads; I think I need to round up some saddle pads from friends at the barn and try them all out!


      • Elinor 04/14/2015 / 6:33 pm

        Yeah, I like the ThinLine Trifecta – it has a cotton backing, not sheepskin all underneath it, so it’s fairly slim underneath. They also come, you know, as the little single ThinLine inserts that just sort of lay there. They’re great too, and cheaper, but the Trifecta looks cute too 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Karley 04/13/2015 / 10:14 pm

    Wow no turn out ever!? Sheesh


    • Karley 04/13/2015 / 10:23 pm

      I wish Henry got more but some.is better then none 🙂


      • hellomylivia 04/14/2015 / 7:08 am

        Definitely any is better than none! I know certain barns simply don’t have the facilities, but I feel so bad for ponies that don’t get to run around outside 😦


  11. Susan Friedland-Smith 04/14/2015 / 12:01 am

    Turnout. Turnout. Turnout. That’s why it kills me a while a culture of horses in SoCal have no pastures! Ug. And I have a Mattes pad that is great. I haven’t tried memory foam, but what I have works so I’ll take it. And yes, horses have “callings” just like people do. Amen.


    • hellomylivia 04/14/2015 / 7:10 am

      Addy came from SoCal- that’s where she had no turnout! Her owner says she’s a completely different horse now. Turnout.
      I’ve always been a big fan of Mattes (despite the price tag), and what I ride in now is very similar. Hey, it works!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Nicole Sharpe 04/14/2015 / 12:07 am

    I have similar opinions to you and your trainer too! Except for me I went from french link to snaffle, because on Murray’s low palate the single-jointed link is “harsher”.

    One thing I don’t think you can discount with memory foam is its ability to dampen noise (in this case, shock waves) away from the location of the actual shock. It’s the same philosophy as the wine glass trick on the mattresses on a smaller scale — when you land from a jump the vibrations from your seatbones don’t just affect your horse’s back under your seatbones but elsewhere under the saddle too, and the density of those foams helps dull that noise on your horse’s back. My horse is one of those who does better with a memory foam pad than a regular sheepskin, though — enough for me to notice a difference. And the slowness of the foam to deform is yet another of the things that helps absorb shock. But yes, I am not a faddish person, I’m function over form any day.


    • Nicole Sharpe 04/14/2015 / 12:07 am

      Also just to be that person:

      “What does Trainer say?”



    • hellomylivia 04/14/2015 / 7:12 am

      An excellent point- what might be a gentler bit on one horse could be harsher on another depending on their anatomy! I think bitting is so interesting.

      I hadn’t considered the “noise” aspect of it, but that makes a lot of sense. I can imagine that helps quite a few horses feel more comfortable when doing high-impact work. I feel like I learn something new about this technology with every person I talk to 🙂


  13. Tracy 04/14/2015 / 1:50 pm

    I agree with so much of this, although I do disagree with the memory foam pad comment. First off, I think that most important is to find a solution that works for you and your horse — and that’s not going to be the same for everyone. I personally like the Ogilvy for Miles and I because it’s a great combination of help with saddle fit where needed and some small amount of shock absorption.


    • hellomylivia 04/14/2015 / 2:53 pm

      I’m very much in agreement- I think she was more bothered by the fact that everyone was jumping on the Ogilvy bandwagon because it was trendy, not necessarily because it was best for them and their horse. I say that you should always go with what helps you and your pony move more comfortably!


  14. Courtney 04/15/2015 / 8:38 am

    I agree with much of this. I’m obsessed with making sure my horses get lots of turnout, it’s just so much healthier for them. When I was a kid, my mare only had turnout and she never had a single issue, but at the barn where I worked, it was very common for the stalled horses to have some soundness issues. It’s just not right for an animal that is meant to move around all day to be cooped up.
    Sadly, at my own place, I have to balance out their turnout with stalling them because otherwise they eat all the grass before it has time to grow. I need to build a sacrifice paddock, as well as other improvements to try to help this. I especially hate locked up my youngest, because I feel like his joints need the movement while he’s growing.
    Are French links really harsher than a standard snaffle? I always thought French links were more gentle, because they didn’t have the cracking action going into the roof of their mouths.


    • hellomylivia 04/15/2015 / 9:02 am

      Addy only ever has stocking-up/ouchie-step problems when she doesn’t get to go outside! She does tend to usually get 8ish hours a day though, not around the clock.
      You know what, I think you’re right about the French link. Addy has been all over the place with bits over the last couple years, so I haven’t put too much thought into what’s technically harsher and instead focused more on CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW haha.


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