Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Working with horse trainers

Inspired by a post on my favourite friendly proboard ( ) about the implications of working with several different trainers, that got me thinking about getting to the point where you feel confident enough to work in your own right.

When I first watched Mark work I knew pretty much instantly that he had something I needed to learn. That was how I wanted to work with my horses. I watched him for a few years (and hopefully will continue to do so) and slowly slowly I began to get the hang of it, to the point where I'm pretty happy with most of what I do around the horses now.

From there I found I had the confidence to begin to work things out in my own right. I began to get an understanding of how I think a horse should perform in a way that he is both physically and mentally comfortable with. As it turns out, not surprisingly really I guess, I found this is also the way that is most comfortable for me too.

At that point I realised that I had in my mind a kind of overview of how to be with my horse and how to train him to be how I wanted him to be. Of course it is not a finished product, and it is unlikely to be one for me either. I know I am never going to be an incredible horse person, but I do think I can be a pretty reasonable one.

There is another question that ties in to this subject and actually really interests me too - what level can we really expect to get to with our horsemanship? Are some of us doomed to forever not really know how to do this? I don't believe that for a minute. I do believe that it is in quite a lot of peoples interest to make us believe that though, because that keeps them in work. I was listening to a trainer having a casual conversation the other day and in all seriousness, he said, 'I'm not showing them how I do this, it cost me a lot of money to learn that'.

I thought at the time, 'well, good luck to you mate, you haven't understood the way this game works. Horsemanship is not some list of facts you learn and then buy and sell for money - it's a lifelong apprenticeship that is way beyond that'. Needless to say I didn't have the bottle to say it out loud, so I just sneaked away and wrote it on my blog.


Glenatron said...

One feeling I have is that there is no particular limit on where I can take my horsemanship. If I'm prepared to put the time and effort in I feel that my expertise will improve for as long as I keep trying to improve it. I think that is true of most people, sometimes you might get a Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt or Harry Whitney, someone with a real gift and the lifelong exposure to horses that allows them to build on that gift, but I think that most of us are on a pretty even keel aside from that, mostly limited by our application and our willingness to keep learning.

Although it is common, the attitude that knowledge should be hoarded is inexplicable to me. A trainer I was learning from recently talked about the gap between knowledge and information, suggesting that what you read in a book or somebody tells you is information and what you can actually do is knowledge. My knowledge when I tell someone else about it is only information for them anways. Why would you not share that?

Kate said...

I believe that, if we're willing to put in the time, effort and attention, that we can continue to improve, and to do better with our horses, indefinitely. I don't think we ever "get there". I think it does help to have a repertoire of techniques to draw on so you can try different things. I think the fundamental things I have learned from riding in Mark Rashid's clinics is to Really Pay Attention, to stay as soft and unemotional as possible, and to not be scared to experiment and try out different things to work towards a solution to a training issue or goal.

I do believe that there are a lot of trainers out there who like it when their clients don't feel competent to do things on their own, or who deliberately have their clients purchase horses who are too much for the client's skill level - more dependence on the trainer. I also think most trainers (not all) don't really know much more than technique - there's a lot of soulless, mechanical riding out there in all disciplines.

Good post!

jmk said...

Tom, I'm really enjoying your blog. I'd also like to get you and you wife's books. Are they available in America? It was thru your blog that I found "Old Men and Horses" wonderful read!
To me horsemanship is the way I am around horses naturally. Yes I have been taught things to do around horses, or how to ride, but I've always felt a certain way when I was around horses. I think that's what divides horsemen, some are very intune and feeling and some are more task orientated. A mix of both may be ideal.
I think for the benefit of the horses one should always share information they've learned or have. I've learned so much from other people's situations or stories. What a shame for the horses if we don't share what we know with each other.

tom909 said...

Breakfast - I really like that distinction between information and knowledge. Theoretical horse training - eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! I'm not am I?

Kate - Yes - I used to hate it when people talked about their 'journey', but I have actually come around to the idea that what I am going through here with my horses is beyond being a horse trainer - this is about me freeing up from a lifetime of bullshit. It doesn't have to be horses I guess, but they are a great catalyst.

JMK - Thank you for your kind comments about the blog. I appreciate yours and everyone else's input. The books are available on

glenatron said...

You're not theoretical, no. When you're teaching someone then you're on that line, giving them information that they are able to turn into knowledge as the find that they can do the things they are learning.

There is a quote from somebody along the lines of "I can't make someone learn, but I can set things up so they can learn from the horse" which I think probably covers it to a degree.

June said...

To me there are simply many layers to horsemanship. Every time you get through one layer, you discover another one underneath. Sometimes you go off at a tangent which may be a dead end, but you still learn something from it, or may be another breakthrough to the next layer. That, to me, is the reason to watch many different trainers.

It is the layers that make it addictive I think and I'm pretty sure they are never ending, although maybe with experience, they get a little easier to peel off. And if you've reached the layer where you want to stop, that's okay too, although I suspect I'm never going to reach that point!

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