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Monday, March 7, 2011

Meet My Trainer

After walking Mariah home from our old barn I realized I had a horse that would not get the trailer. More specifically, the horse would not get in the trailer for me. I knew she would get in a trailer because her previous owner used to trailer her all over. Mariah knew what a trailer was and how to load but she refused to do it for me. I tried a couple of things that had worked with Beamer but to no avail. I could not get her close to the trailer and I had no idea how to proceed. I needed help. I needed a trainer.

You might recall that I had worked with two trainers in the past. The first trainer was just not a good fit. She had my daughter in tears and she could not communicate what she was trying to do. The second trainer was better at telling us what we needed to do but she already had a rather significant client base so that made it really tough to get time with her. The Parelli trainer that had helped us get Beamer into the trailer had moved away so she was not available at all. Time to start looking.

Where does one look for a trainer? The best way, at least in my mind, is to talk to people who have worked with trainers and have similar riding interests to your own. So naturally I asked around at Westernaires. I told people I was looking for a trainer to help me with some trailering issues and it turned out that one of the girls on my daughter’s team had worked with a trainer regarding some trailering issues and they were very pleased with the results. They had her phone number so I wrote it down and called the trainer later that night.

I would like to introduce my trainer: Carly Davis of Balance in Training. This is Carly:

Okay, she is a bit older than this today. This is Carly when she was 8 with her third (Third!) horse Scout. (Just for reference, I am 48 years old and on my first horse) This picture is Carly at the beginning of a career that I don’t think she had realized she had chosen at this point. I think good trainers start at a young age. To be sure, they don’t know what they are going to be when they grow up but they love horses. They are willing to climb onto the back of any horse somebody will let them ride. In fact, they may go looking for horses to ride. That willingness usually means they end up riding a lot of different horses which teaches them about all kinds of different horses. Stubborn horses, skittish horses, well mannered horses, ill-tempered horses, horses that don’t want to go, horses that don’t want to stop, horses that like to buck and most any other horse you can think of. Each different horse she rode taught her a little bit more about cueing horses, keeping her seat and disciplining a horse. She has ridden many different horses since this picture was taken. She went through Westernaires (she even won a horse from Westernaires!) and she rides at some of the local feed lots (I am guessing for fun as much as anything else).

At some point she knew she wanted a career that had something to do with horses and she discovered that she had the knack to be a trainer. She had enough experience with horses to know how to handle them and, more importantly in my mind, she has the patience to teach both a horse and a rider the lessons they need to learn. So she embarked on a quest to become a trainer. She went to college and earned her degree Bachelor’s in Agricultural Business and Equine Science. After earning her degree she started working on honing her training knowledge by attending seminars put on by various trainers to learn some more techniques for dealing with horses and to gain a bit of insight about how to teach people as well. Every now and then I can’t do a lesson with her because she is off to another hoses clinic so she can keep knowledge up to date. This is Carly today:

She is shown here with two of her former students. The paint is Diesel and the red dun is Mojave. These two have since “graduated” and gone on to live with new families.

My first meeting with Carly was at our place. I have always wondered what she was thinking after our first lesson together. At the time I called her I was somewhat enamored with Parelli training methods. We had had some success with Parelli methods with Beamer so naturally I figured it was the best and only way to train horses. And Parelli is supposed to be fast. If you watch enough of the Parelli videos on line, one starts to think that in five or ten minutes you will have a horse that loads in the trailer by merely pointing the horse at the trailer and telling it to get in. So that is what I was expecting I guess.

I introduce Mariah to Carly and I get a lesson in what horse training is and what it is not. Carly walked Mariah around to the back of the trailer and Mariah would not go near the trailer. Carly worked to get that horse to take a step into that trailer for over an hour. And here is why I always wondered what Carly was thinking at the end of that lesson: at the end of the lesson the horse was covered in sweat and had not put one foot into the trailer. Now, for a trainer hired to get a horse into a trailer, ending a lesson without managing to get a foot in the trailer would seem to be cause for concern. Will her new client (me) think that she is a bad trainer because she failed to get the horse in the trailer? Will she lose me as a client just because she didn’t work the miracle I had expected? During the lesson, Carly had explained very carefully what she was doing and why. She had me try it a couple of times and corrected how I held the lead line and the handy stick. When Mariah tried to push through me she explained that I need to stop her and make her back up. I learned a lot in that first lesson about applying and releasing pressure when training a horse. I was not disappointed about the horse not getting in the trailer. I had read a Clinton Anderson book and learned that it usually takes more than one lesson to teach a horse something so I was not overly concerned.

The next day I went out and took what Carly had shown me and I got one foot in the trailer. Cool. I actually applied something I learned and the horse responded! Carly came again and worked with the mare another day and got two feet in the trailer and gave me a couple of more tips. Over the next week or so and another visit from Carly, I worked with Mariah and eventually got all four feet in the trailer and standing calmly! Today, I throw the lead rope over her back and point at the trailer and she steps right in. The biggest thing Carly taught me was that the horse was not afraid of the trailer, the horse just didn’t trust me! Carly helped me establish the level of trust needed to get the horse in the trailer. All told, it took about two weeks. As Clinton Anderson said in his book, “If you take the time it takes, it takes less time.” We took the time required and today I have a horse that has no problem trailering. In fact, I can throw the lead rope over her back, point at the trailer and tell her to get in and she does. The horse had learned to trust me. This new level of trust would also start to pay of in the months that have followed.

Well, I was impressed. Carly had taught me something about what horses respond to. How pressure and release of that pressure teaches the horse what you want it to learn. She taught me that you cannot let a horse get away with anything because once they learn they can make you move your feet, you’re in trouble. You have got to have and hold that lead horse position in your herd of two (or more). I asked Carly if she gave riding lessons and she said yes. That was roughly about March of 2010 and she is still my trainer to this day. The horse that threw me the first time I got on now stands quietly while I get on. The horse that used to run all over the pasture is learning to collect and control her gait.

The relationship we have with our trainers is an interesting one. We tend to look at trainers as our friends and we forget that they are professionals. They make their living by working with people and their horses. We need to remember to treat them with the same level of respect that we treat other professionals we deal with. If you schedule a lesson, keep it. When those times happen, as they always do, and life throws you a curve, call your trainer as soon as you can to let them know you can’t make it. There have been times when I have had to cancel a lesson so I have called Carly and asked her if she could work with one of my daughters instead. She has always been willing to do so and she would probably be willing to do it even if I didn’t call her ahead. But if she knows she is going to be working with my daughter instead of me ahead of time she can better prepare a lesson for her. We need to pay attention to our lesson times. Trainers usually work by the hour and it’s not really fair of us to cut into our trainer’s earnings and another client’s time. Okay, enough time on the soap box.

On a side note, that trailering lesson was one I was able to share with some friends at Westernaires. They had a new horse that was taking them about 45 minutes or more to trailer. They were a bit frustrated to say the least. I showed them the cues Carly showed me one day while at Westernaires. They looked a bit skeptical but later that day when they were wanted to get home but the horse did not want to get into the trailer, they tried it. They were able to get their horse in the trailer in about 10 minutes. They were ecstatic! They got home at a reasonable time for the first time in a couple of months. They practiced with the technique a bit and guess what, now they just point him at the trailer and he gets right in. No, I am not saying I am a trainer by any stretch of anybodies imagination. I am saying that when we understand what the trainer is teaching we can sometimes help a fellow horse person out.

1 comment:

  1. I guess I always knew you were a patient one. I'm sure you will learn many things from Carly but I'll bet your calm, patient manner will take you a long way with Mariah. B