Problems with a Lesson Pony

LMK17

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I’m pretty new to horses, having begun weekly lessons with my children & a highly regarded trainer fewer than 18 months ago. For the most part, I really love our trainer & lesson barn. The trainer is helping us move right along in our riding, and *nearly* all of her lesson ponies are gentle and well trained. There is one exception. The horse that I usually ride has a well-earned reputation for being aggressive. If another one of the horses is sporting an injury, it’s a fair bet that he was the one which inflicted it, and the trainer has warned me from the get-go to be wary of him and his bad manners.

I actually enjoy riding this horse. He does great under saddle, and I feel like he and I work well together. But his ground manners are atrocious, and I dread working with him from the ground. Until fairly recently, he did well for me, and I didn’t personally witness his bad side. However, he was under a vet’s care a couple months ago, and he suddenly began being much more testy with me. He snatched a halter out of my hands and tossed it when I was trying to halter him in his stall. He’d treaten a bite. And he once tried to kick me, though I was too close to him for him to do any real damage, and I just got bumped a little with his hock. The trainer was aware of his attitude problem, attributed it to a change in his medications, and was actively working to help settle him down. Fair enough. However, that was several weeks ago, and while he has calmed a bit, he recently gave me two (minor) injuries while I was working with him. First, he was dancing around threatening to kick, and while I was watching his hind legs, one of his front hooves smashed squarely on my foot, giving me a nasty bruise. Then a couple weeks later, he bit me on the arm, drawing blood.

I don’t appreciate being knocked around by someone else’s misbehaving horse. If he were my animal, obviously I would have an incentive to work with him and change his behavior, but he’s not my animal and as far as I’m concerned, not my problem. Frankly, I’m paying for lessons to improve in my riding and general horsemanship. It’s a fun activity that I enjoy with my children. It’s not worth getting seriously injured by a bad-tempered animal. I also think it’s a bad idea for the trainer to continue using this animal as a lesson pony when she knows he can be aggressive. (As far as I can tell, she doesn’t allow any children or brand-new riders near him, so there’s that.) I mentioned to her today that I would rather ride a different horse going forward, but she seemed pretty dismissive of the idea. She said I can’t “completely give up” on this horse and that giving in would allow him to get away with his bad behavior. (I agree to a point. For example, if I had gotten frightened and refused to ride him immediately after he bit me, that would send him the wrong message. However, I don’t see how working him hard immediately after he bit me and then simply switching to a new horse the following week would be allowing him to “get away with” anything.) She also said she thinks the reason he bit me was that I “let me guard down” around him. (Again, I’m riding mainly for fun. I don’t want nor need to be paired with a horse with whom I need to be constantly on-guard. There are enough good natured horses in the world that I don’t feel like I need to spend time with this ill-tempered brute!)

This is making me seriously consider shopping for a new trainer or at least insisting that I be assigned a different lesson animal. Though until now, I’ve trusted this trainer completely— and trusted her with my young children! Am I being unreasonable?
 

frustratedearthmother

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Oh no she didn't! She expects you to keep paying to be abused by HER ill-mannered horse? Nope - no way! She's putting herself and her business in jeopardy by continuing to use this guy. He is a serious liability! I would either refuse to ride this horse again or find a new trainer. This is atrocious behavior on her part.

You are NOT being unreasonable.
 

LMK17

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Thanks. That’s pretty much what I though.

It’s a real head-scratcher, though. This trainer came highly recommended and has a good reputation, as far as I can tell. She has several lovely, well behaved lesson ponies. I can’t figure out for the life of me why she keeps using this guy for lessons! It seems like a gigantic lapse of judgement for this otherwise conscientious trainer. 🤷‍♀️
 

thistlebloom

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Completely agree with @frustratedearthmother 's take on your situation. To put the blame on you for her ill mannered horse's dangerous and spoiled behavior is over the top.

Might be time to reevaluate and look for a new trainer. Seems like you've been fortunate to not be seriously injured so far.
 

promiseacres

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I agree, why pay to get bit. :oops:
He may make you a better horseperson in the long run but why deal with a horse that doesn't improve in attitude but gets worse. He is nasty for a reason but it isn't up to you to figure that out. I am guessing he is painful somewhere and your trainer really needs to find a solution for his behavior. Obviously a more advanced rider should be able to handle a more advanced horse but it's ridiculous to expect your students to train your horses basic manners.
 

High Desert Cowboy

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It is not unreasonable to want a different horse. I used to teach riding lessons to augment my finances in college and I would never dream in a million years of putting someone on an animal that behaves that way. You’re paying to better your horsemanship. Not to train her animals. And if no one else is riding that pony and you’re only getting to it once or twice a week the situation will not get better and could in fact lead to injury of not just yourself but others as well. I’ve seen horses throw kicks or bites at others when both are under saddle and connect with the other riders leg instead of the other animal. As an instructor your first responsibility is to the safety of the customer. I’ll also add that while some states protect a professional from lawsuits in the event of injury, that protection can go right out the window if you’re knowingly putting people in danger.
 

Bunnylady

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I’m paying for lessons to improve in my riding and general horsemanship.

Unfortunately, horsemanship often involves dealing with horses with less-than-wonderful attitudes. One of the best ways I know to turn a good horse into a bad one is to use him as a lesson pony. They get so fed up with confusing signals and other sorts of poor riding that they decide to start dishing it out themselves, and boy, can they get creative! Lesson ponies that stay sweet in spite of the aggravation are few and far between; most need at least occasional "attitude adjustments" to keep them doing their job properly. Horses with any real smarts or spirit usually wind up acting out in some way, even if it's just being impossible to catch in the field. Some eventually get so sour, they simply must be retired; sounds like this guy is getting close to that point.

I worked as a feeder at a boarding/lesson barn for a few years, and I got to see the bad side of an awful lot of horses. See, the feeders don't do any actual "training," so the horses think they can walk all over them. Virtually all horses have some degree of pushiness; at least once in a while, they are going to try to see whether or not the rules are still the rules. Nobody can tell me, "I'm not a horse trainer," if you interact with the horse in any way, he will learn something from you. The fact is, every person that a horse gets exposed to teaches it something, even if it's just "you can/can't get away with that with me."

As @promiseacres said, this could be a pain issue. It might be a people issue (to borrow a line from The Horse Whisperer). Your trainer seems to think that you are a strong enough individual to handle this horse; perhaps she is wrong. I agree that it's no fun to be constantly on guard around an animal; disrespect is one thing, but it sounds like this horse has crossed the line from "disrespectful" to "dangerous." If he really is more horse than you can safely handle, then yes, you should be working with a different horse, for both of your sakes.
 

MiniGoatsRule

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I think you should just ask your instructor to sit down with you, have lunch, something relaxing... Something that makes both of you feel comfortable about this. Just say something like, "Hey, I don't see how working a horse after he bit me or kicked me or hurt me is letting him get away with anything. I would not like to pay to be training your horse for you. This is your animal, not mine. I can easily give you a bad referral." Just talk it out from there. Once you think things are nice and calmed down, then yes, ask again to ride a different horse. If she says no, or if things end up in another argument or fight, then just end the situation by doing what you've been threatening to do: Give her a bad referral and hire somebody else. And remember, if anything goes wrong and you aren't sure what to do, just come back to BYH. I like to think of everybody as a family here (a family of people off the internet who, for the most part, don't know each other, but still, a family of sorts). So find a relaxed situation in which to ask your instructor to switch your riding horse, and if it doesn't work out, just find somebody more understanding.
 

Mini Horses

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I agree with everyone. If she feels you can "handle" the horse you need to actually be allowed and taught WHAT to do when he begins the attacks. A horse can & will take advantage, they can & will respond to proper corrections, they can & will act out, straighten up, respect -- but, not just because the trainers says, keep riding him. No, it will take "re training" of the attitude. Not your responsibility.

Could be many reasons for the temperament changes. Just NOT what you need to handle when paying her. Would you pay rental on a car that wouldn't start up? You are perfectly right in your thoughts.
 
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