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My Horse is Spoiled

15 August 2011 No Comment

My Horse is Spoiled
Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura

Long story short. I have two-year old TN walking horse gelding (I have owned him since he was four-months-old) who is currently in professional training He has been there a little over two weeks. He is basically spoiled…. Carrying things with his mouth, untying his lead ropes, opening gates…etc….the trainer says I have spent too much time with him, talking etc¤treating him “like a dog”. The trainer is says the horse does fine with his work until a woman comes around, then he is “all over himself”. He says he will make a great horse, has a great saddle gate but he feels he may be better suited to a male rider. I am a green rider (so I know already I need an older, calmer horse, but he has no other bad habits, kicking, biting, etc¤and I have a comfort level with him (could that make it even more dangerous?) And I have only had less than one year of weekly riding lessons. I owned a pony as a child, but that was 24 years ago (I am now 29). The problem is, my heart won’t let my head believe I need to sell him. I love him dearly and don’t think I can bear to part with him. At the same time I am not a wealthy person and can’t afford to keep him and another riding horse. Common sense says to sell him and buy another horse but I do love him so, any suggestions? I hate to let a good horse go and end up with something worse. Part of me wants to just keep him and have a “pet” even if I’m not able to ride him. I know this is insane. Somebody help me please!!!!…Thanks for any insight you might be able to offer.
Hi Michelle, Although it sounds like you may have indulged your young horse and maybe let him position himself in your “herd-of-two” with you in the role of playmate instead of herd leader, it certainly does not sound to me like you have a major dilemma on your hands in terms of keeping this horse instead of selling him if you are willing to change the way you do things and find the correct help. Your gelding is just acting his age and what he needs in his life right now is a confident, consistent leader to follow and learn social behavior from. Right now, the trainer is filling that role. With the correct guidance from a trainer that is patient, consistent and clear in their instruction, you can be taught at the same time with your gelding. You need to be taught how to be clear, concise, consistent and perhaps a bit more firm at times with your young horse and change your positioning with him, but that’s really not a difficult task to accomplish with the correct guidance.

I have been specializing in teaching/training, green horse/novice owner combinations for over 20 years, so I see very positive possibilities where other trainers may see no possibilities at all. First let me say that I would not recommend that your two-year-old gelding be in mounted training right now. Foundation ground level training is fine at his age and can and should include leading, tying, standing quietly for grooming, the farrier and the veterinarian, lunging without tack and then with tack after he has become accustomed to it and also ground driving. That’s about as far as I would go with a horse that is two and maybe somewhat “baby-brained” as it sounds like your guy might be. Nothing wrong with acting likes a baby at two because he is a baby. And, since we should always be doing our training geared toward the individual that we are working with, we must do whatever is best for that particular horse and I don’t feel that at two, horses should be in “serious” mounted training. It’s just too hard on them mentally and when I say “baby-brain”, let me also say that I have met 10-year-old horses, and even older, that are baby-brains and for that reason, those horses had to be brought along more slowly. The other reason that I would not be riding this horse at his age is because I don’t believe in doing “serious” training until a horse is at least four, if not five or six-years-old. No horse, no matter how mature they look physically, is developed completely skeletally until they are six, and for some, it’s not until they are seven or eight-years-old. I have seen the physical and mental damage inflicted on horses that are started too hard, too young and I am totally against starting horses in “serious” mounted training when they are two or three for those reasons. By “serious”, I mean the career that the horse will have in life.

If you can hook-up with a trainer that believes that green horses and novice owners can become partners, you will have a great opportunity to become educated right along with your horse. This is the best way as far as I’m concerned because contrary to what most people think and say, horses, even young ones, can be highly forgiving of human mistakes as long as the mistakes are corrected right away before they become a habit. That’s where having a knowledgeable, patient, clear and consistent trainer comes into play. By teaching you together, the right trainer can monitor your progress, teach you and your horse at the same time and in this way, everyone is “on the same page” on the learning path. I rarely take “just the horse” in training because horses and I don’t have any trouble whatsoever communicating and training progresses smoothly. Many times what happens is that a trainer takes just the horse in training and even if the owner does participate by taking a handful of lessons, what you will still end up with is a horse that is more educated then the owner. That is not a “good thing” as far as I’m concerned. Mutual respect, trust and a partnership should be built with both parties actively participating together. It really doesn’t matter what I can accomplish with a horse. What matters is that the horse and their human (the owner, although I think that most horses think they own us and they’re probably right to an extent!) establish a mutually trusting, respectful and harmonious relationship and that relationship begins at the ground level and it begins with the horse and owner training together. I say right up front to potential clients when they inquire about lessons/training for themselves and their young horse that I can only be as enthusiastic and interested in the training as the owner is. If the owner is just beginning on the learning-path as well, they must be prepared for the training to take longer then if I were just training their horse for them because I will be teaching two novice/green students at the same time; the horse and the human. This takes consistent, systematic training with a program that I tailor for the individuals involved. I will guide the twosome every step of the way, but there will be “homework” in between lessons that the owner and their horse will work on. If mistakes are made when the horse and owner are working on their own, we will correct them during their next lesson and before they become a habit. If the owner is not able or willing to commit themselves to working with and spending time with their horse in a combination of lessons and on their own at least 4 days a week, then this combination does not have as good a chance of forming a successful partnership. The more time that an owner can spend with their horse, and it doesn’t even have to be a “serious” training session such as saddling, lunging or grooming, the better the chances of this partnership developing positively are. Any time we are around our horses, we ARE training them, so this means that even if you just come up and turn your horse out in the arena, you are interacting with your 2-year-old and thus, you are training him. Whether that training will be positive or negative is up to you, your horse and your teacher and your teacher should be monitoring what you are doing with your horse even when you aren’t taking a lesson on that particular day. I believe that this is one of the reasons that many trainers do not teach green horse/novice owner combinations; it takes a lot more time and commitment from them and they either don’t have the time for it, the commitment for it, or the inclination for it. Nothing wrong with that as long as the trainer is honest regarding why they don’t train these combinations. Through the years, I’ve had many people with their young horses in training that were told by other trainers that they needed to sell their youngster because they would never have a successful relationship. Probably about 95% of the time, I’ve successfully helped these combinations develop a great partnership and the times that I have not succeeded were usually because the owners circumstances changed and the time couldn’t be spent interacting with and training their horse consistently.

So basically, the answer to your question to me is yes, I do think that you can keep your horse and have a good chance at a positive and successful relationship. However, I will qualify that statement by saying that your relationship will only be as positive as the quality, consistency and attention that you get from a good teacher/trainer who is interested and educated enough to teach green horse/novice owner combinations and also how committed YOU are to the training. If you can’t be consistent, clear and take as much time as it takes to work with your two-year-old as he then turns three and then four and then five, then you need to be honest with yourself and realize that this may not work. I don’t feel that it would be fair to keep your horse as a “pasture pet” that grows older with no manners, structure or correct social skills. You wouldn’t be doing your horse any favors by letting that happen. However, if you are committed and you can find the type of trainer that I have described, I believe that you will do fine. Only you know what is in your heart and how committed you are to learning and teaching your horse correctly.

From what people tell me, trainers like myself who specialize in these types of combinations are few and far between, but I do believe that there are many of us out here who are devoted to, and interested enough, to want to educate the horse and human together. You just have to be willing to look hard for us!

Good Luck!

Laura Phelps-Bell

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