I’ve had a few conversations with horse owners about whether its better to have their horse started under saddle or re-started/trained by a trainer or themselves.
While I’m not having a go at ‘trainers’ here, my suggestion is always going to be biased towards what’s best for the horse overall.
So the answer as to who is best to train your horse depends on whether you’re looking for a ‘quick fix’, have a fixed time frame, or a prepared to ‘take the time it takes’.
Most people who truly have their horse’s best interests at heart and want a good relationship would of course put the horse first, and so therefore, I recommend they start their own horse provided they are physically capable and prepared to ‘take the time it takes’.
Many people don’t feel confident that they know enough to start/train their own horse and in that case, there are some things they could do to gain the knowledge and experience, resulting in more confidence.
These include having lessons, going to clinics, watching DVD’s and reading books on horse starting/training, enrolling in a horsemanship program or enlisting the help of a knowledgeable friend who rides like you want to. There are also trainers/instructors who are willing to come to your place to work with you and your horse together which is an alternative if you really lack confidence.
But really, if you are prepared to take as long as it takes and to enjoy the journey, there are may cases where learning with your horse can be the best outcome for both of you.
I know many horsemanship programs don’t recommend this path, but if there are no time pressures and you have the right expectations and are prepared to seek help, then there’s no reason why you can’t build the relationship with your horse to include riding. After all, it’s just another step or level in the horse’s ongoing education.
Here are some of the advantages of starting/training your own horse:
- No stress from travelling, being taken away from friends and familiar environment/routine.
- You can work on giving them confidence to leave the herd over time so it isn’t stressful.
- Your horse won’t have to develop a whole new relationship with another person.
- Physical exercises can be slowly developed over time so the horse doesn’t get injured/strained.
- Learning steps can be tailored to suit your horse rather than having to fit into a program.
- Their education becomes part of the bonding process and develops the relationship.
- It costs a lot less – money you have saved can be spent on your own horsemanship education.
- If you have bred your horse or had him/her for quite a while, you are the one they trust the most.
- You will learn so much more about your horse, yourself and develop your skills.
Whereas if you send your horse to a trainer here are some of the disadvantages:
- Traumatic seperation from herd/friends and familiar environment and routine.
- Stress from settling into and adapting to a new routine/place (see post script at the end).
- Having to get used to strange people who may have a very different style of handling.
- Learning is usually pushed faster than the horse may be able to cope with due to un-realistic expectations, finances and industry driven norms.
- Physical strain or injury can occur from being worked harder than they are conditioned for.
- The horse will most likely be isolated from other horses for the duration – this may be stressful if they have always lived in a herd.
- You have no way of knowing how your horse is treated every day by staff and the trainer.
- You don’t get to be part of the relationship building process.
- The expense for a good job is high – you get what you pay for.
Many people also have a very high expectation of how a horse should be when it returns from the trainer – generally they want a ‘push button’ horse that knows all the basics. Realistically, this is not the case when the horse has just been ‘started’. A ‘push button’ horse is one with many years of solid education and experience, not just a few weeks of basic training.
Having run young horse starting clinics previously, and coached/encouraged many people through the process with great results, I would highly recommend that you are the best person to educate and train your horse.
When you are part of the entire process, you are totally aware of what your horse can and can’t do so there are no illusions or higher expectations formed. This will keep you a lot safer than jumping on your newly started horse who is supposed to be ‘trained’. In reality it has been through an experience that has given it some new skills, but these will need many repititions in lots of different situations before they are solid.
So have faith in your abilities, look at all the different ways of teaching your horse ( Friendship training, clicker training, natural horsemanship etc.) and for your horse’s sake go on your journey together and I can guarantee your horse will love you all the more for it.
POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER IN HORSES by Rick Synowski
“In an article “Observations” by David Murdoch, (Arabian Visions, January-February 1994), the author makes the statement that “Abuse messes up the mind. That is the reason that wonderful young horse you sent off to be trained — the one you foaled out in your arms and watched grow up — comes back to you like a maniac.”
Murdoch’s statement strikes a chord. As an Arabian horse breeder and as a professional in the mental health field who has treated many human victims of abuse, I have been disturbed in particular by the long-term, even permanent psychological damage suffered by horses which have been traumatized in the course of training, competing, and by general mismanagement.
In his article, Murdoch cites owners as co-responsible with trainers for abuse, as we have the ultimate responsibility for the welfare of our own horses. Owners may plead ignorance and may well indeed be unaware of the abuses their horses suffer when under the care of someone else, or which they themselves inflict unwittingly. But the causes of ignorance are less the lack of accurate information than the lack of genuine concern which comes from the heart and conscience rather than that to which one pays lip service only. It really comes down to not putting the horses first.”