First "bad" ride in a long time

Wanting to vent here a bit - and I’ll start by saying I work really hard to maintain the attitude that “there are no bad rides - it either goes well, or you learn something”.

My trainer doesn’t run a “sale barn”, but occasionally she’ll have people bring a horse to her barn to polish them up a bit and get them out the door. It’s not uncommon for her to let me lesson on them, as it gives me an opportunity to sit on different rides and she trusts that I can give them a decent school at the same time (and of course, under her supervision, and with the owner’s consent).

So a new horse shows up at the barn a few weeks ago, and the owner pretty much doesn’t have anything nice to say about him. He doesn’t stand, goes too fast, he has a spook, has a bolt, bucks, crow-hops around the ring, doesn’t trail ride. So my trainer had me ride him, and said up front - if he’s dangerous, nobody rides him and he goes home. As it turns out, this guy ends up being the sweetest, kindest ride. Wonderful barn manners, ground ties, stands in the wash rack and crossties, etc. Very green and easily distracted, but willing and with a super awesome mind - he figures it out once, and he doesn’t need to figure it out again. He has those classic OTTB sharkfin withers, so we thought maybe saddle fit had been causing the issues, but aside from that, we’ve just been baffled as to how or why this horse got such a bad reputation.

Until yesterday.

Hopped on him for a lesson and everything is going great. And at the end, my trainer set up a small gymnastic of a few trot poles and a small x at the end. Went through it a few times, and then she set up a small bounce at the end, again with tiny little crossrails. He was a bit intimidated by seeing all the poles, and kept sucking back at the last second, making it awkward and difficult for him, so my trainer handed me a crop and asked me to just give him a little tap behind my leg a few steps before the first crossrail to help him figure out that going forward makes it easier for him. Given how the rest of my rides on him have gone, we figured once he does it well, he’ll have it figured out and do it right the rest of the time.

The moment the crop was in my hand, this guy started to unravel at the seams. I asked for a trot and he almost jumped out of his skin. A big circle got him settled, so I aimed him at the gymnastic. Knowing he was already a bit edgy, I decided to be extra-conservative with the crop, and barely touched him behind my leg - this guy came unglued. Leapt through the gymnastic (correctly, yay?) and bolted to the end of the ring wide-eyed in terror with his head in the air, followed by many many hectic circles trying to bring him back down to earth while trainer and I realized what we had just done, followed by immediate regret. We stopped there, but even after several minutes of walking with the crop sandwiched between my leg and the saddle, he was still strung tight as a bow and ready to explode. :persevere:

And that’s how all the progress and trust we’d built with this guy over the last few weeks went up in smoke with 30 seconds of ignorance. Makes me just want to cry. Mystery solved. :disappointed:

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Man, I’m sorry. When I started reading I expected way worse – on the positive side, you have an answer now for what his hard limit is. So it’s not all bad.

And as awful as you feel post ride, I bet next ride he will be fine (sans crop). TBs are especially forgiving of things like that.

OTTBs take some settling with crops. I’ve had some that were fine and some that really did become unglued once they thought they were about to be hit. Some could work through it, some couldn’t.


Poor guy. On the positive side, you and trainer have figured out his issue, and can hopefully desensitize him somewhat to the crop. And if not, can at least warn future buyers of this issue so that he has a better chance of a good fit with a new owner.


Well, that’s not a “bad” ride by your own definition. You learned something! Horse does not like crop.

Also, as he was sucking back a bit with his first look at gymnastics, the best answer wasn’t pick up a crop and add more. It’s maybe just scale down a bit until he’s comfy with it, for as long as that takes, then slowly add more. Which may not be in the cards for him at a sales barn, but…


Definitely - if he was my own, I’d be happy to take it slow and steady and just move up when he’s ready. On the other hand, as a sale horse, I also understand the reason to not take that route.

I guess it is good we learned the lesson and not someone else (after they bought him), it just feels bad.

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@Mander horses are very forgiving creatures. I understand feeling like the ride was a fustercluck… but none of what happened was done out of malice and now you know. I think all riding is a learning process and sometimes it’s 1 step forward and two steps back before you see a better path. The fact you feel upset is a testament to your empathy towards this horse. Breathe. And accept this fragile horse taught you something valuable today and that you’re enough of a horsewoman to listen. Best wishes.


I had an OTTB that was given to me in grad school. NO STICKS!!! I had been known to slap him with the flat of my hand a few times when extra encouragement was required…


Poor boy.

He is what is called whip shy.

In the future do not pick up a whip. Not for months and only when he has total trust in you.

If you think he is sucking back because of too many poles, the answer is to reduce the amount of poles and build slowly, not try to push him into the unknown.


This a thousand times. He deserved to be done after the tiny X.


Yep. Precisely. This is a lesson for both you and the trainer. Ending early and on a good note is always a better path with an unknown horse or newer “student” than pushing past a limit.

What needed to be accomplished that couldn’t have been taught next time? They’re called building blocks, not building walls. Start slow. End on good notes. Add slowly.


One other thing: using a horse like this as a lesson horse is a conflict of interest. One expects a riding lesson to last an hour, whereas the horse’s training session could only last 15 or 20 minutes.


Ya, that’s a whole nother ball of wax: student paying a trainer for a lesson, trainer using student essentially as a free pro ride. It’s win-win for the trainer, they get paid for having someone else school the horse. Honestly, if the horse came in so green and with a bad rep (your trainer put you up on him first?!), she should be paying you.


As I said, full knowledge and consent of the owner, and they’ve got things worked out with trainer re: getting what they’re paying for. As for myself, I enjoy ammy status and don’t want to be paid. I’m not a beginner rider and have been on plenty of green horses with bad manners, but due to life circumstances at the moment it would be unwise to go buy a horse of my own, so I catch rides wherever and whenever I can get them and that makes it a win for me too.

FWIW, I wasn’t the first person on the horse when it arrived.


OP - I’m glad you figured out the problem. The first time I tacked up my old OTTB gelding (when he was still young) and tried to lead him out of the barn, he started rearing like a maniac. I convinced him to walk forward a couple steps before he was up again.

Luckily, the trainer who brought him to the barn to sell happened to walk by, and I asked her if he was always like that. She glanced over and said “Lose the whip. He’s terrified of them.” As a dressage rider, I always just automatically grab my dressage whip before mounting.

I ended up buying him, and it took about 6 months to desensitize him. I started slowly by having the whip leaned against the wall as I groomed him. Then I would feed him a carrot and move the whip closer. Before I tried carrying one mounted, I had advanced to being able to hold the whip in one hand and the grooming brush in the other. Never touching him with it and rewarding generously with carrots.

The first few times I had a friend try to sneak the whip up to me after I was mounted and had already worked him down were . . . quite interesting. Rear, spin, rear until I would give up and toss the whip. Tried about once a week for months with this same result.

Finally one day, no rearing or spinning. He just sprang forward very quickly and nervously and took awhile to settle down. But after that day, after initial nervousness and quickness for another month or so, he actually accepted it totally and would not react.

I like to think that I had finally gained his trust, and that he knew I would never do anything to hurt him. But it always hurt my heart to think of the handling on the track that made him so afraid.


I totally agree with this, the horse does not need more than 15 minutes. Horses learn so much quicker than riders.

Just for your information for the future if you find yourself on a whip shy horse again. Try halting and give the whip to someone instead of throwing it. They can react to the whip hitting the ground. If no one there try halting and dropping it. If in full flight like you found yourself drop immediately.

This is not a horse with bad manners. This is a horse who has a phobia. Do not force the horse to carry you with a whip.

To me it is like PTSD and is caused from being beaten by a whip and not some other thing.

I rode a horse who was not afraid of whips but the rider used to pull on the right rein until the horse was facing her and punch him in the face. I found out when I rode him and he was such a good boy. I was looking up the mountain and I went to pat him on the neck. He spun underneath me and I managed to not fall off, but with my head down near the stirrup and I did manage to get back in the saddle. It was such a quick reaction to me thinking I was being nice. Poor poor boy.

Another horse who had no problem with a whip was my mare who had been beaten by an instructor in a lesson. It was Anne Honours. Vin wasn’t getting flying changes quick enough apparently and she beat her.

I bought her off a Level III dressage instructor and she said she would hop on when Vin was not responding well to a walk pirouette in a lesson.

She trained Vin after the previous rider who had owned her for the beating. She was a lot shorter than me. She hopped on with no helmet and crossed the stirrups. I was holding Vin and the off side stirrup as you do when someone mounts.

I let go of both and immediately grabbed the rein again thinking Vin was going to buck.

I then questioned myself. A grand Prix rider who used to own the mare, what did I think I was doing. Don’t be so silly - and I let her go again.

She kept Vin in walk and kept her busy until she brought her back to me to hold as she slid down the shoulder. Vinnie quietened. She leaned her head against her shoulder and said. OMG I thought she was going to buck me off.

A third horse took off on the Iunge. I saw it happening, dropped the whip and was ready when he hit the end of the rein. He halted. I took a step back and picked up the lunge whip. All of a sudden I had a highly stressed, shaking uncontrollably, trying to get away from me, horse. I dropped the whip and spoke to him as I went hand over hand hand to his side. I stroked him until I could let go of the rein. I continued to stroke him, long strokes on both sides. I spoke to him. I told him he was the best horse in the world in this paddock at the moment. He was also the most handsomest horse in the world at the end of the lead rope. I took my time, there was no hurry.

Horses do not lie and it is only because of their memory that we can train them. People who beat horses they never forget. They need trust in you to change these things.

The first boy I could pat him on the neck. I could tap him on the neck with a whip and with in 3 days I could wave a whip around his head. He never spun again.

Vin we never had an instructor ride her in a lesson again. She never acted like that again.

Orchard I went back and picked up the whip and started to lunge again. He never took off on the lunge again but more that that he thought the sun rose out of me. My husband even commented on that to me. He tried so hard for me. He would do anything for me. Them beating him with a lunge whip had the opposite effect.

OP this boy did not ask to be a horse that needs to be flipped. He did not ask to be used in lessons. Your trainer and you did wrong by him.

You need to apologize to him, promise him you will not treat him like that again and if all he needs is 15 minutes that is all you give him.

He will forgive you.

He won’t if you and you trainer proceed to think that he must be ridden with a whip to be sold and continue to use him as a lesson horse in the manner you described. Both of you need to rethink what you are doing.


If the owner wishing to sell decribed the horse in totally negative terms but you, by contrast, found the horse to be sweet but green, I suggest that the owner used a whip rather than horsemanship to train their horse.

Lesson to learn: if a horse is frightened of a whip, get rid of it, fast.


The owner might also simply be one of those people who literally always rides with a whip, not always using it, but always having it.
Even the OP used the whip when the horse showed it was nervous about the whip, so to me it is not weird that someone would not jump to the fact that horse is afraid of the whip.

In other words, the owner might have been clueless and over their head, not evil. (I find it frustrating that we jump to nefarious reasons for humans being clueless.)

OP, it sounds like you are just what this horse needs.


@Mander I know it feels like we are piling on, but please keep us updated on your progress with this horse.

One other thing that might not apply in this instance but is helpful to remember is that the rider can feel things the trainer can’t see, so no one should ever be shy about saying to the trainer “I feel like he’s had enough today.”


well, there is also the thing called exercise.
I would assume that horses in a sale program don’t get a lot of turnout, at least not in a big field.

And while the trainer sets up the course, the rider gets instructions (the lesson) there is downtime for the horse.
I would dearly hope that a horse that is stalled most of the day (and a paddock/dry lot does not really count as ‘turnout’ IMHO) gets a little more than 20 minutes of exercise a day!

I can also see the benefits of having a trusted student ride for the trainer.
It lets the trainer know how the horse reacts to a different rider, see things one does not feel, and get a 2nd opinion on the progress.

In this case though, both humans were slow on the uptake.

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I appreciate the advice - it’s some that I try to take on a regular basis, and fortunately my trainer is one who takes me seriously when I do. As BrendaJane said, I just wasn’t quick enough on the uptake this time.

That aside though, I’m happy to just let this thread wither and die. I’m always reminded when I make a more personal post like this that I don’t have the patience or energy to clear up any misunderstandings (and even if I try, I’ll probably say something else for people to burn me at the stake for) and neither do I have thick enough skin to deal with… well, most of this thread.