Friday, September 2, 2011

HK 101: Is my equine professional a real professional?

New or seasoned, many people in the horse world have been 'scammed' in one way or another. Your guess is as good as mine as to why this is so prevalent. Perhaps it is the love for these great creatures that blinds us, perhaps it is the mystery in their ways.

There are far clearer reasons as to why there are people that scam. There is a great deal of money to be made in horses for those willing to work hard; and most people who own horses have money to spare and are used to handing it over.

The best way to protect yourself is education. If you're just wanting to get into horses, before you start looking for an instructor, read. There are hundred of amazing books, online articles, magazines, about horses. You can start as simple as the Wikipedia entry to get the basic terminology and let your mind expand from there.

The second way is reputation. Almost everyone leaves a trail, good or bad. You can't be swayed by one experience either way, but if you ask around and find x trainer or vet so-and-so has left a number of unhappy clients behind them, you know to stay away.

If you're new to horses you probably don't know anyone to ask, so please, let me offer you some little warning lights to watch for:

What makes a professional
By definition a professional is someone who trades a good or service for currency. They should have collegiate education but there is no over-seeing body of certification for horse trainers, so don't lend too much credence to what people call themselves.

Yes, everyone has to start somewhere and no one is born an Olympic trainer; but any professional should be able to show you a resume.

Too good to be true
Anyone just starting out is not going to charge as much as a professional with a big client base that have been work in the industry forever. You may get a good deal on a young instructor, but it can also be that no one wants to hire them.

A Home of your Own
Instructors tend to travel from barn to barn, but they should at least be riding/leasing a horse if not own one of their own. If not, why not? How about your trainer? Again, people starting out don't have a 4-star barn, but when someone is a good rider or good trainer their reputation will build quickly, and people that need them will be handing over the reins of top horses, providing space in barns, etc. knowing that investment will pay off.

A barn should always appear tidy & well kept. There should never be any junk laying around, or feed bins open, or buckets not scrubbed. There are obvious signs of neglect/over-work/lack of care.  A rustic look is just fine, but rustIC not rustY.

Too expensive too be true
Cost does not beget quality, even expensive trainers can starve and abuse.

Can they answer your questions?
You don't need to be super-sneaky and ask trick questions, but your trainer should be able to answer a simple question about stifle injuries, or your barn manager about nutrition! If they can not answer your questions, run don't walk, in the opposite direction. You should take the time to get to know someone before you hire them.

Show up early & often
Purchasing a new horse? Show up early. Check out the barn and other horses as part of the sale. You want to know where the horse came from to get an idea of how they've been treated. Tack put away neatly, horses all in good health, barn neat clean and tidy as well as the trainer?

Horse you're purchasing clearly being worked before your supposed to show up (and there is nothing wrong with a light warm up, but not a full session!) turn around and leave. "Training aids" clearly visible in the tack room and you'll know those aren't bite marks, but spur marks.

If you've got your horse in training you must check up on them. I fell into this one with someone I trusted and had taken good care for 2 years and still ended up neglecting my horse when her personal life got too complicated.

Get that Feeling
Trust your gut, something doesn't seem right, look into it right away. 

Little Lie, Big Lie
Show up to look at a horse and he's 2Hh smaller then in the Ad? Doesn't matter if “everyone is looking for 16Hh so I put that so people would look at him” run away. You don't want to deal with unscrupulous people.

Show up to look at barn that's said “sand ring coming this summer” show up in August and the land isn't even cleared? It's not going to happen!

Don't take on someone else's problem
It's hard not to feel sorry for people fallen on hard times, and there are many times when people genuinely need help; but do not ruin your life 'helping' out someone who doesn't deserve it. 

There are many “rescues” out there that will take your money and run. There, especially, you need to do your research before offering your hard-earned money. Make sure their policies align with your ideals, and follow up about where your money has gone.
Bring Your Camera
A picture is worth a thousand words, in both the criminal court and the court of public opinion. Always bring it with you, even if you leave it in the car. See something that doesn't look right? Well you can click first and ask later. If your professional does not want to let you take photos pack up the pony and run.
Get it in writing
At the end of the sale, a contact is what you make it. Don't concede to things you don't want, even if it means walking away. Make them sign something that says the horse has not been drugged and pull blood with your Pre-Purchase Exam anyway.

When hiring an employee clearly write out what you expect of them, down to the last bit of dust off the shelf in the feed room.

Boarding contracts are flexible and it's up to the individual barn owner to work it out with every client. If you'd like extra services not normally offered, get them in writing.

can save friendships, asking for one never ruins them.
Talk it Out
When hiring a new vet or farrier or joining a barn, talk with your professional about what you expect out of them, what they expect from you and make sure everything is out in the open so no one gets upset.
No one is Infallible
If in doubt, seek a second opinion. Something not working and your professional can't seem to fix it, try someone else. Not everyone is good at everything. Even down to vets, some are great at repro, others specialize in lameness. Don't feel like you're cheating on your professional, but you should be up-front and honest that you are seeking help elsewhere.
Speak Up
If you've had a bad experience speak up. Tell the locals, let your friends know, you can even rate anonymously on sites like RateMyHorsePro. If it's that bad and you've got the evidence to back it up speak up on public forums like ChronofHorse.

There is a long history of just keeping your mouth shut in the horse world, lots of people are starting to realize that only benefits the scammers not the scammed.

Made a Mistake?
What if you're on the other side? You're having a hard-time paying a bill, you feel like you've over-challenged yourself with your new training client, you realize taking on that extra boarder was more work then you can handle. DO NOT STAY QUIET. Speak with your client/creditor explain the situation and have a solution handy. Be prepared to swallow your pride a bit, but generally horse people are very nice and will go out of their own way if you've hit a rough patch but you're honest about it.

Staying quiet and hoping it will go away on it's own, or worse denying the problem outright, is a sure path to a bad-reputation.

Well, I hope that helps. It's a bit of a jungle out there, so navigate carefully; and never assume just because someone keeps animals that automatically makes them a good trustworthy person. It's far better to speak out of turn and step on a few toes, then to loose your shirt, or worse your horse, to an unscrupulous person.

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