My Training Articles Cause Readers? Responses

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Comments by three readers about two of my recent articles in the Horse Journal have motivated me to respond today. One reader and I will just have to agree to disagree, but I think that the other two have completely misunderstood my point.

Interestingly, these comments refer to two recent Horse Journal articles on the same subject?training young horses. The first comment came in a letter from reader Mel Lueck, regarding my article ?Getting The Most Out Of Your Early Training Dollar,? in our September Issue. The other two comments appeared on the Horse Journal?s Facebook page a few weeks ago, where Mary McJimsey and NeverDull Ranch took issue with the sidebar ?Cowboy Or Not? in my November article ?Five Tips To Choosing A Trainer For Your Young Horse.?

Mr. Lueck disagreed with my suggestions of ways to prepare your young horse before sending him to be started under saddle by a trainer. He suggested, ?I find that if a horse is untouched by the owner, it comes along much better and faster than if the owner has tried to do any ?training? on it. This includes even the basics in the weanling, i.e. teaching to lead. If the owner does get so far as to attempt to teach the horse to longe, there are usually more issues to be corrected, i.e. the horse only goes one way and resents being asked to go the other way, it has no idea of how to go forward, it stops and turns when it feels like it, etc.

?So in my humble opinion I find that the owner that attempts to ?help? or ?get the most out of their early training dollar? is really not doing the horse or their pocket book justice. It takes longer to correct a problem than to do it properly the first time.?

While I understand Mr. Lueck?s reticence (I too have experienced similar issues!), I think his point of view is overly skeptical and not entirely workable these days. Many amateur owners are perfectly capable to doing what I suggested (I believe I used to be one of them), and the reality is that people who own horses generally want to be involved with them. Plus, who doesn't want to get the most out of their money'

We've had young horses who?ve been nearly feral before they came here and young horses who?ve had considerable groundwork and other handling. And I can only think of one who's had that kind of early work who wasn?t a joy to deal with. The one exception was an extremely lazy and clumsy horse, a horse that did eventually turn out decently. Honestly, the untouched, feral ones We've had have been more of a challenge. So, although I understand his point of view, I'd like to propose to Mr. Lueck that we agree to disagree.

I'm afraid, though, that Ms. McJimsey and NeverDull Ranch have sailed right by my point. And, unfortunately, they've not been appeased by Editor Cindy Foley?s responses to them. So I thought this would be a good place to respond myself.

My point was not to disparage cowboys or Western trainers. We've worked with two different cowboys who specialize in training young horses, and they've each done a fantastic job. In fact, we currently have an arrangement with one of them, Jim Groesbeck, to whom we sent our two 3-year-olds this fall. I'm riding (and starting to jump) both of them now and aiming them for their first competition in January. And we plan to send him three more coming 3-year-olds in the spring, whom I spent this summer longeing and ponying to prepare for work under saddle. Jim is, simply, a true horseman.

But that doesn't mean we'd have this arrangement with every Western trainer, any more than we would with every dressage or jumping trainer out there.

In that sidebar, I described about half a dozen things that we consider Western deal-breakers, because they would train a horse destined for any jumping discipline or dressage to respond to aids in ways that could be detrimental and very difficult to overcome.

And I've worked with three horses over the last several years that were badly trained by Western trainers. One of them was my wonderful mare Alba, whom I wrote about in last week?s blog. In defense of whoever worked with her, I'll say that they clearly didn't grasp that sHe's a Quarter Horse who's desperately afraid of cows, and they couldn?t deal with her quickness. So they clearly attempted to overcome these problems by putting an extremely tight tie-down on her, and her reaction to pressure on her nose still provides a challenge.

We have another Quarter Horse mare who had been taught to fear all aids. Clearly she?d been taught, ?If I have to touch you with my legs or reins, you're doing something wrong.? It took me about nine months to convince her to trust (and not resent) my aids, to understand that I was communicating with her and directing her, that I wasn?t reprimanding her. Now sHe's an absolutely lovely horse to ride.

Plus, that mare had suffered severe physical trauma. We think she must have, at some point, flipped over, breaking her withers and knocking her back out of alignment. That too took months of chiropractic therapy to overcome, and she still undergoes regular chiropractic care to keep her back aligned.

We had another Quarter Horse, a gelding, whose reaction to my aids was actually fearful and who became extremely anxious as soon as you put tack on him. After about six months I declared him irredeemable, and the owner gave him away as a pasture ornament, as he is a very sweet and kindly guy.

But?and this is a really important ?but??cowboys or Western trainers haven't cornered the market on bad training. We've dealt with several horses who?ve been through the barn of a local ?dressage? trainer, a man whom, if I should ever meet him in a dark alley, I will kick to the curb in the name of these horses. With one of them, a gelding, I couldn?t longe his owner on him because he?d just take off, and you couldn?t take his temperature, because he was desperately afraid of pushing the thermometer into his butt. (I don't even want to think about what caused these two reactions.)

We had another horse, a 6-year-old warmblood, who?d supposedly been in work with another ?dressage? trainer for almost two years, but had never cantered under saddle. This was a mystery to us, because, although he is a huge horse, they don't come kinder or more generous than this horse.

Ms. McJimsey and NeverDull Ranch: I'm afraid you?ve have completely misunderstood my words. We often hear disparaging comments about Western horsemen, and I was suggesting to jumping and dressage owners that sending their youngsters to real cowboys is truly a viable option.