by Laura Crum
I read a blog post awhile ago that suggested that experienced horsemen should make an effort to help beginners. Since that tied in very neatly with my last month’s post, “Finding the Right Horse”, I thought I’d enlarge on that theme a little bit here, and bring up some more points.
First off, I’m pretty sure the writer of the blog post I read had good intentions. She’s an experienced horseman who used to be a horse trainer and she does have some good ideas. But in the light of my post on finding the right horse, I’m also sure you can imagine that my first thought was “Well, it’s a nice concept in theory but in practice it doesn’t always work out too well.”
There is a reason most of us experienced horsemen are loath to offer much advice, and it isn’t just that the advice is often ignored. Even well meant, experienced advice can cause more trouble than it solves. For instance, Nancy, the woman I wrote about in my post about finding a horse, declined to work with the experienced young trainer I introduced her to. When she then told me she was having problems with the horse that she chose to buy sans advice, I told her she needed an experienced horseman to help her. She said she had such a helper, and named a woman’s name—someone that had been introduced to me as a beginner about three years ago.
Well, OK, a person can learn a lot in three years—I’m not sure it makes you an experienced horseperson, though. What this woman is is someone who has a horse property, has chosen to take on boarders, and is happy to “help” these boarders. She has “horse camps” and the like of that. It could be fine, it could be great. She could also be ignorant as hell and do her boarders (and Nancy) no favors by “helping” them. I have no idea. And therein lies part of the problem.
What if I had been quite sure that I didn’t think much of Nancy’s “experienced helper”? I have blogged before about my dilemma when it came to recommending “Trainer Jane”, a trainer I don’t care for. But Jane is at least experienced. What if Nancy’s chosen helper is little more than a beginner herself (in my eyes) and liable to cause more problems than she solves. What do I say then? And will it do good or harm if I say it?
This is a very common scenario, since the people who are most likely to jump in and want to advise a beginner are very likely to be wanna-be trainers who know very little. Faced with an anxious mare being throttled with a hackamore and driven out of her mind with conflicting cues by an oblivious beginner rider, mr/ms wanna be trainer is perfectly likely to advise parking the mare’s butt hard and backing her up, and oh, let’s tighten that chin strap so she’ll pay attention to you. And yep, its just that sort of yahoo who most likes to proffer advice.
But our new rider isn’t in a position to decide who’s really knowledgable and who’s not. As a beginner, he/she has no tools to judge. So they take wanna-be trainer’s advice and just make things a whole lot worse. But maybe the beginner can’t see that. Is experienced horseman going to do some good by pointing out a better approach with the anxious horse?
I’m doubtful. Take the case of Harley, the ex-team roping horse I gave to a beginner. I try to provide support for this situation but I don’t have time to be a regular helper. The woman is now taking riding lessons from someone else and at first I thought yay—this is progress. Until I found out the new helper has told her to grain the horse. Harley is a QH, an easy keeper, tends to get fat, is no deadhead, and is with a beginner. Does this add up to no grain, or what? I said as much and then asked the owner why in the world her helper had said to grain the horse.
“Oh, she grains her horses,” was the response.
Well, I closed my mouth on how many different types of horses and pursuits and varying nutritional needs there are in the equine world and just said that I was real sure graining Harley was a mistake, and perhaps she should reconsider her new helper’s advice. She gave me a funny look and I saw right there that now she’s torn between her faith in her new “expert” helper and me, and doesn’t know which one she should trust.
And there you have it in a nutshell. Everybody’s an expert. Once we all start giving beginners advice, how are they to choose? One will tell them to use clicker training, and another will advocate “natural horsemanship”. A traditional horseman like me with many years of experience is just a stout middle aged lady who doesn’t train any more saying mildly that wanna be trainer who advises some pretty rough jerks on an anxious mare is probably going at it the wrong way—how is the poor beginner to know whom to listen to? I don’t look like much of an expert horseman, in my Ugg boots and cargo pants. Surely flashy young trainer has more experience?
OK, you see my point. There’s a reason most of us don’t like to give advice (and I actively avoid it), and that’s because it sometimes seems to do more harm than good. Not to mention unasked for advice on any subject can be downright offensive. However, its an interesting point and worth discussing. Have any of you been able to successfully advise beginners? Even if you’re not a horse trainer taking their money? Also, if you are a horse trainer, how do you establish that you are perhaps more knowledgable than the young flashy trainer kid down the street who uses some harsh methods? Especially when said flashy young kid wins a lot at shows. Because sadly—and I can attest to this from the days when I worked for horse trainers—some of those who use very harsh methods do win a lot—but they don’t, in general, make horses I would care to be around. Any tips?
And if you’re a beginner, how did you sort out whose advice was/is worth taking? Would you be grateful if someone like me proffered advice when I met you riding on the trail and thought you needed help, or would you be offended? I have to admit, when I see something that to me looks like a wreck waiting to happen, I am often torn. Should I offer my two cents worth? Or will I only infuriate the often already frustrated and confused beginner (who sometimes does not regard herself as a beginner) and just make things worse. What’s your take on it?