I was having a conversation the other day that led to us talking about trainer tune-ups and realized this was something I really needed to share with everyone.
So first off, what do I mean when I say “trainer tune-up”? I’m talking about the traditional show ring training program where the trainer rides the horse 5 times a week and the owner rides once or twice a week in lessons. They often call these rides “tune-ups” and claim your $100,000 horse needs them to maintain the training he had when you bought him. The theory behind this is that the horse is constantly learning and your poor riding is going to ruin the horse if the trainer isn’t riding him at least twice as often as you are.
Now I will say there is some merit to this. If a horse is constantly ridden by a sloppy amateur over time he will get dull to the aids and used to moving in the sub par manner his amateur rider allows him to move in. However, this is something a weekly ride could keep on top of and fix.
If a horse is properly trained to be a willing participant in rides it only takes the occasional (once a week at a maximum) trainer ride to maintain the horse’s ability to correctly carry himself and keep him from learning to be too heavy on the aids.
If the horse is getting duller and once a week is not enough than either the horse isn’t willing or the rider is at a low enough level that the horse cannot be sensitive due to the rider’s inability to separate aids. In this case I would allow the horse to brace and be slightly dull so that he has the appropriate walls in place to handle his low level rider.
However, very few show barns will allow a horse to only get a once a week training ride, no matter how well trained or expensive the horse was.
The real reason trainers want to ride your horse five days a week is to maintain the horse’s fear of disobeying or acting out. Most show horses are taught that they must accept whatever fate they are handed and they are not allowed to have an opinion even when their sides are kicked out with spurs and their mouths ripped on with twisted bits.
Part of the problem is that riders are not taught how to really ride before being put on expensive high quality show horses. The horses get wiggly, inconsistent, and difficult to ride for the sloppy amateurs that really have no business riding this kind of horse yet. The trainers are tasked with fixing the problem so they strap on a pair of spurs and a bigger bit, maybe even a martingale or training device, to compensate for the amateur’s lack of riding skills. A better solution would be to buy a more suitable horse or let the horse learn to brace and get dull to the aids in order to protect himself while the rider becomes a better rider.
However, most owners both don’t want their horse to become dull and have no desire to really improve their riding. In that case the trainer has no choice but to recommend more equipment. By upping the ante with the amateur the horses will tend to become frustrated and angry. Now they are facing even more pressure with just as much confusion. In order to solve that problem the trainers get even bigger with the horse and he learns that putting a foot wrong has very big consequences.
This doesn’t teach the horse to willingly listen to aids or be a partner, it shuts the horse down and teaches him that he has no voice. If he dissents he faces even more pressure so it is better to buckle down and go along with things.
In order for this system to work someone has to keep reinforcing the horse’s fear of misbehaving. Since the amateur isn’t going to do this, the trainer needs to ride consistently. If the horse doesn’t consistently get in a lot of trouble for misbehaving he will eventually start to rebel against the system. This is the real reason trainers need to ride your horse 5 times a week: to force your horse to continue to comply.
Every time these horses are being ridden by trainers they are being systematically shut down. When you look in the horses’ eyes you can see the pain and fear radiating from them. And yet these horses continue to sell for top dollar and this training system continues to be the gold standard in the equestrian world.
It is time we open up our eyes and see what is really happening. The only reason a trainer should have to ride a horse 5 times a week is if the trainer is teaching the horse new skills or keeping the horse in shape for an owner that cannot make it to the barn regularly to ride the horse herself. Nine times out of ten this is not what is happening in your show barn. Trainer “tune-ups”, although very prevalent in the horse world, need to become a thing of the past and riders need to learn to ride better. After all, there is no short cut to good riding that doesn’t sacrifice the horse.