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Teen student abusing her horse - WTD?

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  • 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.

  • #2
    Ugh we were all teens at my own barn when I was one and we each had lots of ugly moments at shows or the barn. Our trainer was not the kindest to horses so we were used to "getting after" them.

    But having said that, plain abuse is abuse. It should be treated as such and explained how very serious it is.

    A person could see her and file a complaint with the police departement. The police will absolutely respond and file a charge if they see a sweaty mess of a horse and witnesses.

    Dont threaten her with this in terms of you filing but say that someone could and really wouldnt she if she saw it herself?

    Explain to the parents how bad of a situation this puts everyone in, your barn and your reputation.

    Explain that they need to figure out a punishment so that you know they understand how serious it is.

    And give them time to be parents about it.
    ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


    • #3
      You have more than enough tools and leverage to help this teen and her mare. You have the "it's my barn, and this is how things will be done here" position. You have the distance from her of not being her parent; you are a little more intimidating and/or you have something the teen wants. Best of all, you have the parents' support.

      So firmly and quickly lay down the law. "Disciplining" an animal in a way that does not teach her anything or gives her no way to make it stop is unacceptable, period. If the kid doesn't know the difference between punishment or correction that produces learning in the horse and the stuff that's plainly torture, then you need to teach her. If the kid doesn't want to learn the difference, then she needs to get off the horse.

      IMO, kicking the family out of your barn should be a last resort. The kid needs to learn this life lesson. It translates to people, too: You don't get to bully people any more than you get to bully an animal. Her parents would probably be grateful if you helped curb their daughter's unethical outbursts of temper.

      I hope you will choose to work on this problem. I don't think it will take long to make your "zero tolerance" policy a serious thing in the kid's mind. It might take longer to teach her *how* to do otherwise. Be patient with the latter; cut her no slack with the former.
      The armchair saddler
      Politically Pro-Cat


      • #4
        I would talk to her parents about psychiatric help, I'm betting there is something much deeper going on with her than what you can see to cause these issues. I know because I was the exact same way as a young teen. Had some severe depression, anxiety and anger issues, combined with the stresses of being a teenager, and yes, I would take out my emotions on my horses, then would feel horrible afterwards. There is probably a deep underlying cause of these tantrums and if she doesn't get help, it will only get worse. She might even be being abused at home, or by a boyfriend. Kicking her out of the barn might be the easy route, but you could also be saving this girls life by reaching out, and also put an end to the cycle of abuse. I encourage you to have a talk with the girl and with her parents.


        • #5
          She needs to be seperated from the horse until she learns how to behave. It doesn't really matter how you chose to achieve that. (if it were me, she'd be eating dirt already.) You probably need to talk to the parents and come up with a joint plan.
          ... _. ._ .._. .._


          • #6
            I would protect the mare and call the sheriff.


            • #7
              1. Meet with the parents without the kid. Relate what you saw the child do, on what occasions. Tell them you are concerned for kid, but will not allow kid to harm horse. Suggest parents talk to school psychologist or counselor. Tell them exactly what you will do if kid does it again - I will immediately take horse away from her and send her to sit outside. I will call you to come get her, and she may not come back to the barn until she writes me a letter apologizing and explaining why her behavior is unacceptable. If I can't stop her, I will not hesitate to act in the best interests of the defenseless horse.

              2. Follow through- including not allowing her back in the barn the same day, or on subsequent days, until she acknowledges why her behavior was unacceptable.


              • #8
                I would not call the police, I would call her parents. Ask them if they would agree to a break from the horse. If she has the horse "taken away" for some time, perhaps she would learn to appreciate it more. Teenage hormones plus any depression issues could be at the root cause of this behavior. They as parents need to talk with their daughter and see if perhaps they can get her some counseling. But I would strongly suggest to them to give the horse a break from this girl for at least a few months.


                • #9
                  Wow... That sounds like way more than typical teenage moodiness. Is it possible there is something going on at home or school? Unfortunately that kind of behavior is something that people learn as "normal" at an early age. As you put it, her behavior reminds you of an abusive boyfriend. That's what it sounds like to me too, there is some sort of abuse or bullying happening to her somewhere.

                  Best of luck. If its at all possible I think you should stick with her.
                  It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.
                  Theodore Roosevelt


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Ticker View Post
                    I would protect the mare and call the sheriff.
                    This will solve nothing, and will result in the infuriated parents moving the girl to another barn. No parent wants their kid to have a criminal record.

                    I would sit the parents and daughter down and tell them the daughter is not allowed to ride the horse unsupervised for ANY reason for the next 3 months. Also say you require than if at any time the girl misbehaves or hits the horse in anger during that time she will be REQUIRED to clean stalls (set number of stalls, not amount of time) as a punishment so there are real consequences to her actions and a reason for her to check her temper.

                    If she violates any of those requirements, she'll be asked to leave the barn. After the 90 days if there are no violations, she can go back to riding on some kind of probationary schedule that will still allow at least 50% of rides to be supervised for next 90 days. This doesn't have to be lessons, but riding while you (the trainer) are present giving lessons to others or while you are training other horses. Perhaps during the next 90 days she can ride while other boarders are present to supervise (if you feel this would be appropriate).

                    If the parents aren't willing to work within these *highly* reasonable requests, they will leave the barn. If they aren't willing to work with you to discipline the daughter, then nothing you can do is going to help, as there is little you can do without the parents' cooperation.

                    I think making the daughter do some physical labor as a result of her actions will go a long way towards making her think about why she is having to do it. I would be willing to bet money she'll slip up at least once during the 90 days, but if the parents help you hold her to it, she'll remember the stall cleaning and will check herself next time.

                    We had a teenager do this at our barn while I was growing up. Eventually she was kicked out of the barn, and the poor schoolie she was leasing from the barn owner took YEARS to get over his whip trauma and rearing problem. The young woman went on to become a professional rider and gold medalist, and unfortunately hasn't developed a modicum of empathy for her horses during that time- she's still as heartless about beating her horses as she was when she was 16, only now she does it with much more strategy. She also works with some VERY big-name-trainers on a regular basis.... I can only assume she isn't beating her horses when they are looking.

                    Anyhow, you need to do something corrective within your barn if you want to have any hope of helping that poor mare.


                    • #11
                      Stick with her. I would tell her exactly how she looks in these episodes. I would let her know that it looks very childish and she is going to ruin her horse if she keeps it up. I have seen this happening a few times to the point that one horse was almost unrideable. You are an adult that maybe she will confide in. Most teenagers don't want to talk about things with their parents. Maybe tell her how this makes her look and ask her if she is having issues elsewhere that has put a lot of stress on her. Maybe she will open up to you. You don't have to be a shrink but a supportive adult that maybe she can come to and you can help her along. I'm more of the honest truth type of person and I'm not one that will baby much because life is hard and not always fair and I believe kids should learn this as they grow and not be babied their whole life. Sometimes the hard truth can make someone open their eyes to what they are doing and ow they look. I would wait until she has an episode with the horse and stop it. No matter how loud you may have to get for her to hear you. I'd immediately tell her this is not going to happen in my barn and to stop her childish behavior now.
                      Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                      • #12
                        Another approach is to have a talk with the kid. Maybe she can use an adult role model besides her parents right now. I am not ruling out that they may be part of her problem. That sort of acting out usually has its roots in some other frustration, and if she feels she can confide in an adult besides her parents it might open the door for further discussion and a plan. It also gives you a chance to voice her horse's opinion on her behavior. Set those boundries of violence (yes that is what it is) as intolerable to you, and hope that she sees why they should be intolerable to her. And give her a consequence of what will happen should you see it again.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Lauralyn View Post
                          ... 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...
                          First, change YOUR thought process. Stop trying to be a psychologist and trying to get someone to "control" their anger. I am with NMK, Rabicon, mvp, etc. on this.

                          Work to get her to direct anger or whatever into POSITIVE aspects of training. Help recognize that while anger can not be avoided, she has the rational capacity to target the energy, e.g. when a horse is behind the leg, the anger/energy can be used to give strength to the leg to push the horse forward or it can give you the energy to have a positive ride to a 5 foot ditch and wall where a horse may hesitate.

                          How do I know? I was the teenager accused of abuse and over the course of time with good trainers/mentors I learned how to focus the anger to making my horse better. I even ride at the barn where one of my past accusers trains (she is not my trainer though) and she loves my ride now.


                          • #14
                            Is she doing this on the horse or off? If it is off, immediately stop her, if it is mounted it is frustration/lack of skills which much be assisted by the teacher.. Immediate stop either outburst.

                            Typically those who call their horses crazy/stupid are call that themselves. And the fact she feels remorse, likely means something else is going on (her boyfriend/parent/friends are bullying her) OR she does not have the tools to properly train the horse. Ask her about both.

                            First, I would meet with her only, ask about home stuff. Have her SIGN an agreement with her ALONE about how she will change her behaviors. IF that does not help tell here you will meet with parents and her. ONLY then Meet with the parents and her. Tell her this is unacceptable, and why (both times) and if it continues 'there is the door'.
                            I.D.E.A. yoda


                            • #15
                              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.

                              good luck!


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by BansheeBreeze View Post
                                I would talk to her parents about psychiatric help, I'm betting there is something much deeper going on with her than what you can see to cause these issues. I know because I was the exact same way as a young teen. Had some severe depression, anxiety and anger issues, combined with the stresses of being a teenager, and yes, I would take out my emotions on my horses, then would feel horrible afterwards. There is probably a deep underlying cause of these tantrums and if she doesn't get help, it will only get worse. She might even be being abused at home, or by a boyfriend. Kicking her out of the barn might be the easy route, but you could also be saving this girls life by reaching out, and also put an end to the cycle of abuse. I encourage you to have a talk with the girl and with her parents.
                                This ^^^. From the description, this is not a teen who disrespects you or the rules. This is a teen who has more issues going on underneath beyond the normal teen anguish. She needs psychiatric help. Her lashing out to the mare is symptom, not cause.


                                • #17
                                  I don't really think the kid for sure needs psychiatric help. Maybe anger management. Look I've seen teenagers like this. Some of them were bullies, some got bullied, some were just brats and if things didn't go their way they pitched a temper tantrum like a 3 year old until they felt better. The kid needs to be told this is not right and it's not going to happen anymore at your barn. You can work with her to help but she is acting like a 3 year old and she is going to ruin this amazing horse she has.
                                  Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                                  • #18
                                    Bullies don't feel remorse. Brats disrespect authority and rules. None fits the behavior of this kid. This kid is pleasant to be around in normal circumstances, and remorseful once that flash of anger is over. They all act the same at the moment when abuse is happening, but the root cause is drastically different from each other, hence requiring different approach.


                                    • #19
                                      I would talk the parents. In a nice way. Mention what a great girl she is most of the time but that she is having these Temper issues/anger issues and you want to make sure they are aware.

                                      It sounds like she needs help to develop skills to deal with her anger. It is NOT an unusual issue. Similar to dealing with stress or show nevers. Have a talk with her when she is in a normal mood. Explain that when she gets frustrated or mad...it makes her less effective as a rider and trainer. She needs to learn that when she feels those emotions coming on to stop, take a break, count to 10..breath. Realize that things are not working and do not BLAME anyone...her horse or herself. She needs to look at what is causing the frustation, and figure out how to address the issue differently (since what she is doing isn't working) and to ask for help if she can't or walk away.

                                      Work to give her the skills but I would keep the parents in the loop incase it is more than just a teenager learning to deal with more apped up emotions.
                                      ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


                                      • #20
                                        Get these violent outbursts on video; then she can see for herself what she looks like when you show them to her.
                                        Starts with an 'S,' ends with a 'T.' You figure it out.

                                        "Houston, Tranquility Base here, picking up where we left off ..."