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Pick The Right Partner To Train Your Horse

It's been said over and over but it bears repeating. When you select a horse trainer it's important that you choose the best possible partner option for the individual horse. 

The wonderful Majik WVH, homebred sired by Maronjo out of a Grande mare was the first horse we ever sent out for training. The trainer later bought him and competed him and kept him until he was well over 20 years old.

If you have a sloth like gelding, that simply doesn't get excited about much in life, then the choice of who can start and train the horse is much wider than if you have a young mare that has had plenty of handling but that has not seen much of the world and has been closely bonded with one individual or two individuals over her life time.

Mares are commonly more difficult to start than a gelding, hormones and their intuition and instinct are key reasons why a mare must be asked to do something not told. If they don't trust you and regard you as being 51% in charge of them on the ground, then they certainly are not going to magically change when you ask them to work under saddle.

The trainer you select to start a horse should have lots of experience doing just that. The process of building trust, lots of solid work on the ground before mounting, knowing when to stop work and not mentally (or physically) overtiring the horse, and the ability to work through challenges with a box of training tools that can overcome any mental blocks the horse may have are all components of a good trainer.

An advanced rider may know well how to ride and show an advanced horse, but may have little experience starting horses themselves. The business of bringing a horse happily under saddle requires being happy with small, baby steps of progress and an ability to make those 'asks' small and always return to what the horse knows if things start to go backwards.

It actually takes a lot of patience, quiet but assertive manner and sincere knowledge of body movements and attention to the tiniest of details to train a young horse from start to finish.

All too often, trainers are anxious to garner the loyalty of their clients and put much needed money in their pockets by taking on tasks that are beyond their experience and compatibility. When you add in a timeline expectation, a hard and fast ' by 30 days work the horse should be doing this,' the trainer literally works with their hands tied behind their backs. In fact when horse training, it is always difficult when training a horse at any level for an owner to manage the owner's expectations of the progress of the horse.

It is the horse that determines the pace of training together with the knowledge and experience of the trainer working with that particular type of horse. Not the check book of the owner. 

A horse will always tell you what they think of the trainer by their behavior. Even when you are not there to supervise the training and have working students that are keen to work with the horses, you have to be extremely careful who you let do what and when. We always work the horses in training ourselves and rarely give them over to students to ride. If we do, it is under our direct supervision. 

This necessarily means that my husband and myself can't take on large numbers of horses for training at once. But at least the ones we do take in we are confident that we can do a proper job for them and give them the attention and focus they deserve.

For the same reason I do not like others to handle my horses unless I am certain of their ability to complete the task the way I want it handled. It doesn't mean that the person is incompetent around horses, in many cases they may be very capable. But with youngstock the opportunity for the horse to challenge the handler in any situation and become 'undone' as a result of how the matter is resolved, is highly likely. This means that when I come home or back to the barn, I now have a horse that needs retraining or that has learned to act up with new people. I have to take the time to allow others to handle the horses under my supervision so that I can see they know what to do when, and advise them if the need arises what action to take.

This might seem super controlling, and it perhaps it is. But trust is a two way street with a horse, and it is imperative that everyone knows what they are doing. Of course for many trainers they want a large client base and freedom to travel and compete so it is inevitable that the daily handling and training of horses at the barn will be left to staff. But how those staff are trained is very important for the well-being of the horse.

We have sent a handful of horses out for training/starting under saddle over the years when we were busy with breeding Hanoverians and had a lot of youngsters on the ground, and it has never worked out well. They come back with issues that they did not have before they left, and we have to figure them out. We perhaps picked the wrong people, or are just plain fussy. It is hard to know how a trainer will work with a particular horse, when there are so few trainers out there that are experienced specifically in starting young horses. Especially horses that are bred for advanced competition, that are tall and full of big gaits and lots of power. Intelligent horses with athletic talent are often harder and more challenging to start than those that are lower on the scale in regard to both mental and physical aptitude. Many superstar horses began life being very difficult to ride and offered sincere challenges to even the most experienced of trainers.

I am not alone in the experience of not find it easy to choose the right trainer. Word of mouth recommendations are best, but talking with others in the industry can also yield biased input. 

At a recent regional dressage championship I was chatting with a group of organizers after a long day and mentioned one of the sporthorse handlers I had seen earlier in the day and said I liked how he conducted himself. To my surprise one of the organizers (another breeder in the group) shook her head and said quiet enough for our entire group to hear," No. Don't use him. We want our horses to be good dressage horses. He is too rough." So yes, perhaps I am not the best judge!!

In any event it always pays to listen to what the horse is telling you. If the trainer is overwhelming the horse or becomes frightened of the horse then the progress is going to go backwards fast. Always trust your gut if it comes to making a selection of a trainer. Do your due diligence. 

It's a lot easier to do it right in the first place than to have to fix it later and the horse's well-being and happiness is a buck that stops with you.

Nikki and one of the many horses WVH imported, this one from Verden Elite auctions..


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