Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Teach Me Tuesday: Horse Ruining


I feel like a really common fear I run across with my fellow adult ammies goes like this: "I'm just worried I'll ruin my horse." 

I hear it over and over and over, from all riding abilities, disciplines, and walks of life. 

And it goes right over my head. 

There are lots of things I worry about--Maimimg. Death. Intense pain. Forced liquid diets. Crippling injuries. Ruined tack. Wasted time. The usual. 
But one thing I don't think I've ever worried about is ruining my horse. I mean, if I put him in a bad situation and he gets way overfaced or fried, yeah, it'll be a massive PITA for me to spend the next few months fixing him and regaining his trust, but we'll get past it.

So to those ammies out there both with this fear and not, can you explain why this is a thing? What drives this fear? It's obviously a really big deal. I want to understand. 

37 comments:

  1. I'm with you - definitely not afraid of ruining my horse. You can teach your horse bad habits, Lord knows I have! But you can also learn to teach them good habits. If we all gave in to the fear of 'ruining' horses, we'd never try, we'd never learn, we'd never DO anything! At this point in my career I also feel like I have the skill set to maintain, if not improve, my pony's training on a daily basis. Also I'm not aiming for Rolex or HITS or Spruce Meadows or the Olympics. The stakes are not so high for me, so I can afford to make some mistakes in training here and there, learn from them, and move on.

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  2. I was actually just talking about this with my trainer over the weekend! To be honest, I am always in fear of ruining Roger. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found such a sweet yet superbly talented and athletic horse, and part of me is afraid that my bad habits will hold him back from realizing his true potential. When my trainer told me that Roger "will have no problem with the 3'3" or 3'6" jumpers down the road" in my last lesson, I thought, "WOW, I had better get my sh*t together!" Owning such a talented horse is a wonderful thing, but it can also be slightly intimidating at times, because I feel like my skill as a rider doesn't always match his talent level. He IS a green baby OTTB who has a lot to learn, and I always try to help foster that learning, rather than make him confused or potentially give him a bad habit. As an adult ammy, I feel like I need to step up my game to match my horse, because he's definitely the perfect horse for me, and I would never want to let him down. I know that I have a good trainer and I like having lessons because they are supervised by someone far more knowledgeable than me, but sometimes hacking by myself can be nerve-wracking because I'm afraid I'll make a giant mistake and ruin Roger forever.

    /soapbox dismount.

    So yeah, that's where my "fear of ruining my horse" comes into play. Sorry for the novel.

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  3. The idea of a forced liquid diet has me sweating.

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  4. I recently said this to my trainer last week when I bought my 6 year-old - and she told me to get that thought out of my head immediately. When I say I don't want to ruin him, I mean I don't want to install bad habits or "undo" any of his education, as I still have a lot to learn and my talent doesn't quite match his. I want him to retain what he's learned. Hopefully some of this made sense? But this is why I am getting him training rides once per week so hopefully I really do have nothing to worry about :)

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  5. A few months of bad riding can completely undo a horse's confidence for life. I've seen it, unfortunately. I've seen even just ONE bad incident completely ruin a very nice horse. For me personally, my horse tries so hard to do what I ask, the very worst thing I can imagine is putting him in a situation where he trusts me and I prove myself unworthy of that trust. I don't FEAR it, necessarily, but I'm very acutely aware of it, and I think every rider should be. Especially those with green horses. The welfare of the horse, both physically AND mentally, is paramount. It's our responsibility as riders to remember that. We shouldn't fear it necessarily, but we should always remember the responsibility we have every time we get on a horse.

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    1. I think this nails it. I'm not afraid of ruining Murray (how much worse could he get?! I kid, I kid) but I am very conscious and cautious of setting him up to fail or letting him down through my own short comings.

      Especially for amateur riders, those little mistakes that put a dent in your trust bank can have really, really long lasting repercussions. Sure, you have the patience and game plan to fix them, but for some people a little bit of failure leads to a lifetime of stopping.

      Tangentially related, I've actually witnessed several horses being completely ruined by their teenage riders (who evaded supervision by riding at home or away from the barn and lying about their riding habits), and for two of them it happened in a really short period of time -- less than six months really. It is really sad.

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  6. As the rider of a horse that seems as if she was 'ruined' at some point by someone, I am definitely aware that it is a real thing that happens. However, it isn't something I'm particularly concerned about doing. (God, that makes me sound like an asshole.)

    I feel like I have enough experience and self-awareness to understand the horse I'm riding. I don't worry that hitting a horse in the mouth once or twice will totally put it off jumps forever, but it's not like I TRY to hit horses in the mouth. I don't worry that an ugly distance now and again will make my horse a stopper.

    I've also never felt like I 'ruined' a horse- I mean, Moe has some problems, sure, but he's sound, sane, and extremely enthusiastic about whatever his job is that day.

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    1. Yes. This. I also feel that someone who is, in general, concerned with their horse's well-being and welfare and is constantly making efforts to educate themselves is very unlikely to ruin a horse.

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  7. This fear was very real for me when Tucker was a baby. I was afraid I'd end up with one of those fried horses that has all kinds of talent but is too much of a hot mess mentally to do anything productive. For me personally, it came from the fact that his siblings and his mother were all like that, to varying degrees, for different reasons. I also felt like Tucker had potential to be a really, really nice horse and I wanted to do him justice. I went really slow and when we had a bad show/bad lesson/bad ride I worried about the long-term effects on him, big time. But honestly I don't think any of our fails are burned in his brain. His fear of swingsets, and ladders, now those are real (I have no explanation for either of these). Now that he's older (he'll be 13 next week), it feels more like "he is what he is," and he's a little neurotic sometimes but generally he's easy to ride and be around so I must not have done anything too terrible.

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  8. Fear of ruining my horse doesn't stop me from messing around with Moon. I own him, I'll screw him up my way. Kinda like the way parents are allowed to mess their children up however they want. The only time it really holds me back is when it's someone else's horse. I do NOT want to ruin their horse, especially when someone hands you a big talented young fella and I'm like "Oh gawd. You're gonna blame me for all the things that are messed up about him in the future....". Nope, happy to ride my boy and keep the ruin in the family ;)

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  9. I'm with you. Yes its possible to set a horse back in his training, but generally I think most of those issues are fixable with time (and professional help). I think horses need to learn to deal with rider mistakes and step up to help when they can. I think (hope) that horses getting permanently screwed up from one bad incident is rare. I chose to think that most problems are fixable.

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  10. I think it's mostly a fear of not helping your horse reach their ultimate potential... and when I thought about it myself a few years ago when I was going through the "I'll ruin my horse!" scenario in my head, I realized that my horse HAS not goals or agenda's other than the eat and snuggle, so who cares if she COULD do GP dressage (which she can't but whatever, let's just pretend) as long as her needs are met she could give a flying flip about what she COULD ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE!

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    1. Agree so much to this! Copper just couldn't care less as long as he gets to have some fun and be a horse. So keep him sound and sane, that's my thought, and improve him where I can is the goal. Horses are quite forgiving creatures, and I'm glad for that. :)

      bonita of A Riding Habit

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  11. I don't have a fear of "ruining" my horse and don't worry about it that often. I do, however, recognize my ability as an adult ammy rider will have an impact on Ellie's training. If I consistently chase to a fence then she will begin rushing, if I have crooked hips she's not going to be balanced on the right lead and start to lean, etc, etc.
    I'm happy to have my trainers ride her a few times a week to bring her back to baseline!

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  12. Fetti is part schoolmaster, part obnoxious chestnut pony mare: she's a better trained horse than I am rider, and I've dulled a lot of her sensitivity over the past few years. The slightest hint of leg used to always mean go; now it takes a definite cue to mean go. It means I can ride bareback without her bolting on me, but it means she's less responsive to the aids. All of my riding flaws are reflected in how she goes now.
    I don't really despair that I'm "ruining" her, but I'll freely acknowledge that how I ride has made her less suitable as a sensitive dressage/jumper horse.

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  13. I appreciate getting to ride or drive someone else's horse, it's what makes us better too, but knowing how quickly someone can undo some or all of my work in one ride, leaving me to go back and fix it? It makes me a bit more cautious when taking the reins of another persons horse.

    One of the biggest things I have learned (and recently this really hit home) was that sometimes I need to just let go and trust my horse. When I trust my horse, I give them someone to trust. Things go much better and we have a better ride. It's building blocks and small steps, one or two at a time. It's not a race to see how fast we can pull this off (to read- reaching the horses potential). We'll get there when we damn well get there, and not one minute sooner. The horse will always see to that. lol

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  14. I don't have a fear personally of ruining a horse, or my own horse ... but I have seen bad riding undo a lot of training in one ride, and it usually takes a lot more than one ride to repair that damage. Lots of bad riding, and the damage may be irreversible. Some horses are more resilient that others along these lines but none are invincible. I guess what you intend to do with the horse and of course your own abilities will have a lot to do with whether or not you are in danger of "ruining" the horse.

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  15. Unfortunately, I've seen (and ridden) a lot of ruined horses. It's usually brought on by an overzealous owner/trainer combo that pushes for too much, too quick. It's the reason I am so ridiculously slow with how I train my horses. I have rarely seen a horse truly ruined by ignorance on the part of an AA acting alone, however. Spoiled rotten? Definitely! But the overwhelming majority of horses I've seen ruined got that way because pushy trainers were chasing ribbons and paychecks instead of properly educating riders and horses.

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    1. This I definitely agree with. Food for thought.

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  16. I think it is more a figure of speech. I mean "ruining" to say that I send my horse on so many training rollar coasters (improper methods, fix it, improper methods, fix it) that would be less necessary if I was more experienced or had a trainer guiding the program. I don't think that I could ever ruin my horse because I am loving with good intentions and fairly solid skills, but I do think I could cause more drama and anxiety than ideal because I am not my trainer, my horse is young and I am not always confident about what I am doing. That doesn't mean I am wrong for taking on more of the training, it just means there are more bumps and risks and I need to be aware of when help is needed.

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  17. I like reading all these comments...that is all...

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  18. Well, I've owned a lot of ammy-ruined horses... not that I'm a pro because I'm definitely NOT, but I've owned a rearer, a bolter, a bucker, a flipper-over, and a terror-stricken-panicker. The only one I couldn't fix was the terrified one, which is why she now lives happily in a field doing nothing at all. But it's VERY easy to 'ruin' a horse, and it's not exclusively an ammy thing. Gogo was pulled off her feet repeatedly when rearing with a trainer, someone who should have known better.
    P's ammy owner got bucked off repeatedly because P learned that if she bucked her off, she got to go back to the pasture and eat. (She also trainer her human to feed her cookies when she pawed... the lady shoved cookies into her face to get her to stop pawing. Riiiight. Smh.) And of course O was ruined by a trail rider who thought she was a trainer and thought she could train O to do sliding stops. It pissed her off SO bad in the few months that it went on that I don't ever think the emotional scars are going to leave her.
    It seems for the most part that those who ruin horses either don't realize they are doing it (i.e. they think they know more about training than they do), or they do it on purpose because they don't care that the horse is going to be washed up and broke down in a short amount of time (i.e. futurities, money, prizes, glory and fame at the horse's expense, etc). Your average ammy owner who cares about the horse should absolutely be worried about messing the horse up, because they WILL mess the horse up - but because they care, they will seek out help to fix problems, and the problems will not ever become horse-ruining types of problems.
    I also think 'ruin' is kind of a huge vast canyon of a definition. A horse might be ruined for his particular ammy rider - that rider can't control/deal with/handle the problems because they have gotten so out of hand - but a pro might be able to handle the horse just fine, and maybe even turn it back around into an ammy horse. Or it could be a pro ride horse who gets absolutely fried by terrible riding/handling, and it becomes either so crippled or so mean that the only help for it is a slug between the eyes. A lot of ruined horses can be rehabbed - they're not ruined forever. It just depends on how ruined they have become, and whose hands they fall into post-ruining.

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    1. Yes. From what I understand my horse was "ruined" at one time by being used by multiple riders in a school horse situation. He stopped trusting hands completely, and was just downright bad. With someone with hard and terrible hands he would never be suitable.

      That said, my hands are god's gift to horses (hahahaha! As if!), and we struggle with this issue all the time. He's always going to have those emotional scars. A pro could probably do better, but consistent work and building up trust on a day to day basis have helped us get to a point where I can put someone else on him and he won't lose his brain.

      I guess I don't consider him ruined, just "used". Every horse ever is going to have baggage from a previous situation, and you just have to find a horse who's baggage is compatible with yours. Sort of like searching for a significant other, I guess. What baggage can you handle?

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    2. There's an awesome daring game/app..."what baggage can you handle?!"

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  19. I'm with you, a lot of my friends are worried about ruining their horses but I just don't get it?!
    Had to laugh at 'forced liquid diets'.

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  20. I think the fear comes from two places: the misconception that a horse deserves or cares about reaching his or her potential and the fact that horses are emotional creatures with very long memories. I say misconception with regard to the horse only. I do realize that if one spends a great deal of money on a performance horse, improper training will impact that investment and that is a real concern (if you are into that sort of thing).

    The long memory of the horse and this memory being attached to emotions is a real issue in my opinion. I have seen more than one ruined horse. It can be very difficult, time-consuming, and even dangerous for someone to fix. In most cases, the horse can never fully be trusted again and will always remember his past vices, although he may have acquired them through no fault of his own. Ruining a horse can happen in lots of different ways and even by accident. One bad experience can go a long way, which is why good trainers, pro or not, will do what they can to bank as many good experiences as possible. The younger the horse, the greater the risk. Very experienced horses with a boat-load of good experiences are at the lowest risk and are usually the best ones to teach riders good habits.

    I don't fear this, but I am aware of it and handle horses with it always in mind.

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  21. i hear this a lot from some barn mates too and it makes me kind of sad... like a barn mate yesterday who said she was doing her horse a 'disservice' and my response was kinda along the lines of 'well, he's not exactly on a truck to slaughter... so it can't be THAT bad!'

    but all the same - the horse's confidence can be just as fragile as our own and definitely needs to be protected.

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  22. Ha! I mean, I'm pretty much afraid of ruining everything, so of course I'm afraid of ruining horses. I'm pretty sure this belief was instilled in my by my first barn's very clear division between school horses for plebs/nicer horses for showing clients, which in my mind translated to you have to be Good Enough to ride the Nice Horses --> I am not, therefore I will automatically ruin any Nice Horse I sit on. Pearl was such a shit show when I first met her that I was never worried about ruining her as a whole, but I was afraid of a) not being able to rise to her level and b) causing her weird bit/mouth issues to worsen.

    My first greenie project that I was the major rider/"trainer" for, I definitely worried about ruining him. Knowing what I know now, I really under-rode him as a result and I wish I could have a do-over. I absolutely did not click with the trainer I was working with, but she did pretty much indicate that since his beginner owner who rode for half an hour a week had yet to screw him up too bad, my intermediate self riding three horses a day probably wasn't going to screw him up too bad. I still have thoughts of "oh god I'm not qualified for this" when riding the super green ones, or the old campaigners who've forgotten more than I will ever know, but I think that's just my personality.

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  23. I have seen horses "ruined" by riders. I am terrified of missing to enough jumps that my very brave mare will start to doubt me and stop. Especially now that we are jumping "big" (1.25-1.30m , but big enough for my mistakes to matter). I know horses that have had their confidence shattered by bad crashes into a fence. I ALWAYS want to be jumping a level that feels EASY to my horses. The best thing for an amateur to do is buy a horse that is overqualified for the job. For example, if you want to show 1.10m, buy something capable of doing 1.20-1.25m. This allows room for error. Typically, the horse will have the scope to get out of sticky situations. In my opinion, horses get "ruined" most often when they are asked to do something beyond their capabilities.

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