This week I’m going to get a little more personal. If you know me, I’m a fairly young trainer. I am just starting out my career, relatively speaking, and I do things a bit differently than a lot of trainers. I believe every horse should be in pasture, regardless of situation, and I believe that everything starts on the ground. These differences can make it slightly difficult and frustrating to run my business since I am constantly explaining to those that claim to put their horse first how they are failing to actually do so. However, it is also what inspires and drives me to continue.
Over the years I have received a lot of criticism for putting my horses out in pasture. People ask if I’m worried they will get hurt or why they are skinny, fat, etc. The fact is, when you put your horse out in pasture you lose some control. I think this is what scares people. Yes, horses do get hurt in pasture. I’ve also seen horses get hurt in stalls. Yes, it is harder to control diet, cleanliness, and health because your horse is mixed in with a group of others all sharing resources and space. However, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages.
In pasture horses may not be pristine, they may come in with nicks and scrapes, and they may not be the ideal weight, but they are mentally healthier. Although many people have been taught not to recognize a mental distraught, shut down, or depressed horse, most stalled horses exhibit these health issues. Just as with people, mental health is just as important as physical health in horses. As an industry we need to start recognizing this, and I am happy to be on the forefront of that change.
I would much rather have a mentally stable, happy horse in less than perfect physical health, than a horse in perfect physical health, but mentally a wreck. That isn’t to say I don’t care about the horse’s physical health. I am constantly trying to improve the care I can provide to my horses. However, I have to refuse to sacrifice the horse’s mental health for sake of appearance. After all, it’s what the horse wants.
I am also a strong believer in groundwork. If your horse is stiff, spooky, not attentive, struggles with the left lead canter, chances are you can fix it on the ground.I know everyone wants to ride, but my job as a trainer is to do the work people don’t want to do and educate them about the work they need to do. That means groundwork.
I know I turn a lot of people off by insisting they work their horse on the ground instead of riding or refusing to ride the horse myself. However, if there is a missing piece that was never explained to the horse it is is a disservice to skip it and ride anyway. We all owe our horses a proper education so they understand what we are asking of them. All the horses really want is clarity. As a self-proclaimed advocate for the horse, I owe that to the horse.
One of the hardest things about training, and one of the reasons many of the best trainers don’t take horses in for training, is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes to produce the horse everyone wants. It takes months of groundwork and waiting for the horse to let go, figure something out, or try something new. People want results and the long way really is the fast way in the end.
I love sharing with others how such seemingly insignificant work can make a huge difference, but it takes people willing to give me the time and freedom to get to those moments. As a young trainer I can’t be too picky, so I have to educate people as I go to advocate for the horse. I take these small wins and try my best not to sacrifice what I know is right for the horse.
These differences can make it hard as a relatively young trainer. Often when people disagree with me they assume it is because I don’t know what I’m talkin about. I am discredited or written off. There are so many well-known trainers who do things differently than me that I’m constantly fighting an uphill battle to educate. This can be very frustrating for me, but I decided to embrace it. I’ve decided to embrace that I’m a little bit different and use those differences to push education and advocate for the horse. After all, that’s why I chose this profession in the first place.
I hope I don’t come off as seeming like a close minded know-it-all. I’m not trying to say that I know everything or that I know better than everyone else. There are quite a few people training with the same ideals in mind and there is a ton left for me to learn. As much as I want to educate other people, I also want to educate myself. I have a thirst for knowledge that will never be quenched and I want to learn as much as I can about horses, horsemanship, and training so that I can become an even better advocate for the horse and provide even better information for anyone I encounter. As a community the more we strive to learn and implement what we learn, the better off the horse will be. Sometimes it just takes a little bravery not to yield to the masses and to do things a bit differently.