Thursday, September 25, 2008

Forget About Horse Whisperers, I Need a Rider Whisperer

The first time that I had a bad equitation lesson with more yelling than learning, I could let it go because everyone has a bad day. Plus I had been learning so much from this man in previous lessons. I really valued what he had to offer. Then today happened.

Everything started out fine, but I began to notice that he was contradicting himself. Each time he did this, my respect meter for him dropped a notch. I began to feel uneasy and confused. Which is it that he wants? Each time I took a couple of seconds to contemplate what he REALLY wanted from me, he'd raise his voice as if he thought I were deaf.

I could feel Lostine cringing under my seat each time my instructor raised his voice. When he spoke, she sped up, anticipating that he wanted something to change. I'd have to rein her back before he got angry. "You're giving her too much rein again!" he'd yell, unaware that his voice was causing her to speed up. As long as he stayed quiet, she remained at a consistent, comfortable cadence.

Lostine came off the rail and I laid my inside leg against her to push her back, and he yelled, "Keep your legs off her when she's going the right pace!" So, I let her come off the rail in order to avoid getting yelled at for laying my leg on her. Next thing I knew she was coming off so far that she was going to run right into my instructor. I used the reins to pull her back over to the rail and she threw her head around, then came to a stop.


"Hmmm." I thought. "Didn't he teach me a couple of weeks ago that I have to win every battle?" Oh well, I continued on.

He started complaining that I was letting her pop her head up and come off the rail. So, I laid my leg against her and held the reins tighter. She started to throw her head around, but I stopped it and got her back onto the rail with her head set.

“GOOD ARGUMENT!" he called out. "YOU WON THAT ONE."

Sigh. Alrighty.

We continued on at the jog until she came off the rail again.


I did just that and she charged straight toward him. I had to halt her or she would have run right over him.


That's what I was originally doing. We went around a while more and she started coming off the fence. I tried to head it off at the pass and lay my inside leg against her immediately before she could get too far.


What the ? Are you sure I'M pissing her off or is she just picking up on the fact that YOU are pissed off?

By now he was stomping his foot while he was yelling at me, like a child throwing a temper tantrum. This was really making Lostine go faster, because I take a step toward my horses and stomp my foot when I want them to move off. Of course, the yelling over me giving her too much rein then commenced.

So, I pulled back harder on the reins, and he started complaining that I had a death grip on my horse. I suspect I was fantasizing about strangling him, and it was coming through in the way I was holding the reins. Lostine started popping her head up at the same spot to look at something off in the distance. Let's be realistic here. I am a trail rider. If my horse wants to pop its head up to see what's going on further up the trail, so be it. However, I didn't want to get yelled at again, and a horse popping its head up is a cardinal sin to this riding instructor. So, I began fingering the reins like he taught me in past lessons. He said (quote), "Always be fingering your reins to let the horse know you are there. You want the horse's attention on you."

He saw me fingering the reins and yelled in an angry tone, “DON’T SHORTEN THE REINS BY FINGERING YOUR WAY UP! HELP YOURSELF! GRAB ACROSS WITH THE OTHER HAND!”

Before I could even defend myself and explain that I wasn't attempting to shorten the reins, Lostine did something and he started yelling at me for that. Each time I transitioned up to a faster gait, he complained that I was "throwing her away."


Soon it was time to lope. Each time I gave Lostine the cues to lope, she'd pin her ears back, hop a couple of times, turn in and charge the instructor.


I wanted to say, "No, actually, my horse is trying to kill you because she hates you."


What the ? Didn't he just say... Sigh. Never mind.

So, we were doing the posting trot last week and Lostine stopped to poop.


So, today Lostine stopped from the posting trot to pee. "Oh no," I thought. "I don't want to get into trouble for letting her stop," so I started kicking.


Okay, so let me get this straight: She can't stop to poop, but she can stop to pee. What happens when she farts? Do I have to punish her in some way? Should I pull over to the side of the road and hold up a sign that says DUCK? Should I jump off, do three backflips, and climb back on? No, actually, I think I should kick her harder in case some poop follows it up. No, wait, but some horses follow up farts with pee. Oh God, help me! What do I dooooooooooo???

Everything was pilot error according to him – never instructor error, despite the contradictions. I believe that when an instructor is in the arena with the rider, they each must be willing to take 50% of the responsibility for the failures as well as the successes.

When I was flopping around at the lope, he threatened to tie me to my saddle, take away my stirrups, and lunge me at that pace.

I was thinking, "Oh for Pete's sake! I'm a 44 year old woman with a neurological condition, unpredictable vertigo, numb limbs, and problems with balance when I walk. And this guy says he works with handicapped children??? It'll be a cold day in hell before I let him tie me to anything!"

By this point I'm about ready to explode with my own anger. I was thinking, "Why am I paying this guy $50 an hour to abuse me? Riding was fun until I put all this pressure on myself by inviting him into my life. Now all I feel is frustration when I ride because I hear this guy's voice yelling in my head even when he's not around."

Lostine reacted to my anger by charging the instructor again. I pulled back, she came to a very sudden stop that I wasn't quite prepared for, and I flew forward into the saddle horn. I broke my fingernail on the pommel and said something like, "DAMN IT! THIS SUCKS!"

I looked directly at my instructor with a very angry expression and he actually looked scared. I think he knew I was about to dismount and kick some instructor butt. I could see the wheels turning in his head: Oh-no-might-lose-another-client-that's-$50-less-a-week-I'd-better-make-nice-nice.

Here came the pep talk: "Don't give up. You'll have bad days and good days. You'll feel frustration, but I promise you I will have you riding so much better in time. Just keep it up..."

We ended the lesson while I pondered whether to end all future lessons as well. I know it's a no brainer, but he has a contact that might be able to get me a used saddle that will fit Lostine better, and I really don't want to have to deal with EBAY and the US Postal Service. I'd much rather pick up the saddle locally, try it on, and return it without having to pack it in a box. It's really hard to find used Arabian saddles in these parts. This is Quarter horse country.

So, the plan is to call him to remind him about the saddle, get the name and number of his client if he'll give it up, and then say adios.


Katie said...

That sounds like a true nightmare! I've never had the same problem but I probably would have let my horse run over the trainer (not really but I would be considering it very hard)

I hope things work out.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Good for you, NM!!

Adios is the only workd to tell that butthead!
Lostine had his number and she was gonna give it to him. Good girl.

There are other instructors and if you can't find one right away, just don't worry about it. Go have some fun riding your beautiful horses like you used to do.

Those trails are calling you :)


allira said...

oh jeeze, that guy sounds like an absolute jerk! I think you did really well putting up with all of that.
Yeah a lot of people allow their horses to stop when they poop, but unless your going to compete or anything it doesn't really matter if you do or not.
I hope all goes well with letting him go, fingers crossed you at least get the number for getting the new saddle.
p.s Love the blog :)

Laura said...

Ok - that is just crazy! Why would you treat someone who is paying you a good chunk of money like that??

It's too bad that this guy isn't working out for you - I was hopeful at first that he would be able to teach you alot - but obviously not.

What a bummer! :-(

OnTheBit said...

YAY!!!!!!!! You have no glad I am to hear that! I was not loving what he was telling you or why he was telling to do it. I feel bad though because I do think that GOOD lessons are really important. You were making so much progress that I wanted you to keep going. I am positive that there are good instructors out there in your area. Here are a few certified instructors from ARIA Rebekka L. Rhodes
11200 Cimarron Drive
Reno, NV 89508
Level III Western, Recreational Riding

Suzan Strahan

1820 Castle Peak Road
Reno, NV 89521
Tel: 775-847-7860; Fax: 775-847-7334

Level III Dressage or

These people should be able to help you train your horse and explain why you should do the things that they ask you to do. It is part of their training.

Same thing with CHA members and here is the list from NV

there are 6 of them there I think and 2 were in Reno. I know that is the closest city, but I don't know how close that is to you. A good instructor should come out to you at a time that is good for you. I hope you can find someone new to replace your current instructor who was way to much bully and not enough explanation for my taste.

Jenn said...

I would have to absolutely agree that ADIOS is your best path with this guy.

Some rider/horse/instructor combos just don't work. And he's not working for you or for Lostine. I was quite surprised the first time you mentioned he wanted you to constantly "remind" your horses that you are there by wiggling the reins or moving your legs. Your horse knows you are there, trust me. They don't just up and forget you are there, they don't need reminded. What confuses them is when you are constantly wiggling the reins or giving them leg cues just to do so. Reins should move only to give a cue, so should legs. Wiggling and moving for no reason muddies the water, ties up the lines of communication between you and your horse and in the end, you wind up with a very frustrated horse and an equally frustrated rider spirally downhill very quickly. It sounds like Lostine hit that very frustrated zone.

Listen to Lostine and to your gut. Boot the instructor. There are plenty of qualified instructors out there and I'm sure you will find one more suited for what you and Lostine need to get you where you want to be. Ask around. The best instructors are the ones who use word of mouth advertising.

AnnL said...

Oh, no, you had a ride from he%%! Poor you! Poor Lostine! I've had many rides like that, where I've been in tears and felt like I was the worst rider in the world and should never get on a horse again. I think we've all probably been there. I've learned that if I am having a ride like that, it's best to stop the horse, take a deep breath, and have a little talk with the instructor. Something along the lines of "I'm getting confused because I thought you just said XYZ, but now you said don't do XYZ, but do DEF instead. What am I missing?" It could be that there is something that you're not aware of that might making the seemingly conflicting advice make sense. Or, the guy could be a jerk and it might be time to terminate the relationship.

As for a trail horse raising it's head on trail, I don't ride Western, so take this for what it's worth from my perspective, but when a horse raises it's head to look at something in the distance, it's no longer paying attention to you. Also, the raised head gives the horse the strength to be able to use the neck against you in the case the horse decides that whatever it is looking at is a horse eater and running away is the best thing to do. If you're on a narrow trail, you don't want the horse spinning and bolting. It can be highly dangerous.

Another point to consider is the body language. A horse raises it's head when alerting on something. That position alone can causes the horse to hold tension. A head down, neck stretched out position releases tension and helps the horse stay relaxed and calm.

Just some thoughts. Good luck.


Glamour Girl said...

Wow. Time to say bye bye. Youa re correct about that. I've never heard of such. Sounds like he needed a glass of wine to calm him down. It was is if he was taking something out on you. And we all know horses sense when you are upset. It may take you several rides to even get Lostine over anticipating a change is coming or he isn't doing something right. Bless your heart!

Tj and Mark said...

Hi, you know what you have to do. What a dork the instructor is. Although perhaps his advice about everyone having bad days was about himself. Still, so unprofessional. Good luck with the saddle, though.

I saw your comment at Mrs Mom and the thumbnail of the bay Arabian, caught my eye. He, or she, looks just like my old Charlie.


lytha said...

wow that sucks. it was really painful to read, except for when you made me LOL a few times.

for me the top priority in a trainer is that he or she must be POSITIVE. i had one back in seattle. i wish i could find that here in germany (ha, right).

debi was so awesome. here's how she'd react if i rode wrong. she'd pause and then say, "OK let's try that again then" and that was her way of expressing that you screwed up. when you finally got it right, she'd get deleriously happy and say, "yes yes! did you feel what you did differently? that's it! wonderful!" and she'd keep on and on and her encouragement was what you left each lesson with, and a helpful list of things to work on, but with no accusations.

i always thought, "there's no other trainer like her, she's so cool!" and i'm so glad she's still teaching people to ride back in the seattle area. those lucky guys. her training stable is called morningstar farm and she specializes in working with arabian sport horses. i wish so much she was in your area! ok, or mine...: )

~lytha in germany

Andrea said...

I am sorry he was such a jerk. I had a trainer like that. I would have stopped my horse and asked him to clairify. I laughed when you said your horse was charing him!! LOL!!

And as far as getting lessons, I was certified with CHA and I do not think that that program makes "great" instructors. It was really easy to pass. And they don't go over you knowing how to really "do" anything. So, just a heads up. I used that "training" for my riding lessons when I worked at a summer camp.

I think if you are trail riding, all you need is for you to be in control of your horse. For your horse to do all the gaits when asked, to do them calmly and to pay attention to you. All that comes with more riding. Good luck!!!

Katee said...

I've said this before, but I'll just keep saying it: don't forget to be an advocate for your horse.

If your instructor is giving confusing advice and you're getting upset just STOP. Stop your horse and talk to this person. Explain that you're confused and your confusion is making you tense and your tension is making your horse really uncomfortable. Deep breath. Pet the nice horse. Talk to the mean instructor. Sometimes putting everybody on Time Out can really help.

Don't be afraid of taking control of your lessons. You are paying this guy. He's working for you and Lostine, not the other way around. Just picture all of us out here in blogland standing at the rail cheering you on!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I actually did stop twice and told him that both Lostine and I needed a break. I couldn't talk to him at the time because of the way my mind works. If I'm under stress, my memory and logic shut down. All I knew was that I was frustrated and confused, but couldn't put it into words. I write to sort things out, so it was only after I had put my horse away and sat down at my desk that I could reflect on all those contradictions. Of course, I recognized the contradictions when they occured, but I cannot hold a thought if there is too much stimulation or too many distractions. As soon as I'd think of saying something to him, he'd be yelling at me for something else. It was just non-stop insanity.

Lulu said...

Everyone has bad days....even trainers. Personally, I would give it another try before throwing in the towel.

ranchette said...

Adios Mister. I'm sure you'll have better luck with a different instructor - this one is definitely not for you. Lessons should be hard work, but fun and not intimidating.

Horse Gal said...

Yeah, definitely ditch this instructor, but wait to see if you can get the saddle. Your instructor sounds mean and it's not worth stressing over.
Tell us how it goes!!

Train Wreck said...

WOW ! I think I might need riding lessons after hearing all the things yu were not doing correctly!! How frustrating! I can take critisism a long as its not being yelled to me!! I would have yelled back! Good job for holding it together!

sue said...

Wow... I felt so sorry for you guys reading that blog,.. I did have one lesson like that, and actually got off and said... I am done for the day.... walked out of the arnea... I decided to go back for another try and the following lessons were much better... I guess it was realized that I do this sort of thing for fun and information and if I can't get that I won't be abused.... if all the other lessons have gone well, maybe you should try one more and be ready to walk (ride) out of the ring if it is going to a place that you don't want.... no one deserves to be spoken to in such a manner... good luck...

coymackerel said...

I'm sorry that happened to you and Lostine. Have you considered Jane Savoie's "A Happy Horse" course? It's a bit pricey but you can do it at home and it would substitute for a trainer, at least for the time being. I've heard many good things about the course and the snippets of her training on you tube are excellent.

You can find some reviews at

Best of luck.

Da Mouse said...

Wow, I feel so sorry for you. I couldn't have taken that much verbal *abuse* from a teacher. And, like some of your other commenters, YOU are paying HIM. If you're not satisfyied with his instructions then adios, indeed. This is not quite the same as horse riding lessons, but I teach clarinet lessons and positive and encouraging tones of voice is the best way to get anybody to improve. Yes, you do have to be firm (especially with middle schoolers) and threaten a little, but then back it up with rewards and encouragement. Anyway, instructors do have bad days, but should never take it out to that extreme on a student. If you do decide to keep using him, let him know next time what exactly he was doing to confuse you. Maybe he'll be understanding...maybe...