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A correct match between horse and rider is the difference-maker

By SHERYL LYNDE - Horsetrader columnist - February 19th, 2015 - Trainer Tips

SherylLynde_170pxIt’s been my experience starting colts and working with problem horses that 99 percent of the problems are a result of the rider. Problems range from bucking to bolting, but these behaviors are a symptom. If the cause isn’t addressed, then the issues will continue to progress over time.

Problems can begin or end on the ground. I’ve had clients suffer serious injuries while leading their horse because they were unable to correct disrespectful behavior. The horse you lead is the horse you ride. Whether you compete or ride trail, the correct match between horse and rider is essential.

I recently had the chance to talk with cutting horse trainer Ruben Mageno about the importance of choosing the right horse for the rider. Ruben, well respected within the cutting community, has more than 30 years of successful experience that can benefit us all.
Ruben cites major changes in the cutting industry over the past three decades. Disciplines have become specialized, and the breeding is more refined and event-specific. It’s difficult to find a horse that can do it all. For instance, a cutting horse is bred to be reactive, which doesn’t always translate well out on trail. People need to be realistic and understand that horses with exceptional ability are out there, but you will have to pay a great deal for them. What riders can get for their price range is not always in line with their goal of being competitive at top-level shows. People want a million-dollar horse for $1000!

When selecting a horse for his clients, Ruben takes into consideration the rider’s budget, skill level and goals – what do they want to accomplish. If the rider has athletic ability, he may recommend a horse who knows more than the rider. As the rider progresses in his or her ability, the horse will be able to accommodate the increased skill level and advance along with the rider. Ruben would look for a smoother, gentler cutter for the older client, and a more finished horse for the beginner. He discourages a beginner from buying a young horse to train on their own. Good training requires timing, feel and patience – things that take time to develop.

One of the most common obstacles is impatience. Beginners have unrealistic expectations of mastering the discipline. They want a result now, which is incongruent with training a green horse — a green horse is three years away from the show pen. Non Professionals usually have time restraints and general day-to-day life demands. They may only be able to devote 30 minutes a couple days a week after work to training, whereas a trainer has developed a program that is consistent and specific to the needs of that horse. There are days the horse’s training requires two or more hours, and devoting that time makes an invaluable change and improvement in the horse.

Additionally, a beginner may teach the green horse bad habits. A young horse doesn’t know if the task they have been asked to perform is a mistake and will do it, whereas a finished horse will teach the rider the correct position to be on the cow and what to do. Ruben makes an important point here and I’d like to interject the following scenario to emphasize it: If your 5-year-old son is gifted in math and you would like to develop his ability, would you bring in another 5-year old with no more experience than your son? It makes more sense to bring in a seasoned math tutor with a history of successful teaching experience who understands how to break it down and bring your son along in a natural progression that doesn’t frustrate or confuse him, but instead builds confidence and ability.

What if someone didn’t have the benefit of a professional’s advice prior to their purchase, and the horse they selected is not a good match for their skills, goals and budget. What happens then?

Ruben advises the best scenario is to cut your losses. If your disposal at home has stopped working, would you continue to hit the reset button, or would you call in a professional to replace it. Sometimes this is difficult for the client to accept because they don’t want to give up on the horse. This decision, though, is also in the best interest of the horse. It’s a great opportunity to find a rider more suited to bring out the horses’ talent – it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

Professionals are on your side and have a vested interest in your success, not only for your benefit and enjoyment but also to support the discipline. In cutting or any discipline, when you get the right match between horse and rider, you’ll be hooked.


Horsetrader columnist Sheryl Lynde is a John Lyons Certified Trainer who specializes in foundation training, colt starting and problem solving. She is based in Temecula.

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