"So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable." -Chistopher Reeve

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Delta Dilemma

I currently live in a city, far, far away from my rural home, country friends, and horses. I moved here a few years ago for work since there isn’t much of that going on where I come from. I cannot live without horses any longer, so I recently ran an ad on craigslist offering to exercise horses for people who didn’t have time to do it themselves. I got several responses and last night went out to a barn to meet an owner and her mare. Loved Delta, the mare; the owner (we’ll call her MM for Mare’s Mama) and the barn, not so much.

MM wanted me to commit to riding Delta three times a week so that she doesn’t have to. She is an inexperienced and timid rider and she needs to have someone who will keep Delta tuned up and in shape.

Before I left last night, I told MM that I could not commit to riding Delta three times a week, but that I would commit to two and shoot for three. On the ride home, however, I decided that I’m pretty sure I don’t want to go back to that place.

First of all, it was very chaotic.

The property has a covered arena, a round pen, and an outdoor arena. General practice is just to go in to whatever arena or round pen you want, regardless of whether or not other riders are there and there are lessons going on. I was trying to ride a large mare in a small arena that was filled with jumps, while the trainer was giving a hunter jumper lesson. Not so easy! Also, the horses were cross tied in the barn and whenever someone needed to walk their horse through the barn, we had to stop what we were doing and move the mare.

Secondly, I was there for two hours and already get a sense that there is major barn drama.

The indoor arena separates the stalls on the right side of the barn from the stalls on the left side of the barn. The barn owner and her trainer occupy one side and MM’s trainer leases the other side. Several times, snide comments were made by MM and her trainer about “The Other Side” (TSO). There is a wash rack where horses can be tied, but it’s on TOS, and MM said she didn’t tie Delta over there because Delta doesn’t like it. I get the feeling that it has more to do with the fact that it’s on TOS.

Thirdly, and most importantly, unsafe practices.

I mentioned that they cross tie their horses in the aisle of the barn and that the other place to tie is on TOS. Because there isn’t room for everyone in the barn, and they don’t like TOS, the other place that they tie is to the panels on the outside of the round pen and outdoor arena. Seriously? There are some things that you just don’t do with horses. Tying them to panels that can very easily be moved if the horse decides to spook or pull back, or God forbid take off, is one of those things. I don’t care if it’s general practice at a barn, I will not do it. And the fact that it is general practice is a major red flag for me.

When I got there, Delta was on the hot walker. MM took me over to get her, and the chain from the walker was wrapped through her halter and over her nose. When I asked why that was, MM told me that it’s what the barn owner required for all horses on the hot walker. When she took the chain off, there were bloody sores where it had been touching her lips and nose.

They don’t close the stall doors. They leave the stall nets up all the time. This may be subject to judgment, but I think it’s much safer to close the door of the stall when the barn is unattended.

Fourthly, the people at the barn don’t seem to have the best interest of the horses in their care at heart, or they just don’t know the difference. If you’re someone who is just learning, not knowing is okay as long as you’re open to and actively learning. If you’re someone who is being paid to train and teach, it’s not okay.

The curb chain on the tom thumb bit MM uses on Delta was very snug. You should be able to comfortably fit two fingers between the horse’s jaw and the chain; I could not. When I asked if they always keep it so snug, MM and the trainer said yes.

The barn is a hunter jumper barn, but MM rides western. I can go either way, but I’m using her tack, so western it is. I actually like that, since I’m far more experienced in western and am trying out a horse I’ve never ridden before. The saddle she uses is a cheapo, ill fitting synthetic. Great. My first thought as I’m saddling Delta is that it can’t be good for her to have a saddle that digs right in to her big ol’ withers. There are several things so far that have made me cringe, but just having met Delta, MM and the trainer, and not knowing whether or not I’m ever coming back to this place, I didn’t say anything. So, I rode in the saddle, with the too-tight curb chain, and didn’t say anything. I feel like crap for having done that, but it didn’t seem appropriate to say anything at the time. How do you tactfully make someone aware that they’re doing something that is harmful to their horse and get them to change their behavior, without offending them? This I need to learn. Anyway, later on she showed me another saddle that I could use if I wanted. It, too, was a cheap, ill fitting piece of crap. Argh. She is in the market for a new saddle, but I’m afraid she’s just going to buy something as crappy as what she’s already using. My thought is that even though MM’s trainer is hunter jumper and not western, she should still know what quality tack is and should be advising her client better than that.

We were cleaning Delta’s stall, and there was a bunch of what I though was straw for bedding on the floor of the stall. Nope. Not bedding. It’s what they feed. No wonder the horse didn’t eat it. It was stemmy and yellow. They feed that crap in the morning and alfalfa at night. MM feeds a combination of supplements and pellets whenever the hell she feels like it; could be morning, middle of the day, or night. I don’t like that. Horses should be fed quality feed and on a consistent schedule.

They train in the arena. They show in the arena. They don’t trail ride or give the horse any other break. That would be like never allowing a person to go anywhere other than work. Pretty crappy.

All of that said, after having ridden Delta, I love her. She’s not perfect. She’s 14 years old, wasn’t ridden for a year and a half, and just had 60 days put on her by MM’s trainer. She won’t do anything you don’t make her do. When you ask her to lope, she gives you attitude and will trot all day long instead if you let her get away with it. But she’ll do it if you make her and she seems to be pretty willing if you know what you’re doing. The trainer didn’t appear to like her very much and said that Delta “didn’t” neck rein. Really? A horse that doesn’t neck rein? Is that the horse’s fault, or is it up to the horse’s people to teach her how? She seems very teachable to me; the trainer insisted that she was a stubborn, bitchy mare.

I would absolutely love to ride this mare and find out what she’s capable of learning, and what I’m capable of teaching her. I just don’t think I can deal with MM, the trainer, and the barn. I’m so bummed! Now, after having told MM yes, I have to call her and tell her no. Ugh.