Thursday, May. 23, 2024

The Horse’s Team

Because we want the best for our horses, our columnist believes the support team we create around us is critically important to our horse’s development.

We often think of the word “team” or “teamwork” as individuals working together. Whether it’s the crew of people at someone’s stable or teamwork spread among the rider, trainer and groom, teamwork is generally considered in human terms.

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Because we want the best for our horses, our columnist believes the support team we create around us is critically important to our horse’s development.

We often think of the word “team” or “teamwork” as individuals working together. Whether it’s the crew of people at someone’s stable or teamwork spread among the rider, trainer and groom, teamwork is generally considered in human terms.

For a moment, though, let’s think of teamwork from the horse’s viewpoint. The components of teamwork for our horse could consist of owner, rider, trainer, nutritionist, masseuse, chiropractor, dentist, farrier, veterinarian, saddle maker, etc. Now you notice we have included a larger group of categories and people.

It’s important to realize that all of this teamwork is only as good as how it functions and relates to each component. There has to be a director who unites all of the information and communication to provide answers to the many questions that arise, otherwise the team isn’t being utilized to its fullest potential.

Most of us have heard and know the theory that horses are emotional beings and have stages of training that could be compared to a roller coaster, where for a time there’s great improvement, and then they dip down and their improvement plateaus. When you hit a point where the horse is resistant or not as good as he’s felt before, you must recognize this as a phase. This situation does indeed exist—that’s just the way horses are—and you have to carefully handle him and work through it.

During these phases, most of us have probably thought, “I wish my horse could talk.” To help handle these feelings and this situation in a positive manner, this is where teamwork plays a vital role. Therefore, it’s important to plan carefully when creating your team to find people who support the theory and understand how horses tick.

There is one other person on the team whom I didn’t mention before, but he’s one of the most important—the support person.

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For those people who are not in training on a regular basis or do not have the consistency of a professional or a good horse person who has their best interest in mind, they need a support person.

The support person is someone who sees the horse in training on a regular basis. This person can simply be someone who knows the horse in all of its different stages so the rider or owner can refer back to him or her to understand which stage the horse is in at any one time. He or she sees the horse while performing and monitors his look and attitude.

We have always heard that it’s important to have “eyes” on the ground, and when we think about eyes we are usually thinking about how the horse looks in real time. Perhaps we’re going into a competition, and we are in the warm-up area needing those eyes to help with a few last-minute pointers.

Those aren’t the eyes I’m talking about, however. I’m talking about the eyes of a support person, someone who sees the horse on a regular basis and who can help with the communication between the whole team to understand the stage the horse is in and what’s going on.

Often during training there’s not instant improvement, and sometimes improvement is slow. When you have someone you can rely upon, who has seen your horse over a period of three to four weeks, he can see a difference when you can’t. When you’re riding the horse every day, you may not feel the incremental improvement being made, but your support person may spot the improvements you don’t feel.

There are so many questions we face with horses during these plateau stages: should I move this horse up a new level; should I just keep schooling him; is he balanced right; is the saddle prohibiting something; should I change the bit; is he ready for the double bridle?

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With all of these questions that come to mind, it’s important to have the support person “eyeing” the horse, watching him train on a regular basis (not necessarily every day) and knowing the horse and the stages the horse has been in.

There are some people who train at home and then take clinics for outside input. My recommendation in this situation is to take a friend, or someone from the stable, with you to attend and observe the clinics. Sometimes this person is as valuable if not more valuable to help you come to some conclusions or decisions during and after the clinic. This is someone you can bounce your thoughts off of and someone who knows your horse very well.

I’ve been known to jokingly say “sometimes the horses have it better than we do right now.” In some cases they really do with all the “team” help they are receiving, but it’s also important to go back to the basic horsemanship of “eyes” and experience the simple day-to-day training.

Our teamwork is then complete when we have the support person in place and working with our team.

In many cases—and especially during these difficult economic times—if we just step back, think and work through issues by taking our time, we can often reach a resolution without too much extra expense. By not looking for a quick fix or grabbing an immediate answer we then gain a valuable result. 

Scott Hassler


Scott Hassler, the National Young Horse Dressage Coach, resides in Chesapeake City, Md., and has trained many horses to Grand Prix. The U.S. Dressage Federation Sport Horse Committee chairman since 2001, he helped establish the sport/breeding record-keeping system now active in the USDF and U.S. Equestrian Federation. He began writing Between Rounds columns in 2005.

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