I really liked Lauren’s post the other day about putting the horse first, and I’d like to chime in on that.
I’ve said several times how fortunate it is that I have a trainer/barn owner who is such a strong advocate for good horsemanship. But that’s not quite right. Calling it “fortunate” implies that I randomly picked a trainer and *phew* lucky me, they’re a good egg. It implies that good horsemanship is a nice perk rather than the reason I chose my trainer.
In reality, choosing my trainer was based almost entirely on her demonstrated dedication to the welfare of all horses in her barn. I certainly have competitive goals and am constantly striving to be the best rider I can be, but I knew that I wanted a trainer who puts her horses first every time.
It’s not just the basics: of course she makes sure all the horses have proper nutrition, and will adjust their feed based on workload, show schedule, turnout time, etc. She ensures they all have clean stalls, free access to water, plenty to eat, warm blankets, and gentle handling. She emphasizes proper grooming, cool downs, and tack fitting to her students.
More than that though, she has a stable full of happy horses who genuinely like their jobs. That’s no accident. That’s the result of careful, consistent training.
Under her guidance, we offer lots of praise when the horses offer good work. We take lots of breaks when horse and rider need a mental break. We gently but firmly correct bad behavior the first time so we don’t create bad habits. We push our abilities slowly and methodically, not rushing up the levels just to qualify for something. We focus on creating a good experience for the horse, THEN a good experience for the rider, and THEN getting the ribbons. We do lots of homework at home, so at the shows we’re not worried about schooling our horses.
Based on her guidance, we do not drug our horses. We do not punish them when they are confused or frightened. We do not overwork them into submission to make them too tired to misbehave. We do not use extreme bits or tack to substitute for gaps in training.
There is a reason that my trainer has my patronage. I trust her to always put Frankie’s needs first and to demand that same dedication from her staff and riders. This is not a fortunate benefit to riding and boarding with her, it is the REASON I ride and board with her.
So I’ll echo what Lauren said: there are plenty of shady characters out there, but my way of battling that is by choosing to give my business to the people who share the philosophy of “horse first.” Always.