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  1. #21
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    First off, is the riding questionable? Yes. However, not everyone WILL wear helmets, and sadly we just have to accept that fact.

    But this is an experience these kids can only dream of having. Is it done with proper equitation most of the time? No. But the horses seem healthy and relatively happy, and to these kids it can mean the world.

    Rearing is not going to help these kids in life. Pirouette's are not going to help, nor is teaching a horse to bow. HOWEVER, it is an amazing thing in these children's life, and I appreciate how hard he tries.



  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arab_Mare View Post
    First off, is the riding questionable? Yes. However, not everyone WILL wear helmets, and sadly we just have to accept that fact.
    Not in a program run on private property. They could easily say 'the policy is helmets for kids, and adults must wear helmets to make it easier to convince kids to do it, regardless of if the adult would wear a helmet normally. No helmet, no horse.'

    I'm sure horses are a fantastic experience, but there are things you can do to decrease the odds of things like traumatic brain injury, and any reasonable program should be trying very hard to do those things. TBIs are bad enough, I can't imagine trying to deal with a kid with autism and a TBI.


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  3. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by kdow View Post
    Not in a program run on private property. They could easily say 'the policy is helmets for kids, and adults must wear helmets to make it easier to convince kids to do it, regardless of if the adult would wear a helmet normally. No helmet, no horse.'

    I'm sure horses are a fantastic experience, but there are things you can do to decrease the odds of things like traumatic brain injury, and any reasonable program should be trying very hard to do those things. TBIs are bad enough, I can't imagine trying to deal with a kid with autism and a TBI.
    I have a child with autism and TBI ... although the trauma was not brought on my an accident but by premature birth. He had major brain bleeds and hydrocephalus. Yep. Instead of having trouble interacting and communicating, he can't. Neurologically his thoughts simply are not connected to verbal output. Expressive Aphasia.

    As for wearing helmets, if you do some inquiry into applied behavioral analysis, which most parents of autistic children have some experience with as it's the accepted as the best therapy for many children/people with behavior issues. If the child does want to ride badly enough, you simply withhold an item of even higher value, which would be the iPad or a Thomas train, and use it as a reward for the desired behavior. At first, the child might tolerate the helmet for only a minute, but if you give him or her the highly valued item before he or she takes it off, pretty soon the child will comply. No harm, no foul.

    Even people who are helmet toughies might have allowed a little kiddo for 30 seconds to sit in front of them or sit in the saddle with a hand on the child. It happens with even the best of us. And the very best perhaps not at all (not accusing anyone). That said, enough video and pictures exist with the Horse Boy program that it's pretty much a trend.

    Regarding riding double ... I talked to my trainer about it. She said it is terrible, in general. A few breeds can tolerate it better than others, for short amounts of time. But what they are asking these horses to do, not only with the extra weight, but with the unbalanced weight ... really worries me.



  4. #24
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    Another parent of an autistic child weighing in.

    There are plenty of legitimate equine therapy program in existence. [edit]
    Last edited by Moderator 1; Sep. 29, 2012 at 03:05 PM.
    See those flying monkeys? They work for me.



  5. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbm View Post
    wow.

    are you folks serious? this guy is trying to help kids and [edit]

    maybe you ought to go spend some time at an "all rounder" barn so you can see how the rest of the world works before you condemn this guy.
    I'm feeling that. This guy is not perfect and does a lot of things differently than I would do them, but I do think he is a very experienced horseman and has dedicated his life to trying to help his son. I read the book, saw the doc, read some articles and am recalling now a comment thread (amazon.com?) where his wife responded to criticism about the Mongolia trip. He really seems like a creative, type-A, unconventional, independent guy with all the pros and cons that implies. He's DEFINITELY a risk taker and doesn't have the George Morris/pony club approach that was beaten into me as a child.

    I don't think he's using the word "dressage" the way you use it. It's like how my skin crawls when people talk about natural horsemanship and use it to gain instant credibility at the expense of good, traditional horsemen who've been doing it right all along without acting like they've reinvented the wheel or having a "TM" tacked onto every silly portmanteau. Some of those people seem pretty scammy, but I think a lot of them are just doing what seems to be work to establish a successful business and gain credibility in a culture that, unfortunately, responds to slick packaging, certification programs, and a desire for maximum results with minimum effort. There may or may not be substance underneath the packaging, but I think there are lots of small businesses that are honest and well-intended who follow this marketing model in an effort to attract customers in the first place. I think he's using the word dressage because most people have at least heard of it and associate it with "dancing with your horse" or intense schooling. The site's content is not written for dressage riders. It is written for parents of autistic children, people with limited knowledge of horses, etc.

    I would prefer to see children in helmets and, come-on, closed-toed shoes. But having read the book, I'm not surprised, and I really have bigger fish to fry. I'm surprised there's not a helmet law there in Tex...uhhhh, no I'm not. I'm not seeing obvious harm being done to the horses anywhere. We really don't know what the conditioning is on these horses and I think you'd be amazed to discover how much unbalanced weight a healthy, reasonably well cared for horse can regularly carry up, down and around and stay sounder than the average show horse. I've seen examples of this so many times now, I really think we're losing knowledge of what's good for horses and what they are capable of. I'm not saying everyone should go out to the barn and pile a bunch of kids on their horses and perform a "levade." But I question the blanket assumption that what's pictured on the site is unduly harmful. Notice, as well, the levade is not even close to correct, nor is that the goal. A horse being asked to do some therapy-school approximation of haute ecole with an autisitic child isn't really doing haute ecole as you define it, and there is no reason the horse should be asked to perform beyond his natural ability to "nail" the movement.

    I could probably visit every horse business website in the universe and apply a similar standard the OP has applied here and find them all wanting. Over-stated marketing, doing something that puts stress on the horses, sacrificing safety in some way, generally having a different approach that I have or have been taught. I dunno. I think being horse-crazy and having a special needs kid sounds expensive and challenging. Maybe this is the logical next step in trying to doing the best for Rowen with the strengths and skills these parents have. A lot of children and horses are being truly abused, and as easy as my hackles go up, they aren't with this.
    Last edited by Moderator 1; Sep. 29, 2012 at 03:05 PM.



  6. #26
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    I agree, Hill'nDale. I could not have said it better.
    You see a mouse-trap. I see free cheeze and a challenge



  7. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by HillnDale View Post
    I'm feeling that. This guy is not perfect and does a lot of things differently than I would do them, but I do think he is a very experienced horseman and has dedicated his life to trying to help his son. I read the book, saw the doc, read some articles and am recalling now a comment thread (amazon.com?) where his wife responded to criticism about the Mongolia trip. He really seems like a creative, type-A, unconventional, independent guy with all the pros and cons that implies. He's DEFINITELY a risk taker and doesn't have the George Morris/pony club approach that was beaten into me as a child.

    I don't think he's using the word "dressage" the way you use it. It's like how my skin crawls when people talk about natural horsemanship and use it to gain instant credibility at the expense of good, traditional horsemen who've been doing it right all along without acting like they've reinvented the wheel or having a "TM" tacked onto every silly portmanteau. Some of those people seem pretty scammy, but I think a lot of them are just doing what seems to be work to establish a successful business and gain credibility in a culture that, unfortunately, responds to slick packaging, certification programs, and a desire for maximum results with minimum effort. There may or may not be substance underneath the packaging, but I think there are lots of small businesses that are honest and well-intended who follow this marketing model in an effort to attract customers in the first place. I think he's using the word dressage because most people have at least heard of it and associate it with "dancing with your horse" or intense schooling. The site's content is not written for dressage riders. It is written for parents of autistic children, people with limited knowledge of horses, etc.

    I would prefer to see children in helmets and, come-on, closed-toed shoes. But having read the book, I'm not surprised, and I really have bigger fish to fry. I'm surprised there's not a helmet law there in Tex...uhhhh, no I'm not. I'm not seeing obvious harm being done to the horses anywhere. We really don't know what the conditioning is on these horses and I think you'd be amazed to discover how much unbalanced weight a healthy, reasonably well cared for horse can regularly carry up, down and around and stay sounder than the average show horse. I've seen examples of this so many times now, I really think we're losing knowledge of what's good for horses and what they are capable of. I'm not saying everyone should go out to the barn and pile a bunch of kids on their horses and perform a "levade." But I question the blanket assumption that what's pictured on the site is unduly harmful. Notice, as well, the levade is not even close to correct, nor is that the goal. A horse being asked to do some therapy-school approximation of haute ecole with an autisitic child isn't really doing haute ecole as you define it, and there is no reason the horse should be asked to perform beyond his natural ability to "nail" the movement.

    I could probably visit every horse business website in the universe and apply a similar standard the OP has applied here and find them all wanting. Over-stated marketing, doing something that puts stress on the horses, sacrificing safety in some way, generally having a different approach that I have or have been taught. I dunno. I think being horse-crazy and having a special needs kid sounds expensive and challenging. Maybe this is the logical next step in trying to doing the best for Rowen with the strengths and skills these parents have. A lot of children and horses are being truly abused, and as easy as my hackles go up, they aren't with this.
    I understand much of what you are saying. It is thoughtful, and it all has merit. My concern is exactly that "It [the website] is written for parents of autistic children, people with limited knowledge of horses, etc." These same people put their trust in him as a source of expert knowledge on horses. Is he? Can they trust him to follow some basic safety standards? Are the horses competent physically and mentally to do what the program asks? Is it safe for an autistic child to ask a particular horse to levade or rear in a controlled way even from the ground? Is the horse strong enough? Are the horses mentally conditioned to be safe to be ridden in Vienna side reins or an Olympic martingale without hitting the end, panicking and having an accident? These concerns and more come to mind because his judgement regarding helmets and other basic safety practices flew out the window at "hello."



  8. #28
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    He's teaching grand prix movements and airs above ground to grade quarter horses and formerly lame warmbloods of uncertain origin?
    Clearly you have missed the grand Prix mule and the amazing camel,
    that part of your post could have been left out of your remarks since it distracts from the actual intent of you post.

    There is some crazy marketing on the internet for sure and hopefully people can sort out the unsafe programs before subjecting their kids to them.My experience with various therapy programs is that programs in the same area know each other and that the "unusual" ones get talked about alot to the point where even the doctors and specialists involved try to steer people toward the best ones.
    I can explain it TO you,but I can't understand it FOR you



  9. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by jumpytoo View Post
    Clearly you have missed the grand Prix mule and the amazing camel,
    that part of your post could have been left out of your remarks since it distracts from the actual intent of you post.

    There is some crazy marketing on the internet for sure and hopefully people can sort out the unsafe programs before subjecting their kids to them.My experience with various therapy programs is that programs in the same area know each other and that the "unusual" ones get talked about alot to the point where even the doctors and specialists involved try to steer people toward the best ones.
    Yes, but he is famous and has been legitimized by the success of his book, documentary, and appearances on TV. It would be much, much harder for parents to sort through the chafe, only to find the chafe.



  10. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrsFitzDarcy&Feliks View Post
    Yes, but he is famous and has been legitimized by the success of his book, documentary, and appearances on TV. It would be much, much harder for parents to sort through the chafe, only to find the chafe.
    Particularly given how much serious craziness there already is when it comes to treatments and 'cures' for autism. There's some really very strange things out there and some parents are desperate enough to try them - by comparison some dude with horses probably seems relatively safe and sane.

    My issue is largely with the fact that they elected to put things on the website that clearly fly in the face of standard riding program safety protocols, particularly for therapeutic riding programs, like the no helmet thing. Yes, sometimes folks (adults and kids) do hop on without a helmet for a moment even if they know it's dumb, and yes some adults elect not to wear a helmet at all. But when you're putting together a website to promote your business/program every photo that you put on that website should be assessed from the point of view of 'is this the image of the program I want people to have?' and if they think that all those unsafe-looking photos are perfectly fine as a representation of the program, then I really question their judgement in terms of determining reasonable risk.

    Given that they are aiming at non-horsey parents, I would argue that they have more of a responsibility to cover the safety bases because they can reasonably expect that the parents will not be informed enough to make a good risk-benefit decision. (As compared to the child of someone who has extensive equestrian experience who could be assumed to have an idea of how easy it is to have an accident, etc.)


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  11. #31
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    I agree with your post Kdow, and with HillnDale.

    I do think that his website could come across better, and that there are some safety measures that could be improved upon, or just marketed better.

    [edit]

    I think the OP was overly harsh [edit] and in other leaps of assumption implying that the horses are misused without any proof other than conjecture. Jealousy of the success of others comes to mind...

    I think it would be great if hippotherapy became a more recongnized and accessible thing for many disabilities, including but not limited to autism. Not only great for the indivduals being helped, but also great in helping the horse industry in general gain better acceptance in a society that is becoming less tolerant/understanding of the industry.
    Last edited by Moderator 1; Sep. 29, 2012 at 03:06 PM.



  12. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by CHT View Post

    I think the OP was overly harsh [edit], and in other leaps of assumption implying that the horses are misused without any proof other than conjecture. Jealousy of the success of others comes to mind...
    Yes, I was overly harsh. I addressed this already. I tried to change the name of the thread and could not.

    Conjecture? People diagnose rollkur with a single photo. They have a website of photos and a YouTube channel, plus a description of each animal and its talents. Rupert writes,

    "Marvel is a 16.3 hands Dutch Warmblood. Officially a dressage horse, in his secret life a jumper – jumps 5’ without any problem - and pretend Zebra. Likes art and is always available as a general calming influence for those who need to chill out a little. Marvel learned true collection with Scub (Rowan) on board and a big western saddle. As soon as a child is in the saddle he offers nearly terre a terre canter steps. Marvel is a master in laterals and is now working flying changes. He is one of our favorite for students more interested in the dressage versatility side of things. He loves to play tag! He also just started his canter work in the long lines.
    At the top of this page, he lists this horse as 17 years old. Does anything seem "off" to you?

    Jealous I am not.

    I'm not doubting horses can be healing. I'm not doubting that horses helped Rowan. Is he ignorant of safety issues? Appropriate training for age, conformation, fitness? He seems to say or write the correct things occasionally, but in action, I'm not so sure.
    Last edited by Moderator 1; Sep. 29, 2012 at 03:07 PM.



  13. #33
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    A "scam" is when somebody promises one thing and delivers less, or is actively misleading to the detriment of the misleadee.

    I don't see where anyone who reads this website would get anything less than they are promised or be misled. It is, essentially, a therapeutic riding program for autistic kids.

    Nobody gets mad at Pegasus when they don't offer (and don't claim to offer) competition-focused dressage training so I am not sure what the problem here is.



  14. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrsFitzDarcy&Feliks View Post
    These same people put their trust in him as a source of expert knowledge on horses. Is he? Can they trust him to follow some basic safety standards? Are the horses competent physically and mentally to do what the program asks?"
    I hear ya MrsFitz. This is pretty much exactly how I feel every time I've ever had to call on an auto mechanic. Hopefully parents and medical providers will be in conversation with each other about helmets and the like and only make deserving referrals to therapy programs in their community.



  15. #35
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    He seems more like a seen-the-light zealot to me than a scam artist. He found something that helped his child and as a consequence wants to share it with the world, to a slightly obsessive degree and arguably beyond the boundaries of his actual abilities and expertise. Kind of like when somebody loses weight on the XYZ diet and then launches a cruisade to get everybody in the world to also follow the XYZ diet, whether they asked for help or not.

    The no-helmet thing is a very legitimate concern to me, and anything else that directly contradicts safe guidelines for therapeutic riding (I'm not familiar enough with them to know). But none of the rest of it bothered me conceptually -- like, I don't think ill of the guy.

    I actually have his book sitting on my bookshelf, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet.



  16. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrsFitzDarcy&Feliks View Post
    Yes, I was overly harsh. I addressed this already. I tried to change the name of the thread and could not.

    Conjecture? People diagnose rollkur with a single photo. They have a website of photos and a YouTube channel, plus a description of each animal and its talents. Rupert writes,



    At the top of this page, he lists this horse as 17 years old. Does anything seem "off" to you?

    Jealous I am not.

    I'm not doubting horses can be healing. I'm not doubting that horses helped Rowan. Is he ignorant of safety issues? Appropriate training for age, conformation, fitness? He seems to say or write the correct things occasionally, but in action, I'm not so sure.
    Your argument and reference to Rolkur confuses me in how it relates other than that you are being as ignorant diagnosing Horse Boy's practices as being unfit as would someone diagnosing Rolkur from a single photo. I have seen horses behave oddly different/better with small/light children vs adults, so I will not discount his statement that the horse learned collection with the child out of hand without some evidence to the contrary.

    A 17 year old horse jumping 5', doing lateral work and doing fly changes? Shocking...(he doesnt' even mention if the jumps were undersaddle vs free jumping...could be the horse likes to jump out of his paddock). I must be thick because I just don't see what you see as far as the horses are concerned.

    You can edit the title by editing, then going to advanced edit.



  17. #37
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    I have worked in therapeutic riding/hippotherapy and I once had a long but friendly conversation with Rupert about TR after an event to promote his film/book and raise funds for the TR center I was working at, so this has struck a nerve. To his credit, his publicity campaigns for the book and film actively sought out existing TR centers and allowed them to collect donations at his publicity events, so he has reached out in at least a small way to the established TR world. But the overall impression I got from him was that behind the free-spirited, world-saving rule-breaker image is a rather P.T. Barnum-esque businessman.

    Is Horse Boy a scam? Perhaps, in that his adventures in equine-assisted therapy were designed from the start to tie in to business ventures, he is aware of and flauts the standards that exist in the TR community, and he has pursued recognition as a leader in this field yet he interacts with parents and non-horsey volunteers in a way that does not make it clear to them the risks associated with his chosen approach to TR. If a scam = getting less than advertised, I'd say that representing himself as an expert (or even THE expert) in TR and horsemanship, despite his relatively short experience in the field, and understating the risk involved in his approach = giving families less than he advertises = scam.

    However, after speaking with him I do not think he fully recognizes the ethically thin ice he treads on. He seems to see himself as a visionary -- his job is to make big things happen. Did he invent therapeutic riding? No, but he will tell the whole world about it. Is he the first to recognize that elements of dressage have therapeutic benefits for some children? No, but while you and I worry about lengthening the stride of a horse on long lines to vary the motion felt by the hippotherapy patient in concert with a therapist's manipulations, he will be teaching autistic kids the haute ecolle moves. He's extreme, man. He's doing important things. People like me can worry about the details but he sees the big picture.

    For comparison to HB, here's how our PATH-certfied center ran (well still runs but I'm no longer there): Helmet use was mandatory for everyone, including staff. This could be waived in rare cases when an instructor/PT felt the helmet was interfering or irritating, but only after the parent received verbal and written information about the associated risks and acknowledged that they understood and accepted these risks. Horse selection was based on physical ability to do the job as much as disposition, and it took a very long time to find horses that would stay sound and happy in the job. Horses went through a very lengthy training process just to make it into TR lessons, and then underwent further long line and dressage training. Horses were handled on long lines whenever they were asked to do anything more physically demanding than leadline walk-trot, and the people handling them went through lengthy training as well. It was the most difficult job I've ever had, and I think the horses would say the same. But we never went anywhere near the haute ecole -- our horses would have done better in training level, and in some cases first level dressage. No need for more, and I personally don't wish to ever see a horse stand up with a child on its back.

    Here are my problems with Horse Boy enterprises:

    1. He didn't go trekking through Mongolia purely to help his son. There was a film crew along. The idea had been pitched and he had been given a healthy (~$1 million) advance on the film's earnings. From the very start there was a plan to market the holy heck out of his "miracle".

    2. He seems to prize creativity and "unstructured" activity more than the gray matter that is required for creativity and activity. Regardless of what people do in their private lives, TR professionals have an obligation to promote helmet use, since the clients typically do not understand the risks associated with riding.

    3. These horses have a very hard job, and their backs take more wear and tear than the average riding horse, let alone the athletic, upper level dressage horse. Grossly unbalanced riders are the rule, not the exception, and many of them are big kids/teens, not little peanuts. Mounts and dismounts can be slow and difficult. Kicking (through unconsciously active legs), clamping of the thighs, and rough hands are occupational hazards. And most therapy horses never know the luxury of a saddle that truly fits them, since aside from budgetary issues the tack is often selected based on riders' needs. Our herd got the best of care, but in spite of this it was a constant battle to keep them comfortable in the job. I would have considered it cruel to add a second rider to the equation. And this will sound snooty, but I really doubt that HB could be providing such better care, conditioning, tack, and training that their horses do not experience the physical stresses that ours did.

    4. Even if HB stables has a trainer, exercise riders, and horse care that allows their presumably motley-but-talented gang of equines to develop the physical and training acuity to perform high school movements, I can imagine exactly zero therapeutic benefit for this. There are so many ways that lower level dressage movements can be used to the advantage of the TR/HT student, it just seems hollow to use the fancy-shmancy movements to give a kid a thrill rather than pursuing more basic goals.

    5. This series of tie-in products is riding the popularity of the movie/book all the way to the bank. Most people who gravitate to HB do so because they see Rupert as a horse-and-autistic-kid whisperer, and many of them do not know that TR has been around long enough to have a community with standards and a regulatory organization, while Rupert is a bit of a johnny-come-lately. Rupert selling Horse Boy Method training and now Horse Boy Dressage training now may not be unethical, but it certainly caters to a clients who understand neither dressage nor TR, and to me it just seems a bit slimy.

    Do I think the guy is a scam artist? Probably not. But he's a self-promotional egotist who probably doesn't have as much respect for the horses at the heart of his miracle as his puke-worthy prose would suggest.


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  18. #38
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    BRAVO x halt salute!!

    I personally do not have any dealings with this man, HB, nor have I ever worked with a hippotherapy program or the like, although my sister did take lessons at the Vangard school in Paoli in Pa. (they have an equine program for mentally challenged kids).

    After going though all the pages in his website, I just felt dirty. Like he was taking advantage of his kid's short comings and decreeing something that everyone (most people) know, that the movement of the horse heals. That animals help.

    To me, he is just a snake oil salesman hiding behind his kid.


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  19. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by x-halt-salute View Post
    I have worked in therapeutic riding/hippotherapy and I once had a long but friendly conversation with Rupert about TR after an event to promote his film/book and raise funds for the TR center I was working at, so this has struck a nerve. To his credit, his publicity campaigns for the book and film actively sought out existing TR centers and allowed them to collect donations at his publicity events, so he has reached out in at least a small way to the established TR world. But the overall impression I got from him was that behind the free-spirited, world-saving rule-breaker image is a rather P.T. Barnum-esque businessman.

    ...

    Do I think the guy is a scam artist? Probably not. But he's a self-promotional egotist who probably doesn't have as much respect for the horses at the heart of his miracle as his puke-worthy prose would suggest.
    Thank you for saying it so much better than I did. You expressed exactly what I was trying to say.

    Regarding the high school movements, I do want to say, that teaching the horses tricks, like bowing, that the kids can prompt with a hand movement or single word actually sounds like a fun idea. However, certain tricks, like "jambettes," waving the legs/offering for a shake, sounds like they could be dangerous if offered without a prompt and someone was in the line of fire. Pawing/shaking from a dog without a prompt goes from downright annoying to deep scratches. With a horse, you could smash a knee cap, or with a small kid, a serious knock in the head.



  20. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by MrsFitzDarcy&Feliks View Post
    Regarding the high school movements, I do want to say, that teaching the horses tricks, like bowing, that the kids can prompt with a hand movement or single word actually sounds like a fun idea. However, certain tricks, like "jambettes," waving the legs/offering for a shake, sounds like they could be dangerous if offered without a prompt and someone was in the line of fire. Pawing/shaking from a dog without a prompt goes from downright annoying to deep scratches. With a horse, you could smash a knee cap, or with a small kid, a serious knock in the head.
    Absolutely! I once had a prospective therapy horse actually bow when I was mounted because the owner inadvertently made a hand motion that resembled the physical cue -- the owner rewarded with a sugar cube and I left with an empty trailer. I can see the appeal of voice-cued tricks for creating an incentive for communication, but you've got to weigh it against the risk.

    Also, leaving aside the ridiculousness of their dressage program and the role of tricks in therapy horse training, where does the 501c3 end and the for-profit business begin? Even if this is an earnest attempt to help kids, the fuzzy boundaries between for-profit, non-profit, and even academic work is a BIG red mark against the legitimacy of their operation.



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  5. My dressage horse doing her 'other' job
    By kahjul in forum Dressage
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: Apr. 22, 2009, 01:11 PM

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