Monday, June 20, 2016

Opening the Lines of Communication

Are you working with a trainer or just taking lessons. Believe it or not, there is a huge difference and things you shouldn't take for granted. 

If you make the decision to embark on a working relationship with a trainer, that trainer will need to be included in the decisions you make regarding your horse. In contrast, when you choose to just take lessons, you have the option to make those same decisions all by yourself, enlist the help of friends, crowd source on social media for help, or research information from books and magazines. I like social media because it can often be very useful. Did you know there are many alternative ways to treat thrush? A social media post recommending stuffing a banana peel in the frog crevasse was one of the most interesting, and my favorite.

When you're working with a trainer, courtesy and etiquette dictates that you shouldn't ask another trainer, or your friend, to come help you work on a problem with your horse. Your first instinct should be to enlist your trainer's advice or help. After all, she is the expert, and you hired her based on her expertise. You probably wouldn't ask a friend to diagnose a problem with your car just because they also own a car, you would go to a mechanic. So as a good rule of thumb, you should first consult your trainer before you call a vet, or if you need help with finding a farrier. Odds are pretty darn good that your trainer has worked for years to establish good relationships with vets and farriers, and most of these professionals would rather speak to the trainer who has care, custody, and control of many horses, rather than a new owner. That's not to say the new owner shouldn't be in the loop. They should absolutely be involved in all decisions and recommendations. The trainer should be able to act as a translator of sorts, between the two, in communicating with the vet and/or farrier.  

Your trainer is also your best resource for advancing your riding skills, and you should receive practice “homework” to get you from one lesson to the next. This "homework" can include things like working without stirrups, following hand or sitting a trot. Just as it is very important that you do these assignments, it is just as important to listen when you trainer says not to do certain things on your own, like practicing slide stops or spins, cantering or jumping, or anything your trainer says you shouldn't do outside of a lesson situation. It is always in your best interest to make sure you check with your trainer (or barn owner) to see what is and isn’t allowed. Trainers have reasons to request that you not do certain things outside of lessons. These requests are made to keep you and your horse safe. There are loads of variables involved in teaching and training horses and even seasoned riders can make mistakes, when they choose not to listen to the advice of their trainer, resulting in injury to themselves or their horses.

So you've been working with your trainer, and you’re doing your "homework" one evening. You're practicing trot/canter/trot transitions, but some jumps are set up and catch your eye. They look like more fun than transitions, it’s your horse, and even though your trainer asked you not to jump outside of lessons, what harm could there be? The answer is more harm than good, because now you've started down a slippery slope. But you proceed anyway and miss the distance into the grid, on a jump that's barely two feet. Your horse is landing on only one front foot at a time and scrambling. Your trainer isn’t there to encourage you to sit up and remind you to help your horse find his balance and shorten his stride, so you just muddle through it. Say hello to ligament damage that could have easily been avoided. 

For those riders in the “I’m just taking lessons” category, you still need to listen to your trainer’s advice. Yes, you’re an adult, it’s your horse, and you’ve signed the waiver. And, of course you can do what you want to do. But is it a good idea to jump down off an embankment, land off to the side, cause your horse to pull the suspensory ligament, same side you landed on. No, this is bad!  But you're not an expert, so you don't recognize this, and decide to try it again. Even though your horse tries to refuse, you push her through it, not realizing she is injured. Now you've taught your horse to associate the embankment with pain, and you've engineered a big training problem that can’t be addressed until after the injury has healed...6 months from now. 

Certainly injuries can happen even if you are following your trainer’s instructions, or working within lesson parameters, but at least you would have had someone on the ground to notice the limp and stop the madness before the injury became worse.  

What it boils down to is this; find a trainer with a good reputation for horsemanship as well as teaching, learn all you can, and then practice safety first. Horses are not bicycles that can go to the repair shop for a new part and be ready to ride again the next day. 

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