Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Predictable Problems

                                                by Laura Crum

            There are some horse blogs that I follow in random ways—just checking in from time to time out of curiosity. For whatever reason, I didn’t become “addicted” to the blog—maybe the blogger’s way of working with/thinking about horses is just too different from mine, maybe I left a comment or two and got no response, maybe I don’t care for the writing style…whatever. To be frank, the biggest reason is usually that I get the sense the person is headed for a trainwreck with her horse, and I know perfectly well that she doesn’t want my advice, and I can’t stand to watch. So I don’t keep track of the blog in the way that I do the bloggers I have really connected with. But I will look at these other blogs from time to time—just out of curiosity. And almost inevitably there eventually comes the result that I expected.
            The horse dumps the rider, and/or the horse’s behavior gets worse and worse, the rider becomes afraid of the horse. Sometimes the owner/rider gets hurt, sometimes she is just unhappy. The horse is either sold or put into training. Sometimes the professional training works, sometimes it doesn’t solve the problem. But it is ALWAYS the case that the owner realizes that her initial “I’ve found just the right horse and I’m going to have so much fun,” assessment was a little off. And the sad thing is that many experienced horsemen could have accurately predicted this result from the get go.
            I know, I know, I’ve said this before, but I will say it one more time in the hopes that it will help someone to have a happier life with horses. Unless you have had a good deal of experience training horses, or you plan to work for several years with a trainer, don’t choose a green horse—unless, that is, that you are prepared for some risk of life and limb, and willing to persevere through this. By green horse I mean a horse less than eight years old, or a horse that has had less than four years of steady, competent riding—doing the thing that you intend to do with the horse. If you do choose a green horse, just be very sure you are up for some drama. Because no matter how mellow that young horse seems when you first get him, there is a 90% chance (really, seriously) that you will be dealing with some very exciting/scary moments with the horse in the years to come. If you’re up for that, Ok then.
            What I have seen over and over again, is the only mildly experienced horseperson—has ridden quite a bit, but has not trained very many horses, if any—chooses a pleasant four-year-old (or three year old, or six year old…you get my drift). And the usual pattern goes like this: first six months go well, next six months not quite as well, between a year and two years the horse has developed some serious problems. He dumps rider, or scares rider, he consistently is difficult for rider/owner to deal with. And then we get to the send-to-the-trainer and/or sell point.
            The most constant feature of this story is that rider/owner has a huge list of reasons why things have gone this way. Horse has health/soreness/emotional problems, horse has had to move barns, owner hasn’t had enough time to spend with horse…etc. It is very rare for the owner to actually realize that she should not have chosen a young/green horse. And yet this is the usual problem spelled out in simple terms. And it’s common as dirt.
            I myself have trained many, many young horses. My two retired horses, Gunner and Plumber, were trained exclusively by me and became very competitive in their events and never once dumped me. I know the game. But after taking several years off from riding in my forties, I’m perfectly aware that now, in my fifties, my skills are similar to those not-that-experienced horse people I’m talking about. The difference is that I know better than to pick a young/green horse to ride these days. I choose those solid older horses that I would recommend to less experienced horsemen. And it has worked out quite nicely for me. No drama, no dumping, no fear…just a pleasant life with horses.
            Those of you who are young and willing to take your lumps (or older and willing to take your lumps, for that matter), I get it. More power to you. I have watched some of you turn around very difficult green horses through sheer persistence (via the internet), and make good partners out of them, and I applaud you. I was once in your camp, but I’m not any more. However to the very many of you (me included) who don’t want those “scary” or frustrating moments with a horse, I have one thing to say to you. Quit buying young/green horses. You’ll be a lot happier.
            (As always, I welcome dissenting opinions. I learn a lot from people who disagree with me.)


Beth said...

Where we you when I bought a 2yo filly for her color?... and her sweet disposition?... Your story is my story... the timeline is spot on. Last spring she dumped me... twice! After a very successful first year of pleasant riding, she realized she was a green horse and so did I. I did end up selling her and had a terrible time trusting my well-seasoned trail horse after my experiences with her. I'm back to riding my faithful 11yo gelding and trusting him again. I will not go down that road ever again.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which blogs you might be talking about, but if I wrote one, I would most certainly have written posts exactly like that.

At one time I was much younger and a much better rider than I am now. I've started several horses in my past, worked with trainers and had very good success. Almost 8 years ago, I got a rescued weanling who was probably a bit sensitive and anxious by nature, but got even worse after he was shot once, accidentally wounded another time and gelded. All of which required some stall rest and other annoying things he didn't like. I didn't plan on starting him, but things happened that I didn't plan on, including having my trainer die.

I still thought I was okay with training him, after all, my previous horse had been an OTTB that I showed as a hunter/jumper. This guy was "just" a western pleasure bred horse whose mother was only 14.3. He grew into a 16h athletic horse who hated me, after all, I was the one who did all the bad stuff to him. I broke a couple of bones one year (not related to horses) and had other health problems that stretched into 2 years. At the same time, I had to have my old TB put down, and I didn't ride much for over 2 years. Still, I knew what I was doing, I started working with him, got him saddled, got on him. Nothing bad happened, but I realized I just didn't want to do this anymore. I did find someone to ride him for me for a while, but I never liked riding him, until this year. Now he's eight, he seems like a different horse. I could always feel the tension, even through a western saddle. Now he's where I hoped we would be.

Knock on wood, I think he'll turn out to be a good horse for me, even if I need a mounting block. But I know for sure, I wouldn't do it again. I think I would like an old halflinger.

Alison said...

Laura, as always I enjoy your posts! You are the same place as I am in our riding 'non-careers.' But as a youngun, I wanted a challenge, could only afford green horses (that I hoped would turn into something special), and often found that older, supposedly sane horses came with sneaky problems created by their previous crazy or inexperienced riders. You and Sunny have found great partners in each other, but you have mentioned before that he came with problems that you were fortunately equipped to handle. So let's face it, riders need LOTS of time working with and riding different horses before taking on a new horse.

Chawse8 said...

Laura, I agree with you completely. And about 15 years ago, I got to the point where I didn't want to purchase someone else's train wreck anymore, so I bred my the two horses that I have now ( along with their mother), and I raised and trained them. At one point they each got to go to a good trainer/friend, who I prefer to think of as a therapist, to help us overcome some family issues, bad little habits, pushing each other's buttons. That kind of things. Because even after riding for 50 years ( yeah I started prenatal, ha ha) I still could use a lesson, or eyes on the ground, from time to time, and always welcome a little coaching .It's always a good idea to bring another such person with you when you go horse shopping, the person who says, "Well yeah, they have great color, but what about that big huge lump on the front coronet band?" or "they seem really nice right now, but how come every one of the halters has big giant holes where the buckle goes in, like as if someone pulls back when they are tied". Such friends or persons, playing the devils advocate, are worth their weight in gold. I went with a friend one time to go horse shopping, after her previous horses dumped the entire family and broke her collar bone. Kudos to her for sticking with it, and seeking help. We managed to search through the ads and through dumb luck, she came across a very well known local show mare, beautiful, seasoned, and trained to the nines. When I realized who the horse was, I encouraged her, that if she could afford to, write the check immediately. I had to broker a deal with the owner, who was reluctant to sell to a greenie family.. the deal was, the horse would not come home until the family received lessons from the owner for at least 2 months, on the proper care of this fine horse. The horse stayed in that family for about 15 years, until she just recently passed away. Thanks for your blog!

Unknown said...


I actually just bought a horse, mainly because for once in my life I wanted a horse that was not someone else's problem child.

My main horse, the one I ride all the time, I purchased as a 10 year old, but wasn't smart enough o realize his issues. Now we have spent years working through them and great progress has been made. However I am no horse trainer. I struggle with knowing what I am doing, or knowing what I am feeling for.

The horse I bought is even older. She is 15 and very very well trained. One of my friends said I was making a mistake buying this older horse. Said I would not win anything on her because she is too old. I had to laugh. He has completely different goals than I do. I want to learn to ride better, on a horse that does not have mental baggage to get past, that will keep me safe, that already knows its job. One that I can compete on for fun at a completely novice level. I believe that I am going to have a ton of fun on this mare, but my main goal is to take what I learn from riding her and transfer it to my gelding.

When I was looking at different horses, I did look at some younger ones. But like you, I have no desire to deal with a green horse, or even worse, a broken horse. I've had enough of those. But I had to go through those bad choices to get smart about what I really need.

Good Post

Mrs. Mom said...

I had to giggle a bit Laura... because sitting in the paddock next to my older, well started, fairly reliable, utterly predictable mobile red couch is The X Factor. He's younger, had a bad start, but coming along slowly and all I can think is...."Yeaaaahhh.. I'm too old for this crap!!" LOL Bless little Tater's heart though, the more time we "chill" together, the calmer he is, so I am hopeful we won't have any wrecks- small or large- once I manage to crawl up on him and start putting on the miles.

As always, loved the post!

Mel said...

I agree with you. Ironically im picking up a two year old this weekend but uts with the hope that she will be a solid mount four or five years down the road when my current older solid mount needs to retire. Im hoping the combination of that older mount combined with the fact im willing to get help sooner rather than later means my story has a happy ending. Im young enough I still bounce but old enough this night be my last youngin. Im actively competing so my situation is a bit different from yours but our goal is the same. A fun safe ride on mounts that stay healthy sound and happy as long as possible

Funder said...

Yep. I see it all the time online, and I have seen it twice so far at my current barn.

I'm one of those stubborn idiots who actually worked through the whole thing with the green horse, and I would not change a single thing about what I did with Dixie - but I don't know if I'd do it again. I wonder, all the time, what on earth I'll do when it's time to get a younger remount. Will I go green and stubborn again, or will I get really picky and try to find something that's a little more broke? At least I've (probably) got years left to figure that one out. ;)

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Well, Mocha was started but still pretty green when I got her. However, not only did I have trainer access, but I'd been riding training horses in lessons so I felt pretty comfortable riding her (hey, I was her first rider in ten months on the tryout ride...didn't know that until afterward, thankfully! And she was MUCH better than her brother).

That said, my childhood horse was a half-finished bronc. That ended up all right, and gave me the foundation seat I have now. I wouldn't buy another one like her, but she was a good horse for the rider I was at the time, and I've yet to sit anything in my adult re-riding life that could buck like that mare did.

Still, I want a horse with discipline and a good mind that's had at least 120 days under saddle. I'd almost prefer finishing a youngster to reforming an older horse with issues. Note the "finishing"...I'm not inspired to get a horse I have to start.

(Yeah, I own a nice, well-bred mare. I. Am. Not. Breeding. Her. Definitely don't want to necessarily start even her baby)

Unknown said...

I know, double commenting...

But something I keep thinking of that you said keeps picking at me.

Its that part about blaming the horses issues for everything except the real problem. I agree that sometimes that is the case. But some times, like in the case of my paint, they really are a product of their former life, or have health issues which cause the problems. I think when a person finds them selves against a brick wall dealing with a particularly difficult horse and nothing is working, you HAVE to start examining what is behind the behavior. Is the horse just rank, or is there something that is setting him off? Has the horse just been allowed to be rude and pushy, or was his mind blown by some really bad handling?

Just my opinion

Val said...

I purposely bought an eight-year old horse for that very reason. No drama please, and I was in my twenties, had ridden quite a few green horses in lessons over the years and had lots of confidence. I wanted to make sure, as best I could, that I would not have to part with a horse I loved because I couldn't handle him myself.

Even with a little bit older horse, there will most likely be some sort of training challenge. At least maturity is on your side when that happens.

I am always surprised when an owner-to-be talks about how calm this particular young horse is. And those future owners are almost always older than me and, IMO, less gutsy. I have seen and read about stories like the one you describe many times. Go figure.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you all for the comments. I am really busy with my current garden project (see previous post) so can't reply as much as I would like. But good points everybody. It is only too true that buying an older horse with established issues or soundness problems is every bit as frustrating (if not more) that dealing with a green horse. At least with the green horse (if he is sound and not "messed up" mentally) you have a chance of a good finished product, especially if you get help. If you are willing to work with a trainer (that you trust) as much as is needed, that really changes the equation. Still, even so, you must be up for dealing with those "drama moments" that young horses will inevitably provide.

Funder and Dixie are an admirable example of what persistence (and choosing a horse that's a good match for you) can do. It wasn't easy, and I don't think Funder will hate me if I say that she wasn't an experienced horse trainer (at least to begin with), and Dixie was green AND had issues. It took a lot of time and Funder and Dixie both had to take a few rough knocks. But it worked. Again, it can work if you are a good match at heart, and the rider is willing to persist (for years) and willing to take a few lumps. In my case, I'm not willing to work that hard or take those lumps any more. But I was once that person, and I did that work, and I do understand that it can be SO worth it if you are willing.

Allenspark Lodge said...

One of the oldest horse trainer equations I've ever heard:

Green and green equals black and blue.

I'm a proof to that equation.


Laura Crum said...

I would like to add that I in no way mean to detract from the person who chooses a young/green horse with the clear expectation and understanding of what she is getting into. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to sneer at this approach--since I spent my twenties and thirties breaking and training horses. I was not a professional, but I did a good job with most of them--or so I think. But at the time I was OK with some drama and the possibility of hitting the ground. Now I'm not liking that stuff.

Mostly what I'm talking about here is the naive expectation that I see quite often in many people who are horse shopping. They can ride reasonably well and though they have never trained a young horse they don't see why they can't. And it's true--they can. With persistence and a willingness to get help and most of all, the ability not to be daunted by drama and hitting the ground. The thing is, most of these gals just don't realize that the sweet four year old they've chosen will have plenty of scary drama moments--they aren't prepared for this and they are not happy about it. These are the people who should look for a safe, sane, proven horse. I know--not always easy to find--but they are out there.