21st Century Trainers Must Face A New Challenge

Training people and their horses isn’t the same today as it was 20 or 40 years ago, primarily because we’re now dealing with at least two generations of Americans who are riding (or whose children are riding), but who have only limited experience with large animals. They weren’t as fortunate as those of us who grew up on farms or had mentors who were truly horsemen, who actually practiced animal husbandry and to whom caring for and training the horse was paramount.

But almost all of those old-time horsemen have left us now. And all the horse world’s disciplines are loosely divided among two groups: The people who can and will pay someone else to care for and train their horses so they can sit on them in competition or in the hunting field, and the people who can’t afford that or who want to take care of and train their horses (gasp!).

But many have never had the training they need, usually because they’ve never been exposed to it.

That means the biggest challenge for American trainers of the 21st century is that we must do far more than teach our students how to ride their horses. We must teach them how to work with and care for their horses–and that’s a challenge too many trainers overlook or even, regrettably, dismiss.

Why’ Time is certainly one reason. If you have five or six lessons to teach today (and half a dozen horses to ride), when do you teach students about conditioning, bandaging, clipping or even feeding’ The answer depends on your facility and staff, but we trainers have to figure out how.

And some trainers also fear that if they teach their students too much, they won’t keep coming for lessons. So they insist on schooling the horses themselves, having grooms care for the horses, or never teaching them more than they need to know to compete at this week’s show. But the best teachers I’ve had taught me how to train, which means how to develop my horses when I was riding on my own, and I still hear their voices inside my head.

Training riders and horses is about much more than getting ready for the next competition. It’s about teaching the hows and whys of horsemanship to both juniors and adults. Yes, you could argue that it’s most important to teach these skills and values to kids so that they’ll ”last a lifetime.” But there are thousands of small- to medium-sized barns all around our country where adults (sometimes with their children) are trying to take care of and ride their own horses. And we trainers have to teach them how to do it — safely, properly and confidently.

-John Strassburger