Monday, November 15, 2010

Helpful Hints You Can Ignore

In the Wild World of Horses, there are ample experts—many self-proclaimed and untested—whose advice a prospective horse owner can tap into online and elsewhere.  Some of the information bandied about is quite valid.  Tried-and-true methods of horse training and management are handed down like Aunt Hannah’s handmade quilt.  They may become a little dusty and tattered along the way, but they are no less valuable than the day they made some horse owner go “Finally!  I know how to get Tootsie Roll off my foot once and for all!” 

The internet has crumbled the edges of reality considerably, however, and sorting through the rubble can be time-consuming and even hazardous to one’s health and sanity.  Information junkie that I am, I have spent many, many hours reading, listening to, and verifying (or being unable to verify) tips I’ve been given.  When your barn buddy tells you something, you may or may not doubt the source depending on his status in your small group (see "Herd Dynamics are Your Friend").  When you're taking as gospel something you read online, you need to be a tad dubious.  Sometimes it pays to be just a little bit leery of anything that sounds as if it might have come from a free-range maven holding court on a horse website forum. 

In an effort to help bring some simple common sense to the situation, I would like to suggest these five as helpful tips you might want to ignore:

  1. Any training tip that begins with “horses always” or “horses never”.

If there is one thing any successful, experienced horse person will tell you, it’s that horses will surprise you at every opportunity.  The same horse that has never spooked at a flower box in his life will be happy to show you that he’s only been waiting for an appropriate moment to go full-on idiot in front of your friends, family and fellow competitors.  A horse who has always stood for the farrier will, when least expected, rear up and fling himself to the ground with a Shakespearean flourish.  You may train 200 horses to happily bend at the poll using draw reins only to have number 201 flip over and challenge you to a duel for even thinking of it. 

Mentally change that one to “horses often” or “horses may”.

If you're not convinced, check this article from The Horse called, appropriately, "Conformation Conundrums".   It's a single tip of a complex iceberg, but you'll get the picture.


  1. Any management rule that sounds too different from what you’ve been doing.

Unless you are a rank beginner with absolutely no knowledge of horse management or you’ve been just making it up as you go along, any suggestion that diverges at a steep angle from what you’ve been taught over the years deserves to be researched before you leap on (or off) the bandwagon.  For instance, there is a faction of horse owners who are very vocal in their opposition to regular vaccination against disease.  You may, after checking with your vets and other real experts, decide that you agree with those owners.  But any drastic change in your management plan can have a long-term effect on your horse, (and, by extension, your vet bills and your training budget) so be sure you know the whys and wherefores of the suggestion.

For instance, here's an article ("Sweets" ) from Science Daily that flies in the face of this article ("Food Rewards") from The Horse.  Both are based on current research, so what's a newbie to do?


  1. Any hint that begins with “the judge won’t like” or “the judge will love”.

Sure, there are basics that will impress a judge, but judges are people first.  Unless the person giving you the suggestion knows the judge personally or is standing next to you in the flesh assessing the competition,  it's safe to ignore their helpful hints.  I’ve spent enough time along the rail and in the ring to know that not everyone has your best interests at heart.  Use your head.  Watch a few classes and see for yourself what the judge does or does not like.  If you’re going to take online advice, make sure it’s coming from folks who are experienced and successful enough to be making such statements, not from strangers whose credentials may be limited or totally fake.


  1. Suggestions that appear to be in any way dangerous.

A good trainer will not push you to do things you are not happy doing or that you don’t feel safe with.  A good friend will not suggest that you do things that will put you or your horse in harm’s way.  If a fellow horseman--particularly a total stranger--makes fun of you for avoiding what you consider a hazard, you need to ignore the criticism and rethink your relationship with that person.  “Just beat him until he does it” falls into that category. So does “if you let him get away with that, he’ll never respect you again”.  There are gray areas in horse training where a feel for the horse and a little understanding of task analysis and horse psychology are valuable tools.  Sometimes you may need to turn to a pro--up close and personally--to get you past a hitch in your training program. 

Here's a little insight into how trainers can minimize (or maximize) the stress on you horse:  "Training the Trainers"  

You're on your own for your own hazard control.  Usually, if the horse isn't stressed at breaking, the rider won't be in nearly as much danger later no matter how idiotic his choices. 


  1. You get what you pay for.

In the horse world, this is not always the case, but you are likely to hear these words frequently.  Horse dealers use them a lot.  So do fellow competitors who paid too much for their horses or their training.  There are times when spending money is the best solution, but now that an auction horse that cost under $1000 has already made it to the Olympics, the wisdom of spending more than you can afford has to be questioned.  Good-quality tack can be moderately priced, and you are generally safe in avoiding the big-name imprints unless you're buying second hand and online.  Yes, you will pay a higher price for better quality, but there is a break-over point at which the quality stops improving and only the cachet continues to rise.  You don’t need to be trendy or spend huge amounts of money to be successful.  You only need to define success in terms you can manage.

Change that one to "An educated shopper is more likely to get what he paid for."

I’m sure there are more than just these five tips that could stand to be avoided, but if you can get this list under control, the others will become more apparent.  You have nothing to lose by applying common sense to your horse life and everything to gain!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article. There are a zillion catch phrases that mislead a beginner.One I find to be tried & true tho is- The more metal you put between your hands & your horse's mouth-the less communication you will have with your horse. JMO as a 35+ yr trainer.