Please be respectful when replying. I am posting this as a tool to help all involved sort through the issues.
I had a family come to me last summer for help with a 4 year old horse they had purchased for the 'tween-ager' daughter.
Story condensed, the mare had issues all ways around with ground handling, and total ADD (and I'm just using that phrase to short cut a long explanation when that pretty much sums it up).
Though the mare was broke I decided riding her was not safe or the best way to go so we invested 2 months in to a total ground work rehab. We started with 4 days a week with multiple 15 minute sessions addressing ground space, being light and responsive, obstacle course work, and graduating up to lunging on a line in an open arena. She lunges very well and dependably even in an open field.
We have her in a D ring JP (curved mouth) french link snaffle.
I started riding her 3 days a week, taught her young rider how to lunge her safely so they could fill in the gaps, and had the young rider start lessons on one of my school horses to get her more formally educated to the aids and a more independent seat.
We finally started taking the mare out and about to a local dressage versatility show where the mare earned high point for the obstacle course division (highest scores out of both in hand and riding divisions).
We were clicking along pretty good with the horse and young rider doing walk - trot work. They took her home for the coldest part of the winter but continued to haul in once a week for lessons.
Mounted she knows turn on the forehand, she is capable of doing 4 -5 steps of side pass. She was starting to grasp the idea of stretching her neck forward and out to find contact (you could drop the reins to the buckle and she'd put her poll well below her withers) and coming onto the aids here and there.
Before she left I was starting to 'ask' for canter departs under saddle. Initially the first few times I verbally asked her and she did it, which I think shocked the horse (lol). The then I think she was on to the fact that she had been brain washed and started this really nasty POUNDING of her forehand (crow hopping would be more eloquent) which nearly resulted in me getting smacked in the face several times.
We went back to the lunge, where she had no issues cantering on voice command for several circles at a time in loose side reins. I had someone lunge me on her which helped some what bridge the connection. By the end of fall I could canter her 2 times around our medium sized arena on a loose rein in a light forward seat. Though she wasn't really forward about it, she wasn't hinting at slamming on the brakes either.
I did notice though that she REALLY struggles with keeping her lead behind, on the lunge riderless, and with a rider.
She went home for the winter and has now come back. However, while home she broke into a canter a few times and her rider came off. Her canter really is rough. The mare is rump high, short necked and straight through the hocks. So, I'm afraid the canter is never going to be 'rocking horse'. At any rate, I'm pretty confident from other eye witnesses the horse didn't throw her young rider, the young rider just wasn't capable of riding the jack hammer canter.
So the mare is back and I've started addressing the canter again and it has really gone south.
One ride she started doing her temper tantrum pounding and tossing her forehand around to the point she launched her self capriole style off the ground (to which I took the crop and laid into her with it behind my leg and pressed her on forward).
Yesterday she started this at a walk (which she has never really done before), broke into a trot then went up so high that I found myself arms around her neck dangling down her back with my feet trailing off her rump. I went off (onto my feet with reins in hand thankfully) to the right while she came down 'great marlin' style to the left. I was lucky to be in the perfect position to immediately send her around into an animated turn on the forehand.
She started this in the her trot warm up with her young rider during their last lesson last week, when there was no hint at canter work coming and I noticed the young rider starting to jerk the reins. I know the young rider can't be expected to mentally sort this out, I believe she is a combination of afraid and frustrated at this point, and despite a supportive conversation about what the idea fix is when the horse does this (do not pull on the reins but she if she'll go long and low), I can't expect this inexperienced young rider to do it.
I'm also at a place career wise that 1. I don't want to feel responsible for this young rider either getting hurt or being so over whelmed she leaves the horse industry and 2. I don't want to work the mare through this. I'm 42, I've done my share of riding through this stuff in my 30 years of riding, but I can't afford to get senselessly hurt or senselessly lose my own confidence.
I've totally enjoyed getting to know this family, they are fast becoming friends. I have really enjoyed watching the young rider develop some good skills over the past 9 months. And I will say I didn't expect this horse to get as far as she has, honestly (I asked them if they could sell her within a week of her coming to my farm).
I feel like both the young rider AND the horse would benefit from a more experienced 'significant other'. Even if I did continue on with the horse, the rider now has started developing some serious defensive riding (wanting to hold the mane, snatching the reins, wanting to pull a horse down to a stop if things get remotely off kilter). And I believe this horse knows who is and isn't up to task. This mare isn't hot, she isn't forward, but mentally she is still very young and physically she isn't naturally balanced conformation wise.
I'm not sure why I wrote this all out here. I suppose I just felt like I needed a bit of support.
I wrote the owner this morning and offered she could call today. My though was two options: 1. sell the horse now that she is more marketable than she was 9 months ago or 2. we find someone else to send her to that can work her through this as I feel really uncomfortable at this point.
I'd love to know what the young rider really wants to do. If she had a safe and biddable horse what would she want to be out doing this summer with that horse?
My thought is, this mare is obviously western built and bred (APHA). I'm really fine with western riding, I love versatility riding and firmly believe we should do with a horse what he is 'meant' to do. But if the young rider does indeed enjoy the english disciplines (she went to a few dressage shows in the past few months, showed one of my ponies) then in the end this horse won't be suitable build and type wise either.
Last edited by Starting-Point-Stables; Mar. 27, 2013 at 09:06 AM.
You sound like you have done everything you can. Once we reach this point it is best for ourselves and our clients to let them know this. I'd say talk with them as you have said you will and leave them to make a choice.
I'd not ride the horse anymore. Just too much uncertainty. It isn't worth it to you to get hurt and then not be of use to anyone for a time.
I've had this discussion before with clients. I appreciate that other trainers out there do the same.
This is a not too unusual scenario, when parents purchase a green horse for a green rider. What makes it even more difficult is that it is horse, that will turn out unsuitable for the riders's developing interests, even if it were a more temperamentally suitable critter.
I would hope you can convince them to sell her, now, before either you or the daughter endure any more grief.
I'm sure you have an in the back of your mind feeling that you giving up on this, and you don't like it. But also comes a time when you need to realize that a week or two laid up can really destroy your business.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
From what you have written, this horse sound like she has a physical issue that needs to be addressed. Difficulty holding a lead on the lunge? Almost knocking you in the teeth under saddle? After all that work and her attitude and progress, this doesn't sound like a training issue or just "the way she canters".
If she turns out to be sound enough to be a trail horse, could she do that?
Sounds like you took a lot of the right steps. The only thing I'd suggest is maybe have a vet look at her to make sure something isn't physically causing her soreness or pain somewhere. If she has a hard time holding her lead behind with ams without a rider it could be young horse balance issues but it could also be pain somewhere making her act out.
Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole
Perfect Pony - I know the dental stuff has been addressed and she is 'up to date' in that department. I have kicked around the idea of her being physically off some place. But in the end, even if found out she had X, Y or Z wrong, it still isn't going to be an immediate fix so I'm still looking at the best interests of the child first and foremost. I know horses 'remember' pain and this is obviously ingrained in her and would take time to recover, rehab, and rewrite new behaviors.
The mare had similar issues in her initial 'under saddle' work with me. She would do the 'arabian head roll' in the beginning as well. It took about 6 months of work to get her quiet and consistent with her neck / head... and on a good day we even get some foam in the corners of her mouth with soft quiet connected contact. But I feel like that depends on the rider (in other words the horse NEEDS a dependable rider).
So it could be physical as in a pain problem, it could also be a combined mental/physical issue, not a soundness issue exactly, because I don't think when she was initially 'broke' she was educated in the process at all. My opinion was she had a saddle thrown on her and someone started trail riding her. And from that her mental issues expressed themselves as physical issues - total resistance all ways around and being totally lost about the process of 'how to learn'.
But yes, I do believe her canter has some kind of combination of mental and physical issues.
I actually think the best thing for the horse right now would probably be going out and doing some actual conditioning type trail riding (and allowing the terrain to educate the horse). But unfortunately I don't have 3 days a week to commit to a 3 hour time slot to get her out on those types of rides with out having to charge my hourly rate... and as a professional I feel like that money would be better spent if the young rider had a lovely horse. Sure I could make the money... but I'd rather see the child truly happy and 'doing' things.
Thanks everyone for the replies and the chance to talk this out with others.
I've got a question - can anyone help me come up with a pros - cons, flow chart, "If - Then - Else", or some other form of decision making process so the owners can sit down and, with out a sense of emotional attachment to the horse, come up with a logical and responsible course of action here?
Your replies got me thinking something like this... maybe you guys would have ideas to fill in the gaps even more.
1. Put the mare up for sale now, disclose her age and training issues, knowing the owners will take a significant loss on the price they paid for the horse when she was 3, but know they'll stop putting money into her with training and training board (they have their own property and have another horse they keep at home)
THEN start looking for a more suitable horse and go forward from there.
2. Keep this mare and....
A. Start finding a trainer who would be willing to work her through this
B. Do a vet work up to address any possible pain issues
C. Get the young rider on some confidence building horses and get her back on track
D. based on the findings in A & B give the horse another 3 months (???) to start showing some honest solid improvement in the safety department and then reassess the horse suitability for this young rider.
Does this sound logical and reasonable to present to the horse owner?
In the nicest possible way... I think you are overthinking the situation and making it more complicated than it really is.
The "green" parents unfortunately purchased an unsuitable horse for their daughter. That's too bad, but it happens... and at this point, I think you are wise to focus on the kid's needs/safety/goals.
You have put quite a lot of time and effort (and the clients presumably have invested time/effort/money) in trying to make this animal into something that would be suitable for the daughter.
The horse just isn't coming along, despite everyone's best efforts and good intentions. It sounds to me like the horse needs to go, period.
At this point, I'd worry about these nice clients throwing good money after bad. I realize that people's financial situations can vary a lot, and I think you may have to be prepared to hear that they don't have a lot more money to kick in to buy a new horse if they have to sell this one at a big loss. Again, that happens... few clients have unlimited resources.
In that case, perhaps you can suggest a lease option, or maybe the kid can take lessons on one of your more suitable animals, skill up a bit, and by the time the kid is really ready to do more, there will be more of a budget for a new horse.
But as the professional, I'd think long and hard about sugar coating the news that they own a horse that you, as a professional, don't consider safe to ride. Kicking that can down the road to another trainer, based on what you've written above, seems like a low percentage shot to me, and potentially just another big drain on the family's resources. Not an issue if the budget's not a problem, of course... but I'm not sure that it is the best option for this kid who is already getting defensive and frustrated with a sport that is supposed to be FUN.
********** We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.
It sounds like she needs a break. She is only four.
Can the family afford to chuck her out for a bit, do a run or two of ulcer guard, and revisit the idea in the fall? In the meantime have the kid take lessons on one your quieter horses to get her confidence back. If the horse doesn't show improvement after a mental/physical break... cut your losses and sell her.
I'm also a big fan of the chiro for horses who often partake in shenningans.
I do think that you are doing the right thing by this pair, but it boils down to safety, and it sounds like this mare isn't that at all.
Have them send it to a trainer who can handle the canter and develop it for six months. Perhaps someone else can initiate the canter over a small jump so she doesn't have to figure out a transition would be a place to start. When you trot up and canter smoothly away it solves 90% of the problems.
Personally I am not a fan of four year old horses getting thrown down the river because they are four.
I believe selling the horse could put the horse in a more appropriate position to become the STUDENT vs needing to be a teacher. It would also allow the human student the chance to move on to a horse that IS CAPABLE of being a suitable teacher (and not a teacher in the 'school of hard knocks').
That is specifically why I said to be honest about the mare in a sales description, to attract the right owner vs just moving her down the line.
This mare has come a long way in the past 9 months... but I think she still has a long slow way to come before she is suitable at being a teacher herself or compensating for a learner rider. And it would be a shame to see the innocent mistakes or incompetence of this young rider turn this horse into a pseudo 'criminal' behavior wise.
I'm not sure simply pitching the mare out in a field is the best. The mare actually really seems to enjoy being worked with... esp with the ground work (she got fantastic scores and comments in her versatility in hand work "relaxed and supple", "responsive", "interested in her work"). She isn't grumpy when being saddled, girthed, bridled or mounted. She walks up to you in the field when you go to get her. I don't think she is 'sour' in general. But I think she could do better under a rider who would enjoy the process (PROCESS) of bringing her around. And for a tween-ager, that is a bit over whelming and I think the negative interactions with the horse are starting to erode at the positive interactions.
I know it isn't easy to sell a horse for various emotional reasons. I came here to try to council her owners in the best steps for all involved and realistically that is affected by time and money resources (a child that is growing up and missing out on the joys of learning riding is my biggest concern along with her safety).
I also think you have done a lot of the right things, SPS. I think your desire to do right by the horse, and the owners, is very apparent. To me, what stands out from your description is that this horse, with this rider, could easily become dangerous. You admit your concern for the rider's safety. I would say that is priority #1 - and I believe that if you bring that concern to the forefront, both the JR and her parents will be willing to look at all options. I would bet that they sense this already, (especially the rider, who you describe as being afraid) and will probably be relieved if you put it out there. As for where to go from here, I think they have a couple of options:
1 - to just find a home for her (as you mentioned, with full disclosure of all the issues - this may mean selling cheaply as a 'project')
2 - to investigate every possible avenue to making her a suitable mount, if they want to keep her: this probably means a thorough vet/soundness exam to rule out any physical causes, and if nothing comes up, sending her to a trainer or cowboy-type who can ride her through the tough stuff for a couple of months.
Again, I can see in your posts that you are honestly concerned for the child's safety, and beyond that even her enjoyment of the sport. I agree that this should be the focus, and I'm sure her parents will appreciate your honesty. Best of luck!
Oh I'm so happy to report 'mom' got back with me and agreed the best solution is to find the horse another home/rider and is looking forward to us having a chat tonight about what to do next.
I think investing 9 months is honorable. They stepped up and as a whole team they got themselves better educated, learned a lot about ground work and lunging and did their part. I don't think they should feel any shame. I know they'll be responsible in marketing and selling the horse to a suitable and appropriate new owner.
Maybe this thread will help someone else in the future that may be standing at a cross road with a horse they are not quite getting along with.
#1; I say this as a mom (and I say this with love), don't put too much weight on "what the young rider really wants to do". Teenagers have notoriously poor judgment and unrealistic expectations.
#2; Your absolute first priority as a trainer/teacher is safety-your own and your student's. If you are worried about your own safety, you are way over the line with regard to the student's.
#3; This horse is unsuitable for its intended use. The "why" doesn't really matter for your purposes. Even if you discover an issue, it may take a long time (and a lot of $$) to remediate it. It takes an honest professional to acknowledge their limits and do, what they knowas a professional, is the right thing. If the horse can do western work comfortably that may be the discipline she belongs in.
I would lay it out clearly for them. The horse has issues that you don't feel comfortable working on with their daughter. Tell them that you recommend that the horse be sold and offer to help them find a suitable replacement if they wish. Do not equivocate about this. They made an error and they may resist admitting it. But fundamentally, it was their error. Don't continue to support it. As the professional in the equation, you have the greater responsibility and the most liability.
Personally I am not a fan of four year old horses getting thrown down the river because they are four.-Meupatudoes
Good! Are you volunteering.
And meanwhile the potential young rider, twiddles her thumbs?
Selling a horse does not equate to throwing them down the river.
Actually I have a 4yo ottb mare in my program that basically could have written this post. She is reactive in general and particularly so in the canter. Several trainers prior to me told the mother of the teenage owner to get rid of the horse, it wasn't suitable, it was dangerous, etc etc etc. One BO emailed her essentially that she was a bad mother for letting her daughter continue with the mare.
Kiddo and horse are on the road to success now, combining very gradual work both on the ground and undersaddle with the mare, and starting to take some lessons on my made horses so the kid can get more comfortable in the canter on a made horse before doing more canter work with the young and green mare (which, for the record, I was NOT involved in the purchase of, but I AM fixing it).
Just one of the many horses in my program that trainers prior to me told the owner it was dangerous/get rid of it/retire it/it would never be rideable by them or suitable for them.
So far 100% have all actually been perfectly capable of developing a positive and functional relationship with their owners within roughly six months or less and I haven't had to get rid of one of these "dangerous" horses yet.
Good that they have chosen to do the right thing for the horse and child. I will say though that my paint was broke by throwing a saddle on and going down the trail. He never had any proper training at all really. He learned a lot about cues on the trail when it came to w/t/c. He is now with me in dressage training and is a very willing and safe and sane partner. Just what I wanted. I don't think the way they are broke is the problem as much as their brain for one taking on the new work and asking or if it's physical issues are usually where problems lie. My guy was broke late at 6 1/2 and I got him at 7, you'd think he was broke 20 years ago but he has a great brain and that makes a huge difference sometimes.
Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole