Training … A lesson in humility

I am finally getting the blog off the ground.  I will be sharing my experiences as I work with and interact with horses … and people … as a horse trainer.  I am pleased to start with this little story of my relationship with a mare named Morgan.


Morgan and I met December 8th, 2011.  I have taken a position as trainer for a client who breeds Percheron/Thoroughbred crosses.  I was asked to start with a group of 4 horses ranging from 4 to 7 years old.  The target was to get them all going under tack ready to sell as riding horses.  Rather than go in and choose a horse to start with I elected to just go into the paddock and interact with the horses … and let the first horse choose me.  All of the horses were curious and came for a smell … and taste … but the one who came into me soft and polite … and passive … was Morgan.

It turns out Morgan is the matriarch of this small herd.  She was also the smallest at 16 hand 1,200 lbs or so.  We started our time together in the arena and simply got to know each other.  Soon after getting to know Morgan I found a number of issues we needed to work through.  She would not allow me on her right side, she would not pick up her feet, she hated contact (bit and halter),  she had learned to rear, she only lunged in one direction and she had very poor manners.  In spite of all the gaps in her training I found her to be an engaging and sweet natured mare … most of the time.  We just took things one day at a time and basically started from scratch.  Working through the bumps in the road she has come a long way and is turning into a very quiet, steady trail horse with several hacks under her belt at this point.

Once I was on Morgan and working under tack again, I started with one of the geldings.  Morgan then became “one of” the horse I was working with as we still have stuff to work through as a green horse.  The connection we made as horse and trainer is deep … but winning her trust came with some fireworks.  She is a mare full of confidence and attitude … and if you want her trust and respect … you have to earn it.  She soon discovered that I was a “force to be reckoned with but nothing to be afraid of”.  Now, when I enter the paddock … and the queen decides to greet me … she does so by licking my leg, my hand, my shoulder … grooming me as if I were her own.  I’d say I was a “sucker” for a pretty horse … but that would be … well … true. (get it? … licking … sucker … sorry)

Last Friday I went out to get another horse (Sampson) who has real fear issues being taken out of the paddock and we have started working him through those issues.  I decided to halter Morgan to see if Sampson would follow her to the gate … which he did.  I proceeded to take the halter off of Morgan and moved toward Sampson.  Morgan then turned and tore away across the paddock as fast as I have ever seen a horse run … mud flying 20 feet in the air behind her.  Of course … the other horses followed … and there I was at the gate … alone … well me and my client … I won’t tell you what she said.

Curious about the dynamic of what just happened, I went back out to where the group of them were.  Morgan began walking away from me and turning her hind end to me.  So I … as the Trainer/leader began to push her or herd her in amongst her herd.  I then got her to stop … haltered her and began my trip back across the paddock.  Morgan … in her special way … let me know this was not going to happen.  She ripped back from me and as she hit the end of the lead rope, she then challenged me head on.  She came at me with her shoulder and threatened me with her head … and I backed up.

For those who know me and have seen me work with horses … I don’t yield to a horses push very often.  The horse can perceive this as weakness or a lack of leadership ability.  Morgan made me yield to her … and it rocked me inside.  I quietly reached under her chin and unhooked the lead and she turned and ripped away once again.  My heart was racing … and my ego was bruised.  I went and sat in my truck for a few minutes to think about the situation and eventually decided it would be better to leave it for today and get some perspective in the situation.  I went back into the paddock … took the halter off of Morgan … gently stroked her shoulder and left.

I had the next two days to ponder Friday’s drama and came to this conclusion.  My actions toward Morgan were very passive aggressive.  I want you … I don’t want you.  I truly ”USED” Morgan to get to Sampson and she called me on it.  Christine (my client) and I have often talked about Morgan’s apparent jealousy when I handle the other horses.  Had I gone back into the paddock and “got it on” with her to “show her who’s boss” … it would not have been about what was best for Morgan.  It would have been about my ego and pride and would have eroded all the work we did in gaining each others trust and respect.  If I am truly about what is best for the horses I work with … I need to take my lesson learned and be a better person/trainer for it.

Whether you like it or not, horses are very blunt in letting you know how they feel about things … if we would take the time to listen … and put the effort into learning the language they speak … the connection we can make is incredible.  If we get the message they send and become better for it, we ALL win.  Morgan is a beautiful, sensitive mare who called me on my crap … and I listened … Thanks Morgan … Love you.


    • Elizabeth Hamidbasha on September 19, 2013 at 9:42 pm
    • Reply

    Sounds very interesting Tom. I hope to come out to your horse training centre some day and see you interact with the horses.

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