Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pirates and Thieves

Have you ever had a horse in training, and felt completely out of control of the process?  Bombarded by extra fees on your bill that you didn’t authorize?  Vet costs that you didn’t know about, didn’t authorize and are confusing as to their purpose?  Worried that your horse is being mistreated and feel powerless to protect them?   Have you ever felt annoyed or angry because a horse trainer expected you to show up at the barn with an open check book and a closed mouth?   Have you ever had a horse that you delivered to the trainer sound, healthy, and happy, only to have it given back to you a sick, quivering, lame, and terrified mess, and were then told, “These things happen?”  Then you, my friend, may be one of many interested in taking back control of the horse industry from those that would like to hold us, the owners and breeders, over a barrel – the trainers.

A friend of mine in the reining business characterizes big name horse trainers as ‘pirates.’  They sniff out wealth among owners and good horses among breeders, charge exorbitant fees in exchange for taking over your assets – your well-bred, well-loved animals, expect to rule their barn with absolute authority,  demand loyalty while they are free to behave like divas, gain fame and fortune to the outside world while treating the horse as a disposable commodity, and in many cases, doing unconscionable things to the animals in their care, even as they are climbing the ladder of success toward that enviable ‘million dollar’ status.   As owners, breeders, and amateur riders, we are at their mercy if we choose to put our horses in training.

In a perfect world, we would be working our own horses, and forming partnerships with them that would carry us to the winner’s circle.  But this is unrealistic for many people.  Some have careers that take up too much time, or have family obligations that are of a higher priority than spending the necessary hours working their horses.  Many people recognize that they aren’t physically capable, and yet want to be involved in the horse world, even if it is as an active observer and enthusiast.  Some people see their limits, and want horsemen with more talent than they themselves possess to take their horses as far as they can go in the competitive arena.  As a horse trainer and riding instructor, I encourage people to be as active in their horses’ lives as they able to be, but also see nothing wrong in placing a horse with a trusted trainer whose philosophies match that of the owner.  I myself have had many horses with trainers; some I admired a great deal and came away satisfied and inspired.  Others were a nightmare, and made me understand all of the things I DON’T want in a horse trainer, no matter how “big” their name is.

When a trainer takes your horse and mistreats it, causing it physical or mental harm, they are stealing from you.  If the horse experiences harsh training techniques that cause the horse to become afraid, sour, dull or dangerous, that horse’s worth is seriously impacted.  If the horse is physically injured due to rough care or negligence, not only does it diminish the horse’s worth, it may render it useless.  When a trainer authorizes a vet to use drugs to mask or change a horse’s disposition, way of going, or physical appearance, they are imposing serious risks to the horse’s immediate and long-term health, and are also risking the sullying of your good name, should it be discovered that your horse underwent this treatment in order to win.   For those of us that put in countless hours of handling, care and planning, plus thousands and thousands of dollars worth of breeding fees, purchase costs, vet care, feed, shoeing and land management costs, to have a horse ruined and wasted by an unscrupulous trainer is devastating.  Yet many are afraid to speak up, or have signed away our rights by agreeing to sign the pirate’s best weapon – a training agreement that includes a non-disclosure clause.   I think that the inability to speak up and advocate on behalf of your horse that has been maimed, crippled, or killed by a trainer so that they may retain some kind of ‘good reputation’ is the very definition of adding insult to injury.

We can, however, take back our power.  The trainer works for us, right?  So why not have our own contract that clearly sets limits on what the trainer is allowed to do to our asset, the horse?  I think this is a brilliant way to do battle with the pirates!  A friend of mine has put together an excellent contract that does just that – defines what exactly the owner expects and allows to be done to their horse while in the care of the trainer.  It can’t control everything – plain old bad training, for example – but it does protect the owner from deliberate diminishment of the value of their horse, and gives them legal ground to stand on if the trainer chooses to go against the owner’s wishes.  You can access this contract here.  I encourage you to use it within your owner/ trainer relationships, and spread the word to your friends who may be thinking of putting a horse in training.  There are plenty of ways to personalize this contract, so don’t feel as if this is a one-size-fits-all deal.  You may strike sections if they don’t apply or add caveats to them, or add your own conditions at the bottom.  I feel this is a good place to start in remaining in control of your horse, and, since even the most hands-on owner can’t be at the trainer’s all the time, is a little insurance policy against things happening behind your back.

Some pirates will certainly be offended that you dared challenged their judgment in being the captain of their ship!  And may even ask you to walk the plank and take your horse with you!  But the contract contains nothing that is unreasonable, and I would be seriously wary of someone who wouldn’t agree to the simple requests stated therein.  They are probably doing you a favor by letting you know up front that they intend to mistreat your horse, so leave them to their own devices and seek out someone who is appreciative of you, your horse and your money, and will therefore treat all of those things with respect.