Friday, May 14, 2010

Your Horse, In Training- Abby Part 2

Sending a horse out for training is much like sending a child off to school. Elementary school is all about learning the basics and practicing those skills until they become second hand. A child learns to read, write, do simple math, accept structure and develops social skills and discipline. A horse learns to accept a rider, to give over control of his feet, to accept discipline, manners and to re-channel his flight instinct and consistently respond to basic commands in the saddle on the ground.

Equine High School, much like the human version, is where everything learned in Elementary becomes more specific, faster, and harder. Horses learn not to just go, but how to go... on the right lead, in frame, balanced and all-pretty-like:)

Equine Collage is where the finishing happens, where all that learning- body control, lightness, frame, cadence, balance, and supple cues- gets put to work in a specific direction and to a specific dicipline.
Finishing that training and taking it to the show pen is like getting your Masters....and actually winning in the show pen...well that's just the equine equivalent of finally putting all that education to work.

In my opinion, every physically and mentally able horse should have at least finished Elementary school. That is where a horse becomes broke and safe- where a rider gains control and where a horse learns to give it up. Just as with a child, if one part of his early learning was skipped over or not fully grasped, that hole will continue to show up in every part of his future education.

When Abby came to me she had been rushed through Elementary. She was a naturally sweet, willing and gentle tempered mare and so those holes were not as apparent as they might have been in another horse. On top of that she had her lessons brow beaten into her and as a result her attitude towards learning was defensive... she'd rather clam up and shut down than risk getting the answer wrong.

When I first agreed to send Abby for 90 days my intent was to see how much schooling she had and if she was something I wanted to keep (after a series of "mistakes".) After 30 days I could have taken her home and called her "broke". But there was more to Abby under that hard shell of distrust. Every week I'd come down to watch her ride and find that Kari had managed to put another fracture in that mental wall. Abby had the scars to prove that she'd the right to her armour. Not a square inch of her side lacked for a rowel scar and two grape sized lumps of scar tissue on either side of her mouth explained her advertion to having the reins picked up. It took the better part of three months to get Abby to drop that wall and reopen her mind for business. Once she accepted that schooling could be fun and easy and that no one was going to beat her up, ask her for too much too soon or tune on her, Abby bloomed.... she gobbled up everything Kari threw at her! She went from barely passing fifth grade to whizzing Junior highs in just a few months. Her progress was awesome to watch.

My initial commitment had turned to six months in the bat of an eye. It was so easy to get caught up in the excitement of watching a horse who constantly progressed, who showed no sign of plateauing. To go back to my school kid analogy, Abby was the kind who, while posessing a bright and able mind, was no genius. She wasnt exceptionally athletic or talented but what she lacked for in natural ability she made up for ten times over by having a willing heart and an infinite amount of try. When a horse keeps getting better and better it is impossible to not want to keep going, and going. Only, when "going" was costing me roughly a grand a month, I knew the "going" would have to eventually stop. And it wasnt just a matter of affordability.

It is a matter of simple math.

To buy a finished reining horse that a non-professional could show and place with at a "state" level would run you... my guess, twelve thousand. They come cheaper and a for a lot more money than that but at $12,000 you can get something decent.

A year of training, plus what I paid for Abby in the first place ads up to a hell of a lot more than $12,000. And to top it off show purses in reining, at any level but the top, barely cover entry fees.

It would take at least another six months to get Abby consistently showing at the same level as what that $12,000 reiner would... and a year to get her to her masters. o... if I'd invested $1000 x 24 months of training = $24,000 plus the cost of the initial purchase price.

Here is what you can buy for over $30,000.

Dreamhorse ad

A horse that's finished. Shown. Earned money. A mare with an exceptional pedigree, out of the best bloodlines in the industry and one eligible to be shown in the "big time" where there is actually (a little) money to be won.

Logic's a bitch.

"But there is no greater pride than watching a horse you "grew" yourself show and win!... right?"

Sure there is! Saving $20,000 and buying MYSELF an education, just for instance!

And to top it off I had created a horse that was at the "collage" level while I was still riding in fifth grade. A fifth grader can ride a horse with a masters degree...afterall you cant "screw up" a master! A master is virtually unbreakable! They're schooling is so deeply engrained in their psyche that they can hold up to the bumps and bruises of a child-like rider and even teach them a thing or two. But a collage student, Abby, she was still learning... her training was solid it wasnt quite cemented. And I knew that with someone like me on board was bound to knock a few things loose. And so I stayed off as long as I could, I took lessons on a master and just counted on the fact that the longer I gave Kari to ride the longer I was giving the glue to set.

I stayed off Abby for eight months with the hope that I could learn enough, fast enough, that by the time I took her home she'd be that much closer to being a master and I'd be that much closer to being competent.

While I wanted nothing more than to have Abby finished as a reiner and to put (dare I hoped) NRHA performance earnings on record, the dollar's and cents of it all- that blasted logic- had to win out. And a single, solid year of training had a nice ring to it. Except for one thing....

I had never truely felt that Abby was my horse. In spirit, she was all Kari's.

The last part in this series, next.


  1. Oh, that blasted LOGIC! I hate that crap! lol Horses can be such an obsession that it's hard sometimes to think about them logically. All the time, blood, sweat, and emotions we put into them makes it hard to think about the investment objectively, but sometimes you just have to step back and go "holy s***, is it really worth it?! Can't wait to hear the rest of the story!

  2. In my next life I'm coming back as a trust fund baby. They don't have to be logical.

    Can't wait to read part 2...

  3. That is the darn sad fact about horses, there is very little profit to be made from the horse himself. Everyone else seems to make a few $$. Everyone except the poor owner paying for it all.

    A family friend raised a cute little stud and sent him out to make his mark in the world. The showed him extensively and got enough points on him for him to earn his ROM in a couple of different events. In the end, he had to sell the horse because the training/showing had financially strapped him. He sold for a little over $20,000. Everyone thought that was a lot of money. Come to find out the owner had over $50,000 invested.