Sometimes, as a trainer, I find it difficult to pull off the balancing act that is part of my daily life.

Arthur and Pauline Coutts captured by George Caddy, 1939

I can give a horse or a rider the best I have to offer in the hour or so that I work with them.  I can be available by email or phone to answer questions or give support or provide suggestions.   But I’m just one influence among many and I have no control over what happens outside my watch.

Most of the time, I’m fine with that.  Other times, it’s harder.  If I think a rider or a horse is in danger, I will always say something.  But as an independent trainer, I often find myself a guest in other people’s barns alongside other people’s students and it’s part of my business to know what’s my business and what isn’t my business.

I try to be the person that students can come to with a question or concern, knowing that I won’t be critical but will try to help.  And I take it upon myself to keep my students safe, even if I have to say something they might not want to hear.  “It scares me when I see you walking right in front of your horse like that…if he spooks, you’ll probably get knocked down.”  Or “You know, the bandages go counterclockwise on the left and clockwise on the right.”

Still, most of the time, I’m silent.  I walk by horses put up in their stalls for the night, with no hay for the next 11 hours, and I know I’m looking at the perfect petri dish for ulcers.  Night check was at 6 or 7, and everything looked fine to the barn manager who went to bed, blissfully unaware and unthinking.

Or I pass by a horse getting tacked up in the aisle and watch him get slapped for pinning his ears when the girth gets tightened.  A teenager, repeating what she’s been told, looks at me and say, “He’s grumpy,” or “It’s just him,” and I’m forced to smile and say nothing.  Or I overhear a conversation in which someone says that his horse is footsore “because he just got trimmed,” as if that’s to be expected.  Or I’m privy to the boast that a horse that rears and flips over (when she’s not compulsively hitting her head on the top of the stall door) has been sold to someone out West, who’s going to breed her because she has such pretty markings.

My life never brings me in contact with the worst.  There’s no soring, or tongues tied to tails, or bicycle chain bits where I work.  Horses don’t get taken behind the barn and beaten, or tied to trees for the day, or thrown down in the sun with tarps over them for the afternoon, to “teach them who’s boss.”

But I still have to see lame horses in training and horizontal curbs and dead eyes.  There’s an endless procession of saddles that don’t fit and an equally endless procession of people who put their own needs or ambition before the needs of their horses.  The horses suffer silently.  My friend Abby Kogler has begun to tell some of their stories in her wonderful blog, Horses Don’t Cry. She’s saved a stream of them.  I’ve saved a few.  I know there are legions of people more devoted than I am to ending equine suffering.  But I like to think that in my own small way, I’ve made a difference.

Still, sometimes, no matter how much I try to balance things, the delicate balance that is the welfare of the horse in the company of man, is upended despite my best efforts.  And then, sometimes, I cry, even though the horses can’t.

Afterwards, when the tears have dried, I remember that it’s just another day in the horse world. My chance to show up as an advocate for the horse and as a teacher.  And continue my balancing act.