Tuesday Tip – Navigating Relationships

Relationships are central to our lives as social beings. Our horses are also social beings, which makes us very compatible!

If you are new to the horse world you may have heard horror stories from people about trainers, clinicians, buying and selling horses, riding and driving horses, or losing friends because of horses.

To be honest, the horse world is a bit crazy. If you ask my dad he will say that horse PEOPLE are crazy. LOL! I know I am a crazy pony lady! (You can ask my dad that and he will absolutely agree.)

So what is a good way of navigating the people in the horse world?

Many of you will be on the lookout for a trainer. Whether you are sending your horse or pony off to a trainer for showing, or if you are sending him out for driving training, chances are you will not be with your horse at the trainers. So having trust in your trainer is key.

I suggest dropping by the trainers place before you take your horse there. Maybe do an unannounced visit a few times. It’s these visits that will tell you a lot about your trainer of choice, as there are plenty of things you will want to take notice of to asses if they will be a good match for you and your horse. Some of these can include:

  • What are the horse pens like? Clean and tidy? Clean water troughs? Clean feeding areas?
  • How do the horses look that are in training? Are they at a good healthy weight? Are they bright eyed and curious?
  • What does their equipment look like? Is it in good repair? What type of training equipment do they use?
  • What are their personal horses like? Friendly or stand-offish? (Keep in mind that some horses are naturally stand-offish – there is a difference between one that is naturally stand-offish and one that is afraid.) You can tell a lot about a person based on how their horses behave.
  • What do their standing relationships look like? Do they have farrier and vet references? Testimonials from current or past clients?

Unannounced visits tell you a bit more because they haven’t had a chance to prepare for you. I have heard stories about trainers hiding the unhealthy horses behind the barn, sprucing the front of the barn up for the client visit all the while their normal behavior looks much different.

You may also wish to take some lessons with different trainers, either with your horse or a horse of their own, to see what style of training fits you and your horse best before sending your horse off to live train with any particular individual.

It’s important to have a feel for what the goals of your trainer are. The answer to this should be simple: the trainers goals should be your goals, with guidance.

Some signs that your trainer is keeping you and your horses best interest in mind, is simply found in the way they listen and respond to you. Do they ask you questions and listen to the answers when first meeting you and your horse? Questions like:

  • What type of driving do you plan on doing with your horse?
  • What driving and/or horse experience do you have?
  • What further knowledge will you as the driver need?
  • What are your short term goals? What are your long term goals?

Another good sign, is a trainer who keeps you in the loop on your horses progress. While this might not mean they are in constant contact every day, someone who is as excited as you are about getting your horse driving will want to keep in touch as frequently as they can with you about your horses progress. It’s a good idea to find out what this will look like prior to sending your horse off to them. How often can you expect to get in contact with them? And if applicable on travel distance, are they willing to schedule a few sit-ins on training sessions? Even better, can you schedule a few lessons for yourself so that you know exactly how your horse is being trained and can learn along with them.

While we look to trainers for knowledge and guidance, just remember that they are working for you and your horse. And the relationship should be treated as such. Look for a trainer who not only works to train your horse, but you as the horses handler as well. Look for someone who wants to build a relationship with you and your horse for years to come!

**Disclaimer: This does not mean that everything your trainer says will always be what you want to hear. Have an open mind and welcome constructive criticism, so long as it is done in a respectful and helpful manner. 


What do you do when it’s clear your horse or pony is unhappy at the trainers?

First, let’s talk about indicators that your horse or pony is unhappy:

  • Losing weight
  • Developing stressed behaviors – pacing, whinnying, sweating when stalled, stall weaving, cribbing
  • Losing that bright eyed, curious look
  • A dull stare
  • Immobile head and ears
  • Reduced reaction to humans, increased reaction to outside stimuli

Sometimes these behaviors are simply that your horse or pony is sensitive and needs a little more time to settle in. When I was training professionally I allowed all my training horses and ponies at least a week to settle in before I started their training. This didn’t mean I didn’t handle them, it just meant that they didn’t start the ground work of driving training for at least a week, to give them time to settle in. Some settled in right away and others needed a little more time. This is why I never told anyone that their horse would be done in a certain time frame, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days… it’s all up to the horse or pony, in my opinion. Personally, I would choose a trainer that is willing to work within the animals time line.

However, there are times when a horse or pony just doesn’t click with a trainer. To try to force something like that typically does not work out well for either the animal or the trainer. This is when it’s important to be an advocate for your animal. It’s never easy to stand up to someone we admire, but the well being of our animal should always come first. This goes for trainers and clinicians. I have been to a few clinics where I had to say “I’m not comfortable with this” and then stepped in and took my horse away from the clinician. Also, as a clinician, I have been known to step in and take a horse from an owner when things are spiraling down and no one is being successful. I have found being honest and using “I” statements is the best way to approach this.

  • I am not comfortable with this.
  • I am worried about my horse’s mental well being.
  • I am worried about my horse’s physical well being.

Keeping things from getting too personal, with accusations and accusatory statements is key to parting ways in a positive manner. I understand this is not always easy! Emotions come up when we are worried about our horse and pony’s well being.

It can help to have a third party there with you, someone to support you but that is not emotional about the situation. I like to take along a non horse person as my third party. They tend to not be emotional about horses at all so can stay very calm, which in turn keeps me calm.

Be your horses advocate.

Remember, you have the final say in your horses care and training. If one trainers style of working does not meet your style of horsemanship, it is okay to walk away and try again with someone else. The relationship must work for everyone: you, your horse, and your trainer. There is a balancing act between being the student where we must trust our trainers and being the owner where we must make sure our horses are not mistreated or taken advantage of. A good trainer will understand this, and work to nurture this relationship along with you!


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