Monday, July 11, 2022

Once Again Looking For Opinions

What is that saying? Advice is what you ask for when you know the answer but don't like it? That defines my current situation. 

EN is a super nice person. She is someone I could see myself becoming good friends with. I think it would be endlessly fun to hang out with her in a non lesson capacity. I want to see her succeed in her business and life. 

First watermelon from the garden. Last year they all rotted on the vine. A patient recommended I apply powdered milk after planting but before flowers bud and it seemed to work!

I've learned so many new things in the short time I have been riding with her. Leonard and I can now reliably do haunches in down the long side, leg yields, pick up both canter leads without fuss, he has a half halt mostly installed, and my leg position has never been more solid. We are getting better at turn on the forehand, my reaction to spooks/nonsense has gone from screaming in mortal terror to softly correcting and/or ignoring and moving on and overall we are in a much better place than over the winter. 

It isn't all rainbows and unicorn farts. Some lessons she pushes us too much and both our brains melt. Other lessons feel like we didn't really do anything or get anywhere. It is a balance. I still feel like we are in the courting phase of our relationship. Sure I have been riding with her technically since February but Leonard had an entire month off in March for a leg cut and then we had all of June off due to EN being on vacation and me getting COVID again. So while technically it has been 5 months, in reality it has only been 3 months of active work. Given that, I expect a learning curve for both of us on how everything goes. 

A little over ripe but still juicy and delicious

So what is my problem?

There is a fundamental issue I am having that I am unsure we can move past. Maybe this is all normal and I have just not been riding with the correct people in the past and I need to get over myself. That is a viable option too which is why I am putting this out to the blogosphere for opinions. 


It all began during my very first lesson with her.  We were maybe 5 minutes in to the ride, still warming up, and she told me I needed to ride with a crop. Leonard was very behind my leg, not moving forward when asked and in general short strided. The addition of the crop as an aide helped to get him to understand that forward wasn't a suggestion. I've ridden with a crop ever since though I can't recall the last time I did anything with it beyond carry it. 

Lots of people ride with crops, so I didn't think much of it. I never had, but I also rode two fiery forward horses whose main focus was bringing them back and slowing them down. A crop wasn't necessary. 

Kiddo loves the garden, even in a summer downpour. He is ripping out the brussel sprout plants that dies in the heat wave.

Then a couple lessons later she handed me a set of spurs and said I needed to always ride with those. Leonard was being a tad resistant to lateral cues at the time and she said it would help make the concept more solidified. Again, lots of people ride with spurs and it did help with the lateral work. I had never had a quiet enough lower leg to use them before plus again Eeyore and Gem well...we never actually worked on any lateral work so who knows if they would have benefitted. I still ride with spurs most of the time. Some days at home I leave them off.

At this point we had been riding for maybe a month and I had two new riding aides: the crop and spurs. 

Then a couple lessons later she grabbed a different bit. I had been riding him in a french link full cheek snaffle. He has a super soft mouth. I had never had any issues with him not listening in this bit, but we had upped the level of work with newer and much more technical exercises which had led to him beginning to root and blow me off. Actually, thinking back it was the day we began to work on the canter strides over poles which fried both our brains. Anyway...she grabbed a two ring elevator/gag. He hated this bit, it was a bit much for him. While he did listen to my half halts better, he also sucked way back, became tense and resistant. She wanted me to start riding him in this bit full time. I did not. I continue to ride him in the full cheek snaffle to this day. 

The first stall is sorta our scarp wood/junk stall. Lenny had thrown his saddle pad into it from the cross ties, so I went to grab it. This little guy greeted me. 

Right before June, she asked to ride Leonard with her trainer to get some ideas to help with his straightness. I love it when a trainer rides my horse so that they can get a first hand feel for what I am working with. I feel like it gives them a better idea. Well...about 5 minutes into the warm up her trainer ran and grabbed a standing martingale. She said it was to keep his head in a box which in turn will keep him straighter. He fussed a great deal to begin with, but eventually settled a bit into it. They told me to buy one and use it for every ride. I did not. 

EN left for a long vacation right after which meant no lessons for a couple weeks, then I got COVID and took a couple weeks off myself. Last night I had my first lesson with her in over a month. We got to work. I was sooo happy with Leonard. He was being a bit spooky in the back half of the arena, but he listened. His half halts were amazing, the lateral work was spot on and we got our left lead perfectly. Yet for some reason she mentioned the martingale, asked if I was using it and when I told her no she insisted I get one. 

I will not be getting one. 

Looking at everything it feels like we are rushing to gizmos and gadgets at the first sign of any resistance from Lenny instead of know...taking time to train him? The spurs and crop I was ok with since so many people ride with them, but looking back it seems that the spurs were awfully quickly added. I mean, we had only just started asking for lateral work. He had no idea what I was asking for. He is such a good egg who tries his heart out for me. Sure, the spurs allow for a more focal aid, but maybe had we taken more time to introduce the concept he wouldn't have even needed them. He is pretty responsive once he understands the question. 

Floof is the most needy dog I've ever had. Plus he hogs all the space. I don't mind though. I adore him.

The whole bit thing is what finally got me thinking about all this. I was not comfortable upping him to a gag after one inkling of resistance to a completely new concept that was above our pay grade how it was being introduced. Sure, the added leverage kept him from blowing me off on the back side but it didn't help him understand what I was truly asking. I was so thankful when we took a month off for me to work more slowly with him again. Wouldn't you know it - by taking a step back he returned better than ever. 

Sure, he has some straightness issues but he is an 8 year old OTTB who hasn't had to ever work like this before who is being ridden by a complete ammy. I could shove him in the martingale. He probably would go straighter since the gadget would force him to, but is that really teaching him how to use his body properly? A lot of people use them, so I assume it works but I'm not ready to add that to our tack. 

So...I don't know what to do. I am not going to keep adding pieces of equipment or using harsher pieces of equipment at every single sign of resistance to new concepts. I also don't want to be constantly fighting my trainer either. I'm sure on her end she doesn't enjoy having to work through things that she feels a piece of tack would instantly fix for a student who isn't listening to her. 

I think I may need to find a new trainer which makes me very sad. Thoughts?



  1. Hi there. This is a quandary and I totally get it. I'm going to share a bit here about things i didn't put on my blog (because I don't want the gossip). Shanea was great for me. I needed someone and she helped us a lot. At some point though it stopped working so well. to be honest I think we hit the end of her knowledge and since she never pursued much more education for herself we got stuck. She could do it but not teach it (not sure if that made sense). Then she got this guy and only wanted to teach some days and I work so..... Then I was able to get in lessons with Jane and I was so happy with that. First thing she did was get rid of my crop and spurs. At times I miss them but I'm learning to ride better. My last lesson she made a reference to when the spurs will come back. So from that I assume that she views these as an aid once the learning is in place (I hope that makes sense). Never once has she suggested I put a flash on Carmen even though she will pull on the rein and then gape her mouth. It drove Shanea crazy when I took it off, even when I explained that she liked to fight it.

    I would not be putting Leonard in all those things. I agree that it won't help him learn, it will just make him obedient (and possibly shut down).

    My thoughts are to share your feelings with her. In the end you will likely seek out a new trainer because she doesn't feel like a match to you. I also feel for trainers who are probably used to riders wanting to get to shows and be successful. Not that you don't want that but it seems to me that you are more interested in the journey not the ribbon. In the end they are your horses and you do get to decide. Not your trainer.

    My 2 cents (or whatever they are worth).

    1. Thank you for the reply. Makes perfect sense! She is young and trying hard to build her show resume as she believes that is where she will make the most of her reputation. I would love to show some eventually, but you are right I am not in it for the ribbon by any means. I think she uses these to get her students to the show ring quickly, but I have told her before I may never show - that isn't my goal.

  2. I think you should trust your gut on this one, but maybe a heart to heart about your preferences is in order before you just cut all ties with her?

    All of these things she's suggesting absolutely have a time and place, but it does seem like she's real quick to change something without really trying them or even trying to ensure the horse has a chance to understand what is being asked of him. I don't have a problem with the addition of the crop and spurs. I think those are tools that can and usually are very easily added and taken away, as needed, on a day to day basis. Today you may need the crop, but tomorrow you don't, etc. You could also say the same for the martingale, but I've never heard of one being used for straightness. I've always seen them used more to keep the horse's head from getting too high.

    I do think it's totally fine to experiment with bits and see what works best for the horse -- they all have a preference, but going from a french link full cheek snaffle to an elevator gag seems like a big jump with no in between levels. Why not try different levels of snaffle first, if a bit more oomph was needed in a half halt? Or maybe try a much stronger half halt until he got the idea, and then taper it off first.

    1. I commented before I saw your post, but reading this I thought of something else re: crop and spurs: holding/wearing them and not using them is a great lesson in a still leg/hand. Always working on that one...

      As for the martingale, super glad I'm not the only one who was a bit confused on the martingale for straightness.

    2. You are right on all points. The crop and spurs were fine although I still think more than 5 minutes of evaluation would have helped. She is very good at what she does but she is still very young. I think she relies heavily on what she learns in her own lessons from her trainer and then applies them to her students. I'm fine with that - how else do you learn - but it also then feels like she can't problem solve that well.

      Se said the martingale was to "keep his head in a box" so that he stops being so squirrely. He doesn't raise his head much. He likes to bulge out his shoulder and counterbend his neck and she wants to use the martingale to prevent this. I don't know much but it sounds like we need to work more on controlling his shoulders than his head.

  3. As someone who rides with a hunter trainer where a standing martingale is part of the dress code, I'll start by saying I don't own one, have never owned one, and have rarely ever used one in all my years of riding. That doesn't mean that they're evil, but it is OK to say, "I don't think so." Your horse, your rule. Perhaps just mention to your trainer that, instead of using a martingale, you'd like to learn how to keep him straighter by riding properly and using your legs, hands, and seat? Typically I see trainers tossing martingales on when horses are throwing their heads and such? Anyway..

    As for the bits, I don't HATE 2 or 3 rings, but I find for sensitive horses, they serve a purpose for a ride or 2. Nay doesn't love it (probably just like Leonard), but he occasionally gets strong and needs a little leverage. Rather than ME fighting him and him yanking me out of the saddle, I switch to the a 3 ring for a ride or 2 and then we're back to all our regularly scheduled buttons. If I stick with it longer, he gets pissed off. But 1-2 rides? Perfect. I'm going 8 months since our last tune up. We might be due for one sometime this summer.

    I always ride with a crop now. It keeps me from nagging which is way worse than any other tool. I have a strong leg but 1 tap occasionally is better than 3-4 kicks or several mini kicks when someone is ignoring me. Plus someone doesn't believe he needs to hold his canter past the gate... As for spurs, we used them for a while and they really helped with bending and all that. But, I stopped when we were having gut issues since he was extra sensitive. I haven't put them back on. I can go either way.

    Ultimately, a tool is just a tool. I want to know WHY I'm using the tool. If I like the reason, great. I'll use it. If I don't like the reason, I won't. My horse, my rules. Usually I say something like I tried it this week and it didn't work for us (regardless of whether or not we did). My trainer is OK with this. Or, we found xyz worked better. Or, can you work with us on this instead. But, I always ask why I'm doing something and if there is an alternative.

    1. I guess I just wish we gave Leonard more of a chance to understand something new before going straight to a tool. Maybe not add it the very first time I ask him something. Give it a lesson or two and if he still isn't getting it, then add a training tool. It makes me lose a little confidence that she can really problem solve. I don't want what I had with Eeyore which is a horse who will jump anything but has massive holes in his basics.

    2. Good point. I'll admit whenever we try something it's usually next time. I have to supply the tool (bit, spur, crop, etc.) which means that I have time to think about it. Or, not if it's something I don't want to do.

  4. 👏 Great question!
    Dont ignore your intuition.

    IME trainers use this to fill gaps in student and horse knowledge/skills. You want C but you and your horse are still working on A. Lots of students give up the tedium that is perfecting A, before B, and eventually C. From a business perspective it is less costly to apease student with a gadget or tool and get them to C, versus losing said client and having to find new client. Client acquisition is costlier than retention.

    I had this exact issue with my long term coach over nosebands. He wanted me to close his mouth, I refused. Every lesson, same rigmarole. He said I could not move forward if my horse kept evading. So I chose to slow down and work on my own. Three years later, Im still at it.

    I dont care. My only objective is enjoying and learning from my horse.

    Find a trainer who is aligned with your goals. Your current one might be negotiable if you are clear with what is and is not acceptable.

    1. Thank you or replying. You are spot on. She has told me she really needs to build up her show resume (and actually tried to get me to agree to some weird "lease" of Lenny that would cost me an arm and a leg and made no sense) and I am sure me wanting to take my sweet time building the basics until we can do them with our eyes shut is not her idea of a perfect client. But I love the tedium. It is my safe space, my comfort zone. I like to work on skills until I am really comfortable then dip my toes to the next level.

      It is a shame though because I really, really like her as a person.

      It all may be out of my hands though too. Just last night she posted that she is now leasing her own facility 30 minutes away from me and moving her business there. She will require at least 4 shows a year from all her students. Moving from 8 minutes to 30 plus adding a show requirement is an easy out for me.

    2. That does make things easier. And clearly your show goals are not aligning so it wouldn't work long term.

  5. I'd trust your intuition on this (and so sorry I am a few days late in reading this). I am all for using a tool to help a horse understand what you are trying to teach them - IF they haven't understood the concept on various ways to try to help them before. I am all for using gag bits, martingales, spurs, crops, (yes, even draw reins), etc for a few rides to instill the concept. Once the concept is understood, I always go back to what I used previously. I used to think Amber always needed spurs - turns out I needed to use my leg and my aids more effectively, and I actually don't ride her in spurs anymore. I needed a dressage whip to help her understand that I wanted her to push her inside hind underneath her because she got confused with my other leg cues. I only really needed the whip for 2 days to teach her. After that I rode with it to help my hand position. I used gag bits on horses that would pull me out of the tack to brace for their slide stops, and after 2 or so rides with a gag they'd understand and use their body. I used draw reins once to help get better bend on a horse, but it honestly did more for my understanding of the concept, and I never actually ended up using the draw reins. They were just....there, but they were an aid to help both me and the horse.
    All in all, I think it's wise to trust your gut with this. I don't think she's being malicious in her use of gadgets - I think as humans if it's easier to do something, we more often than not get dependent on things that make it easier. Even I have done this with things like spurs before my trainer really pushed me to get better at utilizing my leg. Unfortunately, it does then become difficult when you might hit a wall with a trainer that does this, such as your situation right now. It's hard to find a trainer that helps you with the small things, the every day basics that make a partnership so rewarding. But, I think your instinct is right to be questioning a few of the things in your lessons.
    I hope it all works out!

    1. I don't mind using tools to help Lenny learn a concept he is having a hard time understanding. What rubs me wrong is that we don't even give him a chance to understand. One wrong answer and BOOM gadget. I want to give him time to problem solve, work through it on his own. He is smart enough to do so and once he gets something he gets so proud of himself. I don't want to shut that down.