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Green Horse & Green Rider - Yes, You Can!
Trainer's Nightmare--Teacher's Delight
I've heard it and read it hundreds of times: Green horses and green riders are a bad combination. Green horses are untrained, unpredictable, and unsafe. Green riders are unbalanced, uneducated, and unsure. Green riders should only learn on finished, seasoned schoolmasters while green horses should be left to experienced trainers who specialize in starting horses.
I've talked about absolutes in another article:
We should all know by now that talking in absolutes is just begging for exceptions. So anytime I hear someone talking in big generalizations and using words like "always" and "never" I instantly start thinking in questions: Who is saying this? How do they know? Why do they say this? Most often the source is the owner of a finished horse or a trainer. And if you peel that onion back a little further, this is an owner who could afford to buy a finished horse, not one they brought along themselves. Sadly, if you hear this being said, it is often said by someone on their high horse while looking down his/her nose at the lowly novice who is trying to make the best of a challenging situation.
Is it any wonder that so many first time owners give up? Scenario #1: They are sold the perfect horse by the local Big-Name-Trainer who also steers them in the direction of the perfect saddle, bridle, bit, etc. Of course, the BNT convinces them that the horse needs to remain boarded at his facility and remain in training with him. But the trainer only allows them to ride their own horse under his watchful eye and then pulls them off after a short time so they don't mess up his hard work. Oh dear, but then the money runs out. The new owners take their horse home. Without the trainer there to make the horse look good, and since the horse was trained but no one really educated the rider, things start to come undone. The horse will not work for his owner the way she worked for the trainer. The owner gets frustrated. Or worse yet, the horse stops working altogether and starts bucking, rearing, biting, pawing, kicking. The owner gets hurt. So the owner sells out.
Scenario #2: They are sold the perfect horse by the local horse trader. They go to the tack store and they buy the perfect saddle, bridle, bit. They subscribe to the pretty national magazine with all the pretty pictures. They buy a stack of books by the experts. They get front row seats at the horse training clinic. They buy the DVD's, the training stick, and the round pen. They are enjoying the ride but starting to worry. The farrier says the horse needs shoes every 6 weeks. The vet says vaccinations, deworming, and dental care twice a year. A friend tells them about equine chiropractic and acupuncture to keep the horse sound. A seminar on equine nutrition advises them on additional feed and supplements for optimum performance. A new truck and trailer...helmets....boots....chinks and slobber straps..thousands of dollars a year just to maintain this lifestyle. The new horse owner has had enough and sells out.
Between the "horses are too expensive" and "new riders must have a finished horse" it's a wonder we have 9 million horses in the United States! Surely they can't all be finished with their training. I'll bet that the majority are unbroke breeding stock and green broke horses. In my own herd of six, we only have one "finished" horse - my daughter's semi-retired H/J mare. The other five are in various stages of their training, but not finished by a long shot. In my book, they are all still green. I bet I know what some of you are thinking now, "Backyard horses, no wonder!". Why is that said in such a derogatory, sneering fashion? Is this the term for any horse kept at home as opposed to a boarding facility, or is this the term used to deride the mutts of the horse world for their poor breeding, lack of training, and owner ignorance? I'll bet if we looked at those 9 million horses, we would find that those backyard horses make up the backbone of the equine industry.
I like the backbone. I've been bucking the green horse/green rider mythology for over 30 years now while I help novice owners learn alongside their novice horses. I wish we could all find and afford "made" horses. There are those that say if you can't afford it, you shouldn't be in the horse world. I guess the answer to that would be affordability is in the eye of the beholder. If you really, really look at what a horse actually needs to live a quality life, the list is not long: a safe enclosure, clean forage, clean water, hoof care as needed, a few vaccinations and ensuring a safe parasite load. Now, you can sure add to that until the bill is thousands and thousands of dollars. Or you can get practical and do some scrounging and find perfectly acceptable alternatives. There are inexpensive horses everywhere that are safe,sound and ready to ride if you aren't too picky. So there you go. Now what?!
EDUCATE YOURSELF AND GO SLOW. Read, listen, watch, ask questions. Then read some more. Do what you can with your horse. In baby steps. Find someone you can trust that likes working with greenies and can help you along the way. If you get stuck, or scared -- STOP. Go read some more. Ask somebody. Then try again. Some trainers will shake their heads; don't worry about them, they are jealous because they are losing your business. The smart ones will cheer you on, knowing that you will turn to them for support when the going gets tough. Don't give up. The rewards will be endless. Your horse, your way!