My name is Dara Turner. I’m not a professional trainer, but I am a certified horse nut and have been since early childhood. I was the classic young girl bitten by the horse bug at about age 4.
My first real horse experience was to ride the pony trail ride (this was not the pony-go-round that is more common) that used to be in amusement parks. I tired of plodding along the trail at a snail’s pace, so I kicked my mount. The pony sped off at a lope and over the fences we went that were supposed to contain the ponies. When the ride attendants finally cornered me, they led me back to the ride entrance. My parents got reprimanded and I didn’t get to ride the ponies for a long time.
I read just about every horse book there was, like the “The Black Stallion”, “Old Bones” and others. I watched “National Velvet”, “My Friend Flicka”, etc. more times than my family could stand. In my teen years, my equine craving was satisfied by friends that let me ride with them. I also spent hours in the horse barns at fairs. My parents had to drag me away because I just didn’t want to go.
As an adult, I was given a package of 10 riding lessons by my husband. He meant well, but the only interest he had in horses was to make me happy. The search for a competent trainer was overlooked for the speedy end result; which was I wanted to learn to jump. While I was recuperating from a nasty fall while taking the 7th lesson, I bought my first horse. My husband just didn’t realize what he was in for. Come to think of it, neither did I.
I bought a 3 year old ex-race horse that had been injured on the track. This IS NOT a good horse for a novice. This mare only knew 2 speeds; stop and run as fast as you can. This mare and I have survived all kinds of errors (mostly mine) and mishaps together. In spite of all that and with a ton of training, she has turned out to be my best horse so far. She turns 30 this year and is still going, just a little slower now. I have had 6 horses total that have come and gone from my life. Some of the stories that go with these horses will be told later. I currently have 4 horses; 3 mares and 1 gelding.
I’ve had my horses at self service barns and full service barns. One of the barns I was at had been a premier hunter stable at one time but was falling into disrepair. This is also where I met my first bad trainer and several bad barn managers. I also had a truly psycho barn manager at one self service barn that had been recommeded by a friend. These experiences are why you should always check out the barn AND staff yourself. If you aren’t comfortable or have reservations from the start, trust your instincts. This probably won’t be the right place for you.
I’ve been just a boarder and I’ve also been a barn manager at a self service barn. Finding the barn that suits your needs is a task that should never be taken lightly. I’m currently at a full service barn and I also allow 3 of my horses to be used as lesson horses. This was a decision I made after long thought and considered all of the pros and cons. I know the trainers well and most importantly, I trust their judgement. This works for me, but is not necessarily the right thing for you or your horse.
As I said above, I’ve had my share of bad trainers, both for the horse and for myself. I’ve had trainers for my horse that knew less about horses than I did. I’ve had one that bordered on cruel. Once I found out his training techniques, I immediately stopped the training. This was also a trainer that didn’t want you around while he was training. This seemed a little odd to me, but I was new and didn’t know any better. Now I say, if they won’t let you come anytime and watch, walk away fast. No . . . run away and don’t look back!
I finally found the 2 trainers that made me the rider I am today. Unfortunately, my main trainer I met late in her life. The ironic thing is that as a child, I used to ride past her barn when I visited one of my uncles. I would sit on the street and look at all the kids riding these beautiful steeds. Little did I know, that if I had just had the guts to actually go on the property and talk with her, I would have been jumping while still in my teens. She had students that worked at the barn in exchange for lessons. This was also one of the trainers my husband had contacted for lessons. She had told him she would not teach jumping until the student had good flat work.
The 2nd awesome trainer I also met late in his life. I worked with him for years while volunteering to work a world horse show in my state. He trained one of my younger horses for 3 months. The ironic thing about him is he also was at the same barn when my husband called about lessons. Funny how life works sometimes. I keep wondering how much better I would have been if I had only known these 2 wonderful people earlier.
I’m sharing my experiences, opinions and lessons learned through hard knocks (sometimes it was my body that got knocked hard) as just another source of information to help the novice owner. I hope you find this information useful, but please don’t use it as your sole source of information. Go to other websites, read books and magazines, talk with other horse people and absolutely seek the help of professionals. There are as many opinions as there are horses, owners and trainers in the world. Use all of these resources to help make the right decision for you and your horse.