Sunday, May 14, 2017

So You Want to be a Horse Trainer.

So you want to be a horse trainer? It sounds like the best job in the world doesn't it! 

A Horse Trainer gets to ride all day for a living. 
A Horse Trainer doesn't have to go to School to be a Horse Trainer. 
A Horse Trainer hangs out in the Barn all day. 
A Horse Trainer is loved and respected by every one. 
A Horse Trainer has a wall full of Ribbons and Trophies. 
A Horse Trainer gets to drive a Truck and pull a cool trailer.

Well, I guess a lot to those things are true, but there is a lot more to consider. 

I used to want to be a horse trainer, when I was young and felt that I could ride anything. I 'trained' a few horses too. 

And I thought, " I could do this for a living. I don't have to get up and go to a job...inside an office...and answer to a boss! "

So I started hanging around a few 'real' horse trainers. I'd follow them around, just to absorb their secrets. That was in the old days when you didn't have to join a club or go to a clinic or visit a horse expo. You could make friends with a trainer and work for him, or her, for free of course, and maybe...just maybe, learn a thing or two. 
And soon enough this is what I learned. 

You can start small. Real small. Like "You are living in the front of a six horse slant load" small. "You have no heat, or bathroom or kitchen", small. 

You don't need to get up early to go to a job, just roll out of your cot, shake the spiders out of your hair and pull on muck boots- at 5 AM or earlier- to feed the horses and clean the stalls so you can get to work before the sun comes up. This is rain or shine, heat or snow- even on weekends. Even if you are sick. Even when you feel like death warmed over. 

  After feeding, the horses need to be groomed. A full groom too- all the tools from hoof pick to vacuum. Tails washed, braided and sacked. Then saddle a few, put them on a hot walker, choose one to bridle and work and ride. Try not to get thrown. Try harder not to get frustrated. Try your hardest to communicate with that horse despite all odds against you. 
Ride, rinse, repeat until all the horses have been worked.
 Feed lunch.  

Then the Trainer needs to think about the stable- big or small, the stalls needed bedding. The hay has to be delivered. The farrier, the vet and the massage therapist have to be scheduled. PG&E- make sure it is paid! Blankets need to go to the cleaner. Saddles need to be repaired. Start the evening feeding, make sure all the blankets are on, tuck all the horses into their stalls and go find a cold sandwich for dinner, because you were too busy to go to the grocery store today. 

 Someone calls about buying a horse, or selling a horse, or wants advice on buying a horse that the Trainer isn't selling. Little Jill wants lessons, Grandma wants to pay, they can only come on Saturdays after 7 PM. There are Futurities and Horse Shows to schedule for the talented horses, and sales to schedule for the older un-talented horses. The Arena needs watering, and why is that gate off the hinge? Abner threw a shoe, but the farrier was here just last week and won't return calls. Sally wants to know, "Can I wear a lavender hat in the Breed show next week?"

If times are slow the Trainer gives 'outside' riding lessons in between riding client horses. Sometimes the kids cry. Sometimes the kid won't get off the horse after the lesson is done, more frequently the kid won't pay attention. Mom rushes in, wants to take her other kids to soccer practice, wants to drop Jr off, "just for a minute, I'll be right back!" Only to be gone hours. 

Trainers also have to deal with the regular paying Clients. The people who own the horses and pay the bills. And this is where it gets tricky. 

Horses are just horses. They walk and think and act like horses. 

But Clients, well they have 'personalities'. 

Some have un-realistic views on the horses they own. Some want more lessons, some want less. Some are aggressive. Some are timid. Some can't afford the horse they own. Some don't care about anything except winning. Some are happy just to stay in the saddle. Some just want to say,' I own a horse '. Some are 'pot-stirrers' or gossips or Drama Queens. A Trainer has to deal with ALL of them, equally,frequently and kindly.  

No one trains a Trainer to do all of this- it is something you have to learn the hard way, by gathering, and sometimes losing,clients. It takes talent, and a love of horses. It takes the fortitude of a warrior along with the subtly of a psychologist. It takes humor with equal doses of humility. 

Just because you call yourself a " Trainer " doesn't mean you are one. I can call myself  Buster Posey all day long, it doesn't make me a Professional Ball Player. 

A Professional Trainer has learned the ropes, has met the challenges and risen to the top. They have paid their dues and then some. If there is any respect to be had, they have certainly earned it. 
If you want to be a Trainer, be forewarned that it is sometimes thankless and always difficult. You probably won't make it into the Big Leagues, very few do. Your reward will come from the smiles of your happy clients, and the bright shine of a healthy horses coat.

As a Client, when you shell out your hard earned cash to a Professional Trainer, think about the scope and responsibility of their jobs and write that check gladly. 
If it weren't for them, the Horse World would be a far lesser place.

                                       In Memory of Dick Hardy
                                             an Epic Trainer 
                                             and Friend

Monday, May 8, 2017


Being a writer, albeit a poor one, I am quite often left disappointed in the books I read, but when I read one by a master story teller I will shout it to the rafters.

One such Author is Mary Doria Russell.

The Novel is Doc

Like Cher, or Liza or any number of one named stars, the name Doc brings to mind the one and only Doc Holliday. But he is not the whore-monger, the drunk or the steely eyed rake that Hollywood has made him out to be.

He was a Southern Gentleman, raised with genteel manners and a debilitating disease that he learned to combat early in life.

He was generous and loyal to a fault, but he also could cut a man with nothing but clever words.

Mary Doria Russell uses language like a photographer uses light. Each sentence so full of life and vigor, expressing the nature of Doc Holliday like no other novel before. From the opening sentences,

    " He began to die when he was twenty-one, but tuberculosis is slow and sly and subtle. The disease took fifteen years to hollow out his lungs so completely they could no longer keep him alive. In all that time, he was allowed a single season of something like happiness."

...To the final poem, written by his companion Kate Haroney, the story is full of impossibly poignant insights, gut wrenching descriptions of Doc's disease and sly humor. Once I turned the last page, I turned again to the front and began the story all over again.

Mary Doria Russell wisely leaves out the Tombstone chapter of Doc's life, focusing instead on the life he had before that fateful day at the OK Corral. And yet every sentence is infused with the knowledge of that day, the reader knowing what Doc didn't yet know.  She sprinkles heroic context into the body of the novel, using The Odyssey, Homer and Classic literature with such a light hand that one might not ever notice.
The novel flows so effortlessly, it is almost as if you were there, in the room, knowing these characters like you would know your neighbors.

This novel is worthy of any Western lovers library. It is certainly going on my bedside table, where I will read it again and again and again.