Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Made for TV

In the past ten years, the horse industry has seen the rise of a new type of horseman - the Clinician. Doing clinics has always been a training tool used by both well-known and unknown horsemen, however the advent of internet technology, as well as new agricultural television networks such as RFDTV has made this training medium much more accessible. Not only can you attend a clinic in person, you can watch it on TV, or purchase DVDs that outline the Clinician's entire training program. Along with those options, you can purchase training equipment such as 'sticks', special halters, headstalls, saddlepads, saddles, support boots, etc. all with your favorite Clinician's stamp of approval right on them.

There is some good that has come out of this movement. It has empowered many people to get outside and work with their animals with a do-it-yourself, git-r-done type of attitude. Most of the time, the animals are treated well, and are trained humanely. I also think that this movement has probably saved many horses that were previously untrainable, by breaking down horse training step by step and giving the horse a chance to do the right thing and be rewarded for it. Most Clinicians have outgoing, charming personalities that invite people in and inspire them to try harder and step outside of their comfort zone.

I do not personally subscribe to anyone in the herd of Clinicians. I rarely see anything new being demonstrated, but instead, lots of gimmicks being spun on the same old principals. Also, so many things that are being drilled to death in clinics have no real world use. While it may be a fun challenge to get out a huge rubber ball and push it around the arena, and teach your horse not to spook at it, how does that apply to competing on your horse? Getting your horse to collect, give its face, or take the correct leads? I was always taught, "Whatever you want to do with your horse, that is what you need to work on." Sounds simple, huh? If your show pleasure horse isn't interested in pushing a rubber ball while side-passing, what does it matter? If your hunter jumper doesn't like dragging a noisy tarp around the arena, why get yourself killed trying to get him to do it? Work on that which you intend to do.

If you are worried that your horse is tense or spooky or resistant, work on bending, flexing, and collection first. If you are fully in control of your horse's entire body, he will be easier to control no matter what you face out there in the big scary world. But bending, flexing and collection are NOT great subjects for televised clinics - they simply do not make good TV. It is more exciting to get an untouched, unhandled mustang to jump over barrels or lay down. THAT sells DVDs, and all that other stuff. Yes, yes...I know that most Clinicians love horses. But please realize that there are some out there making millions off of impressing people with dramatic equine feats, with the hopes that they will literally buy into the dream that they can go home and 'whisper' to their horses and see the same dramatic results.

What is more realistic is to simply BE CONSISTENT. Be consistent in how often you work with your horse - daily or several times a week. Be consistent with your expectations. Be consistent with your cues. Be consistent with your rewards and discipline. Be consistent with your methods - most non-coercive, non-painful methods will work eventually if you just BE CONSISTENT. You don't need any fancy equipment or an overpaid TV Clinician to get you where you want to go - it is within yourself. And if you have a serious problem with a horse, save yourself time, risk and the hundreds (and thousands) of dollars in DVDs, clinic entry fees and equipment, and send the horse to a local, well-recommended professional. There are some problems that simply cannot be worked out in a made-for-TV format, and require true hands-on experience to accomplish without someone getting hurt.

Happy trails - have fun out there!!