What does it take for you to throw in the towel?

A couple of recent incidents with people I know have prompted me to ask this question, as I’m interested in your perspectives and experiences. When do you give up and pass along a horse (green OR trained) to someone more talented than yourself for that horse’s own good? What sorts of behaviors cause you to throw in the towel and stop trying to get back on?

Or are you the person who says, hell no, I AM going to ride this horse – whether or not that means more than one trip to the E.R.?

For me, I know I am no bronc rider. I will get back on if I get bucked off and am not hurt, but I will probably do some longeing first and try to wear down the horse to the point where the incident will not be repeated. If something got me off twice in a day, I’m pretty sure I’d be done getting back on and would absolutely pass that horse along to a trainer that I know has more of a velcro butt than I do. I think it’s extremely bad news for a horse to succeed in offloading riders on a regular basis…every time your butt hits the dirt, they win and the behavior is reinforced. To me, it’s really smart to just pay the money to stick someone on the horse that the horse cannot throw. Most horses will respond to that by giving up, and usually in surprisingly short order. The few that don’t may really have a screw loose (or undiscovered pain – always, always, always look for pain first.)

There are other behaviors I’d be more likely to keep working with myself. Spooking, not usually a big deal. Bolting, hey, go back to the round pen and go back to basics and make sure you have a working whoa – bolting is often a sign of missed basic training – like with track horses who were never really broke, just learned to carry a rider and run. (Not true of all OTTB’s – all trainers differ! Some trainers have them pretty well broke and transitioning them is a snap. I applaud those trainers!) Rearing is not something I like to deal with and if I can’t find a source of pain (back, teeth?) that explains it, I’m likely to pass that horse along to someone else.

I will throw in the towel quicker at a public event like a show than I would at home. Let’s face it, a crowded warm up ring is no place to resolve a serious problem. You’re likely to interfere with other riders (which is rude and can cause someone else to have an accident) and you can’t concentrate on your horse when there are other riders everywhere and you have to worry about not running into little kids on ponies.

I know horsepeople are split on this. Some will tell you that if you don’t work through the problem AT the show, the horse learns he can misbehave at shows and get away with it. I don’t know if that’s completely true. I do think that when you fail to punish misbehavior in the show ring the same way you would at home, they do figure that out, but I also think that you don’t have the right to screw up everybody else’s ride bronc-busting in a flat class (or getting tossed and having a loose, bolting horse getting other people tossed) and that the polite thing to do is come to the center and wait to be excused.


If you’re in a dressage ring by yourself or jumping a course and you want to do your best to fix the behavior, knowing that the ribbons are already out of your reach, go for it and I applaud your guts! I don’t know who the rider is in the picture, but they are doing a fabulous job on a hard bucker – their position is just exemplary. They may not win a ribbon, but they are going to win that round with their horse.

I can watch that halfpassgal video all day and just go, OMG, I wish I could stick like that and wish I had her courage. (If you’ve never seen it before, beautiful example of a rider sticking and then NOT freaking out and NOT changing their riding and NOT having a temper. She proceeds as though nothing bad happened. Ah, youth…)

Do you look down on a trainer for deciding to pass along a horse? I don’t at all. I think that if you train professionally and that’s what pays your bills, it’s only intelligent to draw some lines about what you will and won’t get on. After all, if you get seriously hurt, you are out of business. Also, I don’t think the most talented trainer is necessarily the person who can stick like glue, and most horses don’t need the person who can stick like glue. Those people do exist, for those horses who need it, and often it just takes a few weeks or a month before they can be passed back to the regular trainer or the owner with the problem resolved.

Have you sent a horse off to fix a specific problem that was a bit too much for you, whether that was a misbehavior or a “fine tuning” issue? Did it work? Was the problem cured or did the horse still display the problem with you even though the trainer did not have the problem? Were you able to regain your confidence with a horse who had scared you off by seeing the trainer succeed with him and then working with the trainer to learn how to ride through the problem? Or did you simply learn that the horse had your number and it was not going to be the right horse for you?

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Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 9:11 pm  Comments (61)