The Trouble with Trainers...
|From the Anvil Archives:|
Earlier this month, I gave trainers their due regards for being far more than just a teacher of skills for the next generation of equestrians. For farriers however, they are sometimes a pain in the...
However, try to understand their unique world before
you hire Luigi, the hit man.
|My feet hurt!|
AND, I DON"T DO DRESSAGE DAMMIT!!
Over the decades, a great deal of discussion, oxygen and various forms of profanity have been exchanged in the tumultuous marriage known as farrier/veterinarian relations...aka, dysfunctional failure to communicate 101. Common ground has often been reached, only to be discarded in favor of either money or that perverse desire we hold to always be right. (Even if we're wrong and confess that to the dog later.) I used to think it was a 'male thing,' until two things crushed my theory: first, more and more women entered the field of farriery. Guess again on it being a matter of chromosomes. A 'woman scorned' doesn't necessarily involve another woman or those frequent lapses in memory about some blond on a bar stool. Personally, I can't think of anything more deadly than a raging woman with a hammer and a set of pull-off's in her gentle hands -- unless it's a man with a hammer and a bag full of bent pritchels. Secondly, science finally discovered that the only purpose behind mankind developing the power of reason was to win arguments. Cooking your food with fire was a distant fourth behind fighting to the death and marking your territory with either urine or dirty socks.
That said, what is rarely discussed is another noisy opinion in the menage a trois of barn life: the trainer. Many of us have a desire in our business to climb the food chain. Roughly speaking, that equates to better clients, nicer horses, more money and prestige -- a whole lot less traveling and eliminating the necessity to explain your shining credentials to the 12-year old holding a rather homicidal looking pony. It does sound like an idyllic world, where you show up in a white lab coat, babble a bunch of conformational-type nonsense while you play around with a slide-rule -- then have your staff do the actual work. See, in today's horseshoeing world: no staff = no credibility. Or so it seems. So, yes -- you must have a staff, because that is the new gestaldt. So even if you have to go down to the local Millionaires' Club or the parking lot at Home Depot -- even an unemployed brother-in-law will do; bring them. Nobody knows what farriers are really doing anyway, so have them put on an apron and beat on the anvil from time to time. Besides, if something goes wrong, you just blame it on them. If it's really serious (profuse bleeding, dead horse, client beaten unconscious), then just fire them on the spot and moan sincerely about how hard it is to get good help nowadays. The client might be marginally sympathetic, but a trainer....???
|See the guy on the right...|
wouldn't know a horse from a fence post.
Trainers occupy a different region of the solar system than mere mortals. They are cunning, manipulative, insincere, demanding, ruthless, coy, and on occasion, borderline dishonest; though all these traits come from good intentions...most of the time. They are also dedicated, have a remarkable degree of patience, (similar to a dead spider's), talented, hardworking and gifted with the uncanny ability to teach absolute morons how to ride a horse -- sheer perseverance against incredible odds. They watch the same blunder being made 500-times in a row and somehow find something positive to say about it: "Well, only 2 chips this time and heck, one of them was off-course anyway. Much better than last week!"
Most people assume that trainers make their living by training. In reality, they make money by buying and selling horses. This is the arena where commissions live...or vanish unexpectedly. Trainers live or die by that simple word. Everything else is day-money...like most jobs. The training business is a little like real estate with legs. The objective is to buy low, do a little product improvement (like staging -- where you cover up the faulty septic tank with beauty bark), then sell high, somehow keeping the client happy (less suicidal) in the process. It is a little like the stock market, but even less predictable, it that is even possible. Why? Because of the infamous 'vet check,' that process whereby a veterinarian performs an autopsy on a breathing corpse. Nine out of ten horses fail (failure is subjective here), because no veterinarian wants to guarantee that the animal will be alive five-minutes after he/she leaves the property, much less suitable for some kind of equine employment. In the old days, some kind of pass/fail system did exist, but the attorneys really took the fun out of the arrogance wrapped up in that one. So instead, we have a collection of qualifiers that would make Congress blush. And one or two off-hand comments from a veterinarian can turn a $50,000 hunter prospect into a can of Alpo in less than a minute. Vet: "Damn coffee's bitter again." Translated by three grooms and a Hispanic stall mucker: "Coffin bones brittle in horse maybe."
That is why many trainers are certifiably insane or chronically catatonic -- and probably why they miss their BMW payments from time to time. One of the chief factors in buying horses for clients is 'suitability.' The same issue that is chronically ignored when humans hook up for life and frantically jump on a plane to Reno three months later. Never mind soundness (horses, not the misplaced heart throb), as the trainer is simply looking for something that a rank amateur can actually ride. Things like navicular disease, ringbone, broken knees, multiple splints, random migrating bouts of arthritis -- all are discounted on a horse that hopefully, won't get the client killed. Clients who have met their demise in the schooling ring can't write anymore checks. So unless the trainer has a power of attorney tucked away, these horses are an investment in the confidence necessary for success. A year or so on this semi-crippled train wreck might lead to a $30,000 purchase for a real horse. Commission!
Of course, this philosophy provides farriers with a fair amount of grief. In most cases, it is up to the farrier to keep this urban renewal project somewhat sound. (Okay to laugh hysterically here.) The owner is in the dark, where the trainer wants him or her to stay, and if a leg suddenly falls off, then it will have to be somebody's fault. Since 'stuff' runs downhill, and trainers are perfect, vets are doctors, hence beyond rebuke; well, gosh, who is left? So it morphs into a 'shoeing problem' of some kind. These 'problems' are resolved by using three or four different kinds of pads, aluminum egg-bar shoes, squaring some toes, attaching magnets to various body parts -- Buddhist chants and enough bute to paralyze a dinosaur -- OR, a new farrier! At some point though, this new client corners you (normally outside a portable toilet at a horse show), because the shoeing bill has somehow escalated to the level of the entry fees for the entire show season. Naturally, the trainer isn't talking -- at least coherently, and if you divulge the real truth(s) -- could be more than one -- then it is off to the unemployment office...again. This is the point where a horseshoer's brain begins to sweat from the inside. Clients love these little get-togethers...you know, the chance to destroy somebody else's self-esteem...kind of share the experience.
"Why does he need wedge pads?"
"What does a bar shoe do?"
"Is the frog edible?"
"Should I invest in IBM or Microsoft?"
"Gosh, you must work out a lot..."
Somehow they don't question the drug bill, which looks steep even by Miami's standards. They believe that anti-inflammatory medications are secret vitamins that only the best trainers know about. Meanwhile, the horse's ankles are sprouting golf balls where the joints used to be.
So, what do you do? You could move to Antarctica, though it's bound to have a negative influence on your financial portfolio. My favorite defense is the deflection.
"What bar shoe?"
"All good horses wear pads."
"No, he's not off, your girth is too tight."
When all else fails, I chicken out:
"The trainer wanted to try bar shoes -- maybe you should ask him."
Trainers hate that, but also hate mouthy horseshoers. Either way, the trainer makes a rare trip to the shoeing shed to pull your lungs out through your nose. They absolutely, positively do not like anything that makes their judgement seem suspect. But of course, some clients are more than willing to jump into the fray. Over the years, I've had a number of clients who completely reveled in this sort of intellectual sword play. The odd part was that they really didn't want the truth because, well, the truth was that their horse was a like a 747 with three engines on fire over the North Atlantic. What they really wanted was a conformation of their optimism -- or worse, their own unique theory on why Brownie's legs don't work. This they have already garnished from acupuncturists, chiropractors and an assortment of horse psychologists. The latter always saying something like: "He wants to live in Florida..." or "Your horse doesn't like oats; he wants to eat dead chickens." Or else, one of those prescriptions where you put wedge pads on diagonal feet, an aluminum shoe on the left front, and a door knob on the right rear. It isn't a horse, it's a hardware store.
But in all fairness, trainers are stuck in this same bucket of mud. Sure, they pass the buck, mostly because they can. Farriers really do not have that option. The best approach is to be professional at all times, develop a good working relationship with your trainers -- based on realistic expectations, not what the tooth fairy has promised. Most importantly, remember that the client may pay the bill, but the trainer controls the barn...control being 60% of the job. And lastly, if you think you are irreplaceable, think again. Even the President of the United States gets booted out of office. Save the bruised ego for the barber or the bartender...a good tip will get you loads of sympathy. And always remember the first rule of Fight Club...you never talk about...