Broke versus Trained

I've had the opportunity lately to go look at quite a few horses for sale locally. A friend was looking for a reasonably priced, healthy, sound trail gelding, of nearly any stock horse breed, that is gentle and sensible. Surely that's not hard to find, right?

A full length novel could easily be written about the adventures we've been on so far, but suffice it to say that we haven't found one yet that she was willing to bring home. After one of these recent adventures, I was telling another friend, a trainer, about the seeming lack of properly handled horses for sale. During the course of the conversation, the phrase came up "broke, but not trained", and "trained, but not broke". It was one of those Ah-ha! moments.

In the show world, there are a lot of horses who are trained, but not broke. They perform perfectly in the arena and on the show grounds, win lots of trophies and ribbons and make money for their owners. However, they aren't what most people would call "broke". They know all sorts of cues and commands and look great in the ring, but no rider in their right mind would take them riding down the road or into the woods. Some are dangerous even in the barn. Of course, this by no means applies to all show horses, but for a lot it's just the way things are. Their job is to show and look good doing it. Some of them are down right scary in other situations, but they show wonderfully.

Then there are the horses that are broke, but not trained. Often, I find some have been the victims of beginning Natural Horsemanship trainers who get the whole desensitization and confidence building aspects, but who either through ignorance, misinformation, or misunderstanding, (or laziness), never get around to the part of training the horse how to ride properly. The horse may be sweet, but he's clueless about riding.

Many trail horses have been "cowboyed" by ignorant, unskilled riders who've just pulled, jerked, spurred and generally bullied them into submission to the point they will ignore and tolerate just about anything. Many of these horses seem trustworthy around all manner of situations and will quietly carry even a child down the trail, but they don't understand what actual riding is all about. These deadheads never learn to carry themselves properly, never learn to actually give to pressure, respond to leg and seat cues, relax and yield to the reins or lead, or to walk, trot and canter with self-carriage and balance. In short, they don't really know how to be ridden. You see them all the time with their noses stuck out, hollowed backs, jarring gaits and underdeveloped top lines going through the motions while their rider pulls on them this way and that, or spurs and bangs on their sides to change gears. In just the past week I've been to look at three of these for sale that had been advertised as "experienced well-broke trail horses". One of them, I was told, was even roped off of last year by a teenager. I guess we weren't supposed to notice that it carried itself with its nose up so high in the air it was in danger of drowning, or that it had to be pulled around to turn, or that they banged violently on its ribs to get it going and would haul back on the reins to stop it, which, of course, caused it to throw its head up even higher as it tried to protect itself. I think the worst of it is that many of these riders actually think their horses are well trained and are proud of them. "Anyone can ride him!" that particular owner exclaimed as we watched in horror at the proper training and handling this seven-year-old had obviously missed.

I've noticed a great divide seems to exist between the people in the show scene and the people in the trail riding world. Honestly, I think each have some things to learn from each other. Personally, some of the best show animals I've ever known were horses who were expected to do actual ranch work, or at least trail ridden, occasionally during the week and then cleaned up and taken to shows on weekends. I know trainers who insist you can't trail ride a show horse, or show a trail horse. Over the years I've known plenty of people who've spent the better part of their lives doing exactly what others say can't be done. In my experience, when someone says "You can't do that"... what they likely mean is "I don't know how to do that... so therefore you obviously can't either!"

In my opinion, life is just too short to have such a poor attitude. Maybe if we'd all realize there is no "one right way" to do anything with horses, and that there is something to be learned from everyone, then we could work together to improve the lives of equines and the relationship between horses and people everywhere. There are just so many ways a person who really wants to can learn good horsemanship nowadays, that there's no reason not to learn to ride safely, and help your horse learn good manners, balance, self-carriage and softness. There are many roads to success, but you have to start somewhere. There is no reason you can't have a great relationship with your horse and enjoy each other's company. All you have to do is put forth a little effort, keep an open mind and try to put yourself in your horse's shoes.

Remember, it's all about the relationship. (And training!)

-- Marcie