There’s a movie out right now called “Bad Teacher.” A few years ago there was one called “Bad Santa.” As of yet, I haven’t seen either one, but nonetheless I think another title to add to the mix might be “Bad Trainer.” While I consider myself fortunate to have ridden with some wonderful horse trainers who were great mentors and teachers, I’ve also encountered quite a few who were nothing more than con artists with a pair of boots and a hat.
In retrospect, I realize that most of these characters didn’t really love horses. At least that’s my impression. Instead, they inhabited the horse world because that’s the only place that would have them. They could operate in our little corner of society, away from almost any type of regulation or oversight, and master the arts of manipulation and creative financing.
Two things amaze me about bad horse trainers. One is that they stay in business. You may need a map and a box of push-pins to keep track of their whereabouts, they skip town so frequently, but they seem to continually attract a fresh crop of naïve clients. The other is that no matter how emphatically you tell someone to steer clear of a specific trainer—to the point of even including detailed examples to illustrate your warnings—they still hitch up their trailer, load up their horse, and deposit it in Bad Trainer’s barn for a minimum of 90 days, which they will invariably live to regret.
Sadly, these scoundrels sully the profession for all the truly ethical, humane good trainers. And there are plenty of good trainers. It’s just hard to find them sometimes because they tend to be less pompous, less self-serving and therefore less visible than their evil counterparts.
So how can you tell the bad trainers from the good ones? I’m certainly not an expert, but based on my life with horses, here are a few tips that you might be in the presence of a Bad Trainer (now referred to as “BT”):
- BT assures every client that their young, green horse is destined to be a fabulous champion and/or worth $50,000, whichever comes first. Either way, BT utilizes these proclamations to seduce the client into investing in more training.
- When parents express reticence about paying for even more riding lessons, BT promises them that their money is well spent because their child is naturally talented and headed for Olympic success.
- Never one to turn down a potential client, BT advertises the ability to train every type of horse in every type of discipline. Dressage? Western pleasure? Barrel racing? Hunters? Roping? Arabian Native Costume? Yup, BT can do it all.
- BT carefully chooses which horses to ride. Anything that’s uncomfortable, evasive, temperamental or just plain unattractive is secretly ridden by the teenaged assistant.
- There’s no room for sentimentality in BT’s barn. Clients who seem to pamper their horses are treated with disdain or outright ridicule. In fact, BT never gets misty-eyed or nostalgic when discussing long ago horses from childhood. If you didn’t know better, you’d think BT never loved a horse.
Believe me, I have plenty more Bad Trainer traits. I’m sure you can add to the list, too. As we learn to recognize BTs more quickly, we can keep our horses out of their barns. Maybe then they’ll take up some other line of work.
Back to Life with Horses
Awesome column. I’m right there with you on the every horse is a world-beater thing. The moment I hear that, I cross the trainer off my list because I know right then I will be BS’d to death.
So true that all the bad trainers ruin the profession for the honest ones.
Pros who say they train all kinds are clueless about what it takes to train a real champion. Shows are so specialized these days. No one can do it all.
When I was competing regularly, there was a trainer notorious for severely disciplining his horses and using abusive training methods(kicking their bellies, wrapping jump poles with some abrasive material). He was pretty nasty to his clients too, especially the kids. But his clients and horses always won. Hunters, jumpers, equitation. Always in the top rankings. Inevitably, most people I rode with eventually made their way there. One girl’s horse died of ruptured stomach ulcers. She continued to keep her other horse there though. Even when it came time to sell my horses, we made sure that they wouldn’t end up with someone at that barn.