How Do I Know A Horse Trainer Isn't Milking Me?By Jeffrey Rolo
Many horse owners dread sending their horse away to a horse trainer almost as much as a parent would dread sending a child to daycare, and for good reason: it's a very big decision! Select the right horse trainer and your horse could flourish, whereas if you select the wrong trainer your equine buddy could experience poor treatment, pick up bad habits, or simply show little results for the money you're paying the trainer.
As such, it's probably no surprise that a common question among horsemen is: how do I know I have the right horse trainer? How do I know my horse trainer isn't milking me for everything I'm worth?
Obviously I can't tell you if your horse trainer is working efficiently or is milking you, but I can provide some general advice that can better help you make that determination.
Does The Horse Trainer Practice Natural Horsemanship?
Although some would not view this as a requirement, if you have read other areas of this site it will come as no surprise to you that I place a high value on natural horsemanship. The best trainers understand that all training, regardless of type, starts on the ground first. Before you saddle a horse, you must develop a working relationship and a bond of trust.
Of course with the popularity of natural horsemanship nowadays, the good majority of horse trainers will quickly affirm they practice such techniques. So how do you know if they really do?
Knowledge Is Power
You don't need to be a horse trainer yourself to understand the basics of horse training and/or natural horsemanship. You will be far more susceptible to unscrupulous horse trainers if you don't possess an understanding of natural horsemanship than you would if you did gain familiarity with some of the techniques commonly used.
So even if you lack the time or confidence to try the techniques out on your horse before sending him to a horse trainer, gain a mental understanding of them anyways by studying websites such as AlphaHorse or picking up instructional videos and books from popular natural horsemen such as John Lyons or Clint Anderson.
If you understand natural horsemanship and the ground techniques used to develop a bond with a horse, you'll better be able to detect whether a horse trainer is being genuine when he professes to use natural horsemanship.
Would You Want To Work With The Horse Trainer?
It's perfectly acceptable to chat and ask a horse trainer questions before making any purchasing decisions, and you would be crazy not to do so. This chat should ideally be a mutual conversation rather than a simple Q&A session, since you want to try to get a general feel for a horse trainer's demeanor and overall philosophy towards horses and life in general. One of the things you'll want to judge during this initial conversation is how open and relaxed the trainer is. If conversation seems stilted, and/or the trainer appears to be wound as tightly as a top or abrupt, that's a major red flag.
Trainers need to have a naturally positive, relaxed demeanor to experience the best results. Negativity or excessive intensity breeds fear or distrust within a horse, so at best a negative outlook exhibited by a horse trainer will slow down the training process and keep the horse on edge; at worst it can actually make a horse develop a mistrust for humans or pick up bad habits.
The bottom line is if you find yourself having trouble relating to a horse trainer, there's a good chance your horse will too.
Ask The Trainer To Briefly Work With A Horse
Some trainers might want to smack me for recommending this, but often watching a trainer in action will tell you more than his mouth ever will. Ask a potential trainer if he's willing to briefly work with a horse (the greener the horse, the better) during your visit, or better yet, see if you can observe a training session if he currently has horses that he's training on his premises. You don't want to impose on his time too much, since a horse trainer's time can be very valuable. But see if there's a way for you to observe a bit of work without imposing on him too much.
Why? Well, obviously watching him perform will help give you some indication about his methods and how much knowledge he possesses, but as important as that is… it's not my primary reason for suggesting this. Although I would certainly judge his technique, once I confirmed that it's acceptable I would move on and watch the trainer's demeanor and face. What I'm looking for is personality.
I don't care how much knowledge a trainer possesses; if his personality or attitude towards horses is poor, he's not going to work with mine. Although a trainer would be suicidal to present a *poor* attitude when working in front of a prospective client, it's sometimes easy to look behind the façade. Watch the mouth, as well as the eyes. Does the trainer appear polite but stern, or does he appear almost blissful when working with the horse. Does the horse trainer appear to be working the horse, or does he appear to be mentally connecting with the horse? Does the trainer's eyes "smile" as broadly as his mouth?
When a horseman truly loves working with horses, unless he's having a bad day chances are good he will appear almost as content as one might be while gazing into a significant other's face. I don't expect a trainer to go "gaga" over a horse, but I want to see his contentment and passion for horses match his knowledge. When I can see glimpses of both, that's when I start developing trust with a horseman.
Now that we've covered some of the basics, let's move on to the next important article in this series: Important Questions To Ask A Horse Trainer.
Articles In This Series: