Thursday, June 11, 2009


I haven't been looking forward to my equitation lesson this week. Something had to change, because both my horse and I were very unhappy. The day before my lesson I awoke with a kink in my neck. The pain got worse and worse as the day wore on, radiating down my back and left arm until I could barely move my left arm. I wanted to call my equitation instructor and cancel the lesson, but got really busy and by the time I remembered, it was 10:00 at night. Too late to call. I decided I'd see how I am in the morning and cancel if I have anymore pain.

The day of the lesson I only had mild pain in my neck, and I knew I couldn't avoid the inevitable, so I kept the lesson time. I decided to get Bombay out there early in an attempt to relax him before the instructor arrived. I lunged and rode him, doing things that would normally spook him like letting a branch of leaves hit my helmet, and he was doing great.

Then my equitation instructor arrived half an hour early! As soon as Bombay saw him, he visibly went insane. He hunched his back up, started nervously chomping at the bit and throwing his head around, and when I asked him to move up from the jog to the trot, he bucked halfway around the arena. I stopped him, and he still kept bucking. They weren't high bucks, because I had his head up, but he definitely had the intention to end the lesson, even if it meant putting me out of commission.

I dismounted and lunged him some more. He galloped in a defiant way, giving my instructor the finger every time he passed him. Now I know that sounds silly, but I know my horse and I know what he's thinking. I mounted again and my instructor asked if we were ready. I said, "We need to talk."

This is the part I regret, because I was being just as defiant as my horse and I should have been more respectful, especially since I do like this man very much. It's just that I needed to get his attention. I tried talking to him about my feelings about kicking and whipping horses at the last lesson, and he just dismissed it. You see, he told me last week that he will not tolerate foul language from his students, and if anyone uses it, he won't teach them anymore. So, in order to get his attention I said, "My horse is scared *%$#less of you."

He scrunched up his face and I could see steam starting to come out of his ears. I continued, "He's normally a very well behaved horse, but when he sees you he goes nuts. You make me kick and whip him, and so he associates that with you. I normally do not kick and whip my horses."

He said, "Well, maybe you should be kicking and whipping your horses when I'm not around then!"

That totally pissed me off. "I am not going to do that. My horses follow my cues just fine without having to be kicked or whipped."

He said, "Well, I don't know what to say then, because you don't have good enough control of your horse. You keep letting the reins slip through your hands and then you don't have your horse's head, and he spooks, and then you can't bring him back to you. How am I supposed to teach you if you won't do what I say? Do you want to end these lessons now? Is that what you want? You contacted me. I didn't contact you. Do you want to end this?"

I said, "Yes, that would be good."

His face fell. I don't think he was expecting that answer. He babbled on about a few more things, but in a less emotional tone. He said he had planned to work on dressage maneuvers today because he thought Bombay was getting bored, and that is why he was acting out. He really didn't remember Bombay bucking last week. That's because he wasn't riding him. You feel it when you are in the saddle. He asked if we could at least finish the lesson today. I agreed and said that we should since he drove all the way out (an hour drive). I did express my concern that my horse wouldn't hesitate to throw me if I kicked or whipped him, so I would not be doing that.

Once we got past our argument, we had a great lesson. He taught me turning on the hindquarters and turning on the forehand, taking one step, backing, sidepassing, transitions, proper positioning to avoid bouncing in the saddle at the lope, and even jumping. I reminded him that the reins slip through my hands because of my neurological condition. Every time I see my neurologist, he checks my hand strength by having me squeeze his fingers, and he says my grip is very weak. So, my instructor had me tie knots in my reins. That made a huge difference. He didn't have to yell at me once for losing my horse's face. We've wasted so much time in lessons past with him yelling at me for letting the reins get too long, and there was a simple solution all along.

At the end of the lesson I asked him if he would like to continue on despite me being unwilling to kick and whip. He said, "I would. We can do it without kicking and whipping."

That's all I wanted to hear. He's still a bit in denial, as he says that his idea of kicking and whipping is different from my idea of kicking and whipping. He says he's never actually seen me kick or whip the horse. He may think I'm being too gentle, but I can feel my horse's resentment every time that I do dig my heels in or whack him. Like my readers have said, it's not doing anything to improve our relationship. I think I can relax about the lessons now, knowing that my instructor isn't going to force me to ruin my horse's trust in me. I'm sure he thinks I spoil my horses, and he can think that all he wants as long as he respects my choice on how to handle problems. I still use the riding crop as an extension of my arm to help move the horse over and whatnot, but I'm not using it as a tool of punishment.

In return for his respect for my feelings on that, I will respect his dislike of foul language. I usually don't use foul language anyway. I think the truth is that I find the act of punishing horses to be just as distasteful as he finds the act of cussing or cursing to be. I'm glad this is doable, because aside from our stance on that subject, he is a good instructor. I know that he didn't have the greatest childhood, and I suspect he was abused himself, so I really didn't want to end things at him and I heading off in opposite directions carrying chips on our shoulders. Our relationship is important to me too.


Kate said...

You really did have a breakthrough - because you were able to express your opinion, and your instructor actually was able to listen - it sounds like he may have some useful things to teach you (I liked the knot-in-the-reins trick) and that you are now in a position with him to learn them! Congratulations on facing this and making it work!

Katharine Swan said...

I found it just a teeny bit odd that your instructor, the guy that is always telling you to whip your horses, will end a relationship with a student over a swear word. Can we say, inconsistent behavior? Or maybe even, control freak?

But I am really glad that you and he were able to work this out. The knots in the reins was a very good idea. I let my reins slip through my hands, too, but that's because I grew up dancing, not riding, and instinctively try to make my hands graceful rather than hanging on tight. :o) Maybe I ought to try tying knots in mine, too!

And, good heavens, if you haven't ever "really" kicked or whipped your horse (according to your instructor), and he STILL freaks out like that when the instructor shows up? Just think how Bombay would react to your instructor's idea of kicking and whipping!

But, again, I'm glad you worked it out with him. Who knows, it might be good for him too, to experiment with other (gentler) methods of getting what you want out of a horse.

Lulu said...

I find it very interesting that Bombay tensed up the minute your instructor arrived... I don't think I have experienced anything like that.

Callie said...

Holy Mackerals! Glad it seemed to work out in the end! Yikes, frustrating!

monstersmama said...

Good for you and Bombay! I know how you feel. I trained with a trainer once...for awhile we did really well together and then one day i snapped..since then I can call her for advice and we can have a lesson. I didnt train with on a constant basis just when I knew there was something she could help me fix or I was riding a horse i knew nothing about because I do trust her..its great having an open line between your instructor and yourself! yeah! let the fun begin!

Sydney said...

That is so great you got that all out. I rode with an instructor once that told me "kick your horse to get her to go. The lead mare is not "kind" to horses out of line you shouldn't be either" I know for a fact Indigo is very sensitive and throws a fit when something isn't right like Bombay did for you. When I jabbed her a few too many times with my heels she pitched a big fit. The instructor said "kick her harder next time" I was like, no way, no how. She repeated her "horses are not kind to other horses" speel and I left and rode home in the middle of the lesson. We simply couldn't come to an agreement. Indigo is such a sweet sensitive girl. We are riding bridleless now and It's because she is so responsive to my aids.

On another note my pony, Keebler had a real bad experience with this knot head farrier that my friend insisted I use. He kicked and hit my pony when he hopped, a problem we have worked hard to get over and was ruined with one farrier visit. Mr.pony is normally so relaxed and people friendly. This man came in and pony would bug his eyes and immediately rear if he was tied. I said enough was enough and switched him over to my regular farrier that minute.

If I could change one thing about the horse world it would be physically abusive horse people not being allowed to handle horses. Not fun fixing a horse that has a fear of someone.

HorseOfCourse said...

Congratulations, well done!
It sounds as if you had a productive training session, and that you were able to sort out a frame which is acceptable to work within - for you, Bombay and your instructor.
I am very happy for you NM!

I believe it is important to have a setting where the tension is gone, where it is allowed to make mistakes and play around a bit, and to give praise to the horse and the rider - even if the attempt wasn't perfect.
We are all there to have fun, aren't we?
A rider that is happy with the horse and generous with the praise, gets a horse that enjoys the work. Which in the end gives results in the training!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I noticed after our argument that my instructor was praising me a lot more AND encouraging me to stop to praise my horse. Giving me time to stroke his neck and say, "Good job" really settled him down.

The funny thing is that my instructor said, "There's no reason for your horse to be afraid of me. I didn't do anything to him. I just stood here in the center of the arena."

It took some talking to get him to understand that he may not have done anything directly, but still had a strong affect on my horse emotionally, because he yells, which causes me tension, and he makes me kick and whip my horse when that is something that is not within my normal riding routine. Me kicking and whipping my horse only when he's around is as good as him kicking and whipping my horse, in my horse's mind.

Andrea said...

I am glad you got it all worked out. It can be so agrivating having people not understand you. I am glad you had a good lesson after it all.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think you may have just found the secret to riding with this trainer. It did you good to speak up for yourself and your horse. Once he saw you wouldn't take lessons anymore on his terms he backed down a little. Your lesson sounds like it was very informative and helpful and that's the way it should be. He's got to lighten up and inject some fun into lessons for both horse and rider. Good for you.

Paint Girl said...

I am so glad you talked to your trainer! If you aren't comfortable kicking and whipping than you shouldn't have to do that! Plus your horses respond fine without it.
Wow, Bombay really didn't like seeing your trainer!
I am also glad to hear it all worked out, and he'll still continue to give you lessons and not make you kick and whip.

S. Lauren said...

I like your relationship with your horse. Ever consider that your horse gets tense from you being tense? I know you understand that, but I saw how you claimed your instructor yelled at you and had you do some things in the lessons (whips, etc) that you don't really agree with. Maybe since you saw the instructor coming, you got tense as well? Bombay probubly trusts you as his leader and could sense it from you. I hope everything works out for you, it was just an idea. Perhaps since you and your instructor had a talk then neither you or your horse will be tense anymore.

fernvalley01 said...

Well done ! you made your point and got to a place where you can both move forward.

Breathe said...

I'm so proud of you for confronting the issue head on. Too many times I think we avoid the issue and never really resolve it (whatever the issue might be).

I'm shocked that your instructor (who must have a great deal of experience) would think that merely because he didn't touch your horse that Bombay wasn't reacting. My horse knows if a person is angry the moment they walk in the pasture And he will take off in the face of it.

Horses (and dogs) have an emotional radar. If your instructor was standing there getting aggravated, your horse knows it as if he slapped him on the nose.

Glad you were able to make this work on your terms.

RiverBend Farm said...

Whoa, girl, I'm so glad that you were able to give your opinion in a nice way. You know your horse better than anyone and sometimes the same type training doesn't work on all horses. Keep up the good work!

manker said...

way to go.. the real breakthrough is with YOU .. stand your ground and then you won't be landing on it :) :)


lytha said...

"I just stood there at the center of the arena."

If he really thinks Bombay can't possibly fear him cuz he "just stands there" he really doesn't understand horses. They know what's up. Bombay knows he influences you, and that he is the cause of unpleasantness.

Also, he said "I didn't call you, you called me." Right. He doesn't pay you for a service. You pay him. Doesn't he understand business relationships? Paying customer : service provider.

But maybe now that you have this new agreement things will improve. I hope so!


AareneX said...

This really *is* a breakthrough--not just in training technique, but also in communication and listening to your own gut feeling (and paying attention to your horse's behavior)! BRAVA!

My mare doesn't necessarily love my instructor (she isn't a very "lovey" mare) but she definitely likes the way I ride when I'm in a lesson. Hmmmm.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Wow. I sure hope this little 'stand-off' of yours has made some huge positive changes in your future relationship with your trainer and that Bombay and you can work well together now as a team with respect and trust.

Yay NM!


Flying Lily said...

Horses add so much emotion to our lives! This was a good conversation you had with your teacher. If he drives for an hour for your lessons, and looked a bit sad when you offered to quit them, then he likes the lessons and that's a plus. Hope you are able to stay on this progressive tack in future lessons.

allhorsestuff said...

That really is a break through!
I am so freaked by confrontation and you handled it very well...he heard you and I think the fact that you were wiling to fire him, gave him time to listen for a second!
Your horse will thank you. I do think sometimes trainers get in a rut and forget that every rider and horse are individuals and the communication and advise is not going to be the same as the last student...they really have to be on thier toes a observant.

I am pleased for you! I know you have found a conection with this man...and I appreciated you taking the time to tell him YOUr needs.
YOU actully helped HIM in his training skills...cause that is what you did you know...he will be able to help you better now and others too.