get with the program

One huge, different thing about my new barn is that now Murray and I are in a program. It’s not oppressive, but it’s there.

It’s not what I thought of when I (naiively) imagined a “program”. It’s not hallways of monogrammed trunks all in the same color and uniform saddle pads and a military requirement to buy that barn’s preferred brand of high end saddle. It’s not horses being fed up (or down) at the trainer’s discretion, without the option for preferred supplements or feed, or a requirement to be in training n-days per week or lessons m-days per month.

first day in blankies, with a new friend!

But there is a system. There are a few types of feed the barn gives to all horses there at least twice a day (a ration balancer), and they work with you to add in more calories or energy as necessary. They decide what pasture your horse is going to go in (with your input, if you have it) and make adjustments to smaller or bigger pastures as needed. The other day it was cold, drizzly, and foggy for the first time and when I got to the barn Murray was blankied up and happily out in pasture with his new friends. They didn’t ask, they just put on the turnout I’d provided and sent him out to do his thing. If someone needs the vet, they call the vet out and are there for the appointment. They’re there for you, but don’t necessarily force you into their mold.

One thing is absolutely true though: every horse at this barn is impeccably behaved.

with a couple of, uh, notable exceptions…

So after had the vet out to look at Murray’s strange lameness and he was about as tolerant of flexions as you’d expect (read: not very), Trainer J and I took a minute to chat about the plan moving forward. Murray flexed slightly positive on the right hind, and the vet thought that his hocks and joints were probably feeling crummy after standing in a stall for 3 weeks. Vet wanted me to get him back into work for a few weeks, then recheck and think about hock injections. Since I don’t have a billion dollars to throw at this problem, and my fall schedule is so spotty and strange, I wanted to develop a plan with Trainer J and get her thoughts.

What she said first surprised me. Trainer J wanted Murray to get into horsemanship lessons before we threw joint juice at him, and before we got into regular lessons.  She said that he’s spoiled, and that his current behavioral programming bordered on dangerous. The conversation went other places, and we covered all the bases I wanted to. Trainer J wasn’t mean or cruel about it, but she was pretty matter of fact: if I want to be in the program, Murray would have to get in it too. She said I needed to get her horsemanship guy, Cowboy Dave, out as soon as possible. Like the next morning, if he’d do it.

Murray is getting way better at walking past the Scary Hoop Houses, and loves being out in the field!

So we’re in trainer-mandated Cowboy therapy. I’m not going to pretend it didn’t hurt a bit to hear that Murray’s ground manners aren’t up to snuff. Even though it comes as absolutely no surprise to me. Or anyone who has read this blog for any period of time. It’s just one of those things that always triggers a ton of emotion in me.

I’m very open to change and learning new ways, so this isn’t a bad thing to me. But being in such a clear program is certainly different. At my old barn, all the horses were held to a much lower standard of behavior (basically: can you go in and out of pasture safely), and beyond that it was the owner’s problem to handle manners. For good or ill. I get the feeling that a lot of places are like that.

What do you prefer? More management hands on or more management hands off? Feeding and turnout only, or have them handle everything? If you’d asked me two months ago, I would have said hands off!

don’t talk to me just gimme dem carrots

But… I like the way the horses are here. They’re happy. The cowboy teaches them super well and is a great human teacher also. It’s probably a really, really good thing that they have a dedicated person to go to, to help horses and people communicate. But I also feel like this could definitely go the wrong way…. if all the horses are required to work with a horsemanship person who isn’t so fair, talented, or gentle.

This program seems awesome. I’m super glad I found it, and I think it will help us both become better versions of ourselves.

12 thoughts on “get with the program

  1. So I like being in a program. I like that the people that take care of my horse have some ownership into how my horse is doing vs. just blindly following instructions and shrugging their shoulders at anything they think might be amiss. I think it is SUPER important to find a program that just fits for you vs. trying to fit yourself into a program that requires you to ask for a lot of “special” things.

    As long as you find that though, it is nice to know that, while I can’t be at the barn, someone else there is actually watching over my horse.


    • Yeah now that you say that, I can certainly think of plenty of examples of trainers shrugging off poor performance and chalking it up to “he needs his hocks done” or “she’s not being fed enough”. If the trainer has ownership, like you said, then they are really IN the thick of performance and care issues.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your program sounds a lot like the one Frankie and I are in, in the sense that it’s there as much as you’d like (for me, I use every aspect and LOVE all of it). And like yours, the horses are all really happy and easy to handle, because there are very consistent expectations for behavior no matter who is handling them. When you find knowledgeable people that like to teach and work with you, it’s such a rad thing to be part of!


  3. There are programs which I think are what I consider Trainer facilitated learning that is systemic and has logic and then there are dictatorships which is what most Trainers in H/J land seem to offer lol

    I know what you mean some things are just triggering


  4. It is definitely something I think would benefit people provided the goals of the program and the person in charge were fair and had a good knowledge base of what they were wanting and trying to achieve. Aligning that with individuals with similar goals would make for a wonderful environment.

    I am super keen to see how this pans out for you!


  5. It sounds pretty reasonable. I’ve seen people evicted when their horses manners are not good so it’s nice that they work with you. I love the idea of ground work and I think you will get so much out of it.


  6. My coach’s barn sounds quite similar – there is certainly a basic structure, but we’re very much free to do our own thing. I like that they’re being honest with you re: their thoughts and have suggestions to help. It sounds like a very positive place!


  7. I guess I’m in a “program” but it’s kind of interesting because there is the barn owner’s / barn manager’s program, then my trainer’s program for eventers, and then another trainer’s program for hunter/jumpers. So it’s kind of this little ecosystem of different programs that overlap to some degree. It is also true that beyond the baseline barn management care of the horses, everyone is free to participate as much or as little as they want. It typically works out pretty well.


  8. I’ve boarded at a barn where it was a “program” to board there. Hated it. DESPISED it is a better way to explain it.
    I am VERY hands on with my horse, in every aspect. And this place did not want you to have really any control over the horse other then handling it, and that was really only for outdoor horses anyways. It did not work for us at all, and every single horse there was incredibly unhappy.
    I would like more structure then where I am boarding now, but giving up my freedom with my horse doesn’t really interest me at the moment and few barns let other coaches come in.


  9. Your new program sounds pretty cool. I like that they have a resident cowboy. Its hard being told your children are unruly, human or animal. Being a working mom, having someone do everything including blanket and feed sounds really nice… if it allows some freedoms as not all horse/ owners are created equal. My trainer and the WS I think feel sorry for my horses, or really like me, because even when I go down to half training, they are always very helpful keeping my horses from looking like mangy neglected bastards as sometimes happens when life intercedes.


  10. It’s interesting that as an adult I love the program life! Helps with my own structure, goals, care etc. but I do wish that I had had a chance to learn more about the options and complex care info out there as a junior rider. I had huge info gaps that I had to figure out for myself since before it had always been out of my hands.


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