Monday, June 14, 2010

buy cheap - buy twice

What seems like a fabulous bargain at first glance might not work out so cheap in the long run. Put differently: you get what you pay for. Sure there are exceptions, bargains can be had at times, and on the other hand, not everything that is expensive is good. But in the greater scheme of things, I think we can safely say that quality has it's price. And spending money on quality goods and services is money well spent.

It is pretty much the same when it comes to paying someone to educate your young horse. There are plenty of "breakers" and "trainers" out there who will sort out your youngster at an appealing sounding price. First problem is the fact that there are no standards, no accreditation schemes and no warranties when it comes to horse training. So all that a horse owner can go by are the adverts in the local paper or the recommendations of other horse people in the area. Of course, the opinions of fellow horse people are just opinions. And one man's idea of a "good job" is another man's nightmare. The average self made horse trainer may even do an acceptable job on an average to super pleasant young horse for an owner who is happy if that horse comes home with brakes and steering. So ten people might say that trainer X is "great". But what if your young horse presents a bit more of a challenge? What if you, the rider, want a horse which has been taught more than stop on a rein pull, turn left on a left pull and go on a kick? Chances are, you will not find trainer X suitable for your horse.

Worse, as trainer X's approach fails with your young horse, he is unlikely to ring you up and say: hey, this is beyond my experience level, please find someone with more finesse and experience. No, chances are he (or she!) will try this and that and build up a great wall of frustration, which is often only resolved with force. Many times, young horses are shoehorned into a behaviour set by the use of various training gadgets, and being the nice critters that they are, a lot will put up and shut up. That goes well until they go back to their often inexperienced owners, where the thin veneer promptly crumbles and all the unresolved issues surface. And now there is a BIG problem, because the horse has learned that it can evade and avoid the unpleasantness. So it's called a problem horse and it goes back to trainer X for "fixing" or maybe to trainer Y. From there it is often an ever declining spiral of problems and "fixes", which inorexably leads to a pen at the local saleyards and a trip to the knacker's yard. Good bye promising young horse.

Buying a cheap and nasty saddle, which was a shiny "bargain" at the sales is bad enough. But at worst it will fall apart or a strap will break and cause you a nasty fall and a trip to the hospital. But with a young horse's education, we are talking about the future of a live being. It's not as though once he's been to a crappy trainer and you have wasted your money (seemed such a bargain to get him started for a few hundred bucks, eh?) and still haven't got a horse you can ride. No, it's much worse than that. Your horse has learned to resent the whole thing. Before there is a chance that he can be rideable, he needs to unlearn all that rubbish, re-gain his trust in people and only after that can he learn how to properly be a riding horse. Or even just a safe horse to handle.

Remember, if you are going to ride this horse when it comes home from training, you place your trust in your horse and the work that the trainer has done. Your own safety, that of your horse and all the people around you, are you willing to gamble with that with cheap but potentially shonky training? Buy cheap, buy twice. First you pay the cheap trainer to ruin your horse, then you have to pay a good trainer at least a normal training fee, maybe more for the extra correction work needed. So in fact, buy cheap, buy thrice? And that's assuming there is no lasting damage to your horse which can't be made undone!!

So before you send out your youngster, do your homework. Meet the trainer and watch him work horses work and his in the paddocks. Look at his equipment. Check his facilities. Talk to clients, the more the better. If the trainer is good, he will gladly give you references. Talk to him about your expectations, be honest about your own experience level. Tell him everything you know about your horse. And expect to have to pay good money for a good job. If you can, go and watch your horse being worked. Don't bug the trainer all the time, but make the effort. No good trainer will have an issue with you watching. If you have questions, ask. If you are not happy, say so and if need be, take your horse home. It is a fine line of course, as many horse owners are not really aware of what is OK and what is NOT OK in horse training. I have ranted often enough about that! Still, a good trainer will be able to give you a reason why he did something, and that explanation won't fall under the category of  "I needed to show the bastard who is boss here!".

Good horse trainers are hard to come by. They have years of experience and are more likely to be able to deal with challenging horses than a backyarder who has "broken a few horses" for his mates and thinks this might be a lucrative sideline. But expect to pay for the services of a skilled and meticulous trainer. Their time is valuable and whether they do it for the love of it or to make a living, the quality time they put into your horse is worth what you pay for it.

Just remember though, in case you do decide to send your horse to a backyarder to save money, and the wheels fall off. Please don't insult the good trainer (whose know-how you found "too expensive", so you went to the cheap guy) by asking for free advice on how to fix the balls-up which has been created. That is not only unfair, it is insulting.

Do the right thing by your young horse. Give him the best possible start, it is an investment for life.

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