Teen student abusing her horse - WTD?
I am looking for advise from other riding instructors or those with experience dealing with teenagers with anger management issues (parents, teachers, psychologists, etc.).
I am having a rather unfortunate problem with one of my teenage students. She brought her horse to me last spring (I wasn't looking for another boarder, but her parents are such nice people I had a hard time saying no). The horse is a very nice 1.10M jumper mare and I have become rather attached to her as well as the parents of the teenager (I really could not ask for better boarders). Riding the mare has been a real treat for me because she is a way nicer horse than I could ever afford for myself - she is a wonderful packer.
The young girl however has been rather challenging to work with. Most of the time I love having her around – she is helpful, fun, enthusiastic, etc. However, like most teenage girls she can be moody and lacks work ethic. It does bother me that she squanders her opportunity to progress as a rider (other young girls would kill to have her horse) – but I realize that not all people ride horses with the same ambitions so I don't let it get to me. The problem I can't overlook is her temper – especially when it is directed at her horse.
Until recently I have never seen her outright beat the horse – but I have had to get after her many times for angrily and inappropriately disciplining the mare, and/or being very negative about her horse when in a temper (i.e. blaming the horse for poor performance, saying the horse is “crazy”, “stupid”, etc.). When she cools out I find she becomes very remorseful and embarrassed by her behaviour, but that reasoning goes out the window when she is fired up (reminds me of an abusive boyfriend). She also won't listen to me when she is in a temper.
I had hoped through correction and setting a good example that she would improve, but it has been 8 months and she has become no better, and I have now caught her outright beating the horse (she whipped it into a terrified frenzy). When I rescued the mare from her the poor sweat mare buried her head in my arms (trembling and sweating) and I balled my eyes out.
I am way out of my depth (and pay grade) - I am a riding instructor not a therapist. Part of me wants to just tell her to get out of my barn (easiest solution for me) – however the part of me that loves the horse worries that if I just cut them loose then the horse's circumstances will not improve. So I would like to try first to get through to the girl and her parents – and set her on a road to controlling her anger.
So I am looking for advise dealing with this issue.
I am positive the parents will back me in any plan of action I decide to take - I just have no idea what that will be. :( I would like to have some ideas and suggestions to bring to the table when I discuss this with her parents.
I am no therapist nor play one on TV
but I had a 20something adult who would do the same thing. As the BO, I finally had to step in and sit her down. I would advise the same thing but with both parents involved. We set it up in a private setting where no one else from the barn was involved, knew about it or could interject themselves. I asked her to lunch at a small place. you might ask the parents if you could do it at their home.
Once we were alone, I let her know that I cared enough about her and her lovely horse to want to talk to her about my concerns. I calmly went through my concerns about how she would get so mad that then she would take it out on her horse. I discribed the date, time and what I saw her doing. She was embarassed and remorseful but I told her we had to go beyond that and set a plan for the next time she felt so much anger that she would repeatedly hit her horse. We talked through situations and appropriate responses. We talked through how not to let her temper escalate. We talked through that there were just some times she needed to just not even ride. Just hand graze and enjoy her horse. I then told her we were going to put it in a contract that we both would sign.....a contract committed to her horse. We wrote up a contract a few days later and both signed it.
I told her that there were no second chances when it came to her horse....I was doing my part by providing quality care for her horse and she needed to do her part by honoring her horse through quality horsemanship. I made it very clear that the consequence for breaching this contract was that she would not have the privilege of boarding at my facility.
I also let her know that whatever was driving such anger was something that she needed to address - that she was a beautiful, bright, special person that deserved to live happier and that she should be honored to have such a wonderful horse with a heart of gold to be part of that.
The situation all improved immediately. she took responsibility and owned it. She sought out more training and help and she lightened up a lot. It also removed a layer of tension that others had w not knowing what it was going to be like riding with her.
this young lady may be screaming out for help. if you can engage her parents in putting the issue on the table, discussing it, talking about more appropriate responses, discussing scenarios and how to handle and getting her to take responsibility for the gift she has been given, you may be giving her a tremendous gift.
but the parents HAVE, HAVE, HAVE to part of the solution. They have to be willing to have consequences if their teen displays this behavior again. They have to be willing to ground her, take away the privilege of riding, being at the barn etc if she breaches her side of the contract.
If you don't have the parents behind you, you will have a very tough time changing this teen's behavior.