Early Days

Screwing up your horse?

First of all, some thankfulness.

Day 14 – I’m grateful for wonderful fall weather, perfect for evening rides.

~ ~ ~

I’m going on a vacation soon, and have asked a friend of mine to ponysit while I’m gone. She’s been horseless for a few months, but has been riding her whole life. Like me, her eventing experience is limited to lower levels over just the last few years, but she’s an excellent horsewoman and a reliable friend.

However I think being horseless has hurt her confidence, as she half-jokingly said she’d be sure to coordinate with my trainer to be sure she doesn’t “screw up” Hemie’s training.

Horse. Sitting.

Which is an interesting and uncomfortable notion, that I’d love to get others’ opinions on: the idea in general that a temporary rider could materially affect a horse’s training.

Several years ago, a friend was asked to ride a trainer’s stallion at the California Equine Affair breed exhibition. She agreed, and got one practice ride on the horse at home the week before, which went fine. At the exhibition, the poor stud was very distracted and hot, and their ride didn’t go smoothly. The trainer was extremely upset and dissapointed (after all, her goal was presumably to show the stud to advantage in hopes of getting some breeding bookings). She yelled at my friend that she had “undone years’ worth of training.” To which I mentally rolled my eyes. It was simply a tense ride, not some major incident.

On the other hand, each time we interact with a horse we are “training” it, even if just ground manners. Plus there’s plenty of anecdotal examples of one terrible jump accident creating ongoing mental issues for horses.

What do you think about this notion? And does it affect who you let interact with your horse?

15 comments on “Screwing up your horse?

  1. If I'm doing my job as regular rider and trainer, there's nothing that another rider is going to screw up in one or two rides that I can't quickly/easily fix. Which doesn't mean I'm careless in who I put up…but horses are pretty smart and pretty forgiving. If the baseline training was fragile enough that it could be that quickly undone, it wasn't worth much in the first place.


  2. Barring some traumatic experience, I think one ride undoing a years worth of training is a little dramatic. But I do think especially with sensitive horses, just a few rides can change them (good or bad).
    Right now I'm prob the most likely to break my horse, so others riding her is really a plus. I think as long as you know the person is a sound rider, and unless they completely fly in the face of the horses current training, then its fine.


  3. I let a chick at my old, old barn ride my guy a few times a week for about a month. I was in college. I thought she was a better rider than me (still do!). He, in turn, hated her and developed some bad habits, particularly with evasion. He was relatively normal with me and I didn't find out how naughty he was for her until she confided in my husband about her problems. We mutually decided to end the arrangement. Eventually, the bad habits showed up with me and it took a few more months to reteach better responses.

    So, one ride? No. Multiple rides? Absolutely.


  4. I think it's difficult to undo a lot of training (on a more experienced horse) in just a few rides. But I do believe that each and every time you ride, you are training your horse. That notion certainly plays a vital role in who I let ride my horse, as well as what I feel comfortable doing on my own with my horse.


  5. Red, my horse, is a very experienced horse, however the second I let a certain person on him, I had to push him hard once I got back on. They let him get away with stuff like refusing to trot, attempting to be a giraffe and even moving when they were tacking him up. Once I got on, it's like he thought I was going to let him get away with it as well. Although, that was when we had been a team for about 4 or 5 months. Now, I doubt he'd become unraveled after one ride, but I doubt he'd be willing for the other person. Seems like he's only super willing with me.


  6. I don't think one ride can undo years of training, but I think multiple rides can. I definitely think one ride can put your horse in a sour state of mind for the next time someone gets on. I am careful who I let ride Simon, and prefer someone who will just exercise him over someone that wants to “train” him.


  7. I personally do not think one ride really can undo years worth of training, though I do believe everything that happens around our horses, everyone who handles them, affects. For example, someone may buy a horse with perfect grounds but does not reinforce the fact that the horse should stay out of the handlers bubble. A month or two later, the come to the seller saying the horse is nipping and leaning into them. My point is, besides traumatic experiences, only continuous treatment undoes years of training.


  8. I half leased my gelding one summer, and it didn't go well. She appeared to be an excellent rider, great seat, seemed very accomplished. The problem was that she wanted to “train” him, and in the process showed that as a rider she was harsh, unforgiving of mistakes, and quite incapable of telling the difference of a horse physically too weak to do something and a horse “being naughty”. (And she would not stop yanking the inside rein across his neck to the outside no matter how many times my trainer told her it wasn't the way to get him to pick up his inside shoulder!) At first I could get on and ride him like normal, a good sign that there is no harm AND he was benefiting form extra exercise. The second month it was clearly not working. My easy-going guy panicked every time I asked for the canter, he was charging at fences, and I'd find him with sweat marks after their rides (this horse didn't sweat much). Now when I look into sharing my horse I consider their kindness and generosity to the horse above perfectly still hands, and a humility that its the rider's fault and not the horse over a seat that can stick. I think many average riders can put on some good exercise rides and make a horse happy!


  9. Great advice! I half lease Steady this past winter and it was a great experience. But I am very picky in who I would allow to ride my horse. I have put way too much time, effort and money into him to just let anyone on him. Well and he does require an experienced rider. The things that the rider possessed that I think made the difference is what some have mentioned. Quiet, forgiving, humble and willing to do exactly as I ask because it is of course MY horse. So I don't think they have to be a perfect rider but willing to learn then it can work out.


  10. This is something I've always wondered about so I am loving reading all of the comments. :D


  11. I agree that one ride prob won't do anything BUT is that one ride a hack on the flat or OF? Cause it only takes one bad crash into a fence to creat a stopper (or it might not)…

    If she is doing a few wtc hacks I'm sure it won't hurt if you feel her riding is up to your standards.

    I'm pretty picky who rides my horse, like Amy said- I've put a lot of time, money and hard work into him! Lol


  12. I think for Greenies it is important to pick and choose who you let ride them because they can pick up bad habits very quickly. I've only let two other people ride Fiction – my friend H and my Trainer – over fences and on the flat. I have not had any issues after their rides. At the same time, if I bring a friend out for a pony ride, I make sure to hop on afterwards to give Fiction a brief reminder of what he is supposed to do with a rider on his back. For a more experienced horse, I don't think it can undo training, but I think it might definitely lead to bad habits if their are multiple rides with a person that doesn't click with the horse.


  13. When I was injured, another rider got on Izzy for me a few times a week. Izzy hated her and they didn't do great together. That said, it took me maybe a ride or two to get her exactly where I needed her once I was healed up.

    So unless the “screwing up” was related to over facing a horse with big fences and teaching them something scary or dangerous, I think it's probably fine. If your horse can be ruined in one ride, you're doing it wrong.


  14. One bad ride can definitely screw up a horse – maybe not for a year, but definitely for several rides. My (now retired) Paint horse, Cash, is super-sensitive. I had a prospective half-lessor try him out, and it was a disaster. Despite being a supposedly good, experienced dressage rider, she was ham-handed and all over the place with her leg, and in five minutes she had him a lathered mess. I politely suggested that they would not be a good match, and could she please get off my horse RIGHT EFFING NOW. It took me the better part of two weeks to build his trust back up that I wasn't going to get in his face or kick him into the next county. Lesson learned.

    I think that the better a rider you are and the more trained your horse is, the harder it can be to find someone that you trust to ride your horse. Just having someone who can stay in the saddle WTC your horse around isn't always a good thing – they might cue differently than you, they might have heavier hands, they might let your horse get away with a sloppy transition. Those are all things you have to fix next time you get in the saddle. Personally I'd rather let my horse stand in a field. OTOH, if you have someone who rides better than you riding your horse, awesome! They may be able to fix that shoulder falling in, or provide insight on asking for more bend, that you wouldn't have otherwise gotten. Those rides are gold!


  15. Thank you to everyone for the comments – super interesting to get everyone's take on this.


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