This morning, I’m thinking about how easy it is for trainers to get jaded — and how important it is not to let that happen.
We’re fixers by profession. We like to fix problems and improve the lives of horses and riders. We need to do so quickly, and we can never do it fast enough, in a realm where serious improvement only happens with time.
When it comes to fixing horses that come with a warning label — the horses we call “problem horses,” or “remedial horses,” or “horses with issues” — all of us are used to seeing problems where owners don’t see them. Oftentimes, the problems are with the owner, caused by the owner and reinforced by the owner. This happens so consistently that many trainers decide that all horse owners are, in fact, the problem. So they stop listening to anything horse owners have to say.
Woe to the perceptive horse owner who inherited a horse whose issues were caused by people who came before him, who has identified the nature of the problem but finds himself without the tools to fix it and then comes to one of us for help.
Because a lot of trainers assume their clients are wrong, blind, inexperienced or just plain ignorant. They listen politely and then put all the information in a mental shredder, going on to apply the program that works for them.
What a shame. Because those trainers lose the benefit of using a client’s experience and thoughts and instinct as a filter for what they see in the horse. The important things that can speed up a slow process gets tossed out because trainers, like clients, can be wrong, blind, inexperienced or just plain ignorant.
Every horse comes with a story. There’s the one that’s told by people, which is usually full of drama and exaggeration and proclamations of innocence. And then there’s the story the horse tells. And although the horse never lies, the horse is good at dissembling, as one might expect of a successfully domesticated prey animal. A good trainer should listen to both horses and their people, the way a good detective does — never discounting any information, looking for clues and using them to get to the truth as quickly as possible.
So if you’re a trainer, listen to what people have to say about their horses. Test the hypotheses. Every once in a while, you’ll be surprised at how it will help you — and the horse.