No Training Needed

An Internet connection should provide all the instruction anyone needs, right?

An Internet connection should provide all the instruction anyone needs, right?

Pam and Bippy Crop
Pam and "Bippy."

By Pamela Britton-Baer in The American Quarter Horse Journal

Everything I know about Quarter Horse shows I learn on YouTube.

Seriously.

If you’ve ever posted a horse showing video on YouTube, chances are I’ve studied it. There’s a wealth of information to be found on the Internet, and I like to surf with the best of them.

But I know enough about showing to realize YouTube can’t give you polish. A trainer needs to teach you those tiny little details that can mean the difference between winning a class and leaving the arena with your tail tucked between your legs. More importantly, a trainer knows the answer to questions like: should my boots match the color of my showmanship pants? Should I go with the sand-colored chaps or the buff? Aren’t sand and buff the same color?

Do you show hunter under saddle like Pam? If you do, you should check out our “Selecting and Showing a Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD. It’s full of tips to get you started with your hunter under saddle horse!

Trouble was, nobody wanted me.

My friends, I’ve decided that I stand a better chance of being abducted by an alien spacecraft, piloted by Captain Kirk, than I do of finding a good Quarter Horse trainer. Seriously. I write books for a living. Anyone who knows anything about the publishing industry will tell you that finding a literary agent is hard. Hah. New York’s finest have nothing on Quarter Horse trainers. Of the three inquiries I made, I never received a single call back. Not a one. Not even an e-mail.

But writing books has taught me a lot about life. Lesson No. 1: If you want someone to represent you (or train you as the case may be) don’t call them, stalk ‘em.

Yes, stalk.

This has stood a number of my fellow writers in good stead when trying to secure the attention of that coveted literary agent. And I just happened to know where I might find a trainer to stalk, er, meet up with: at a horse show. And there just happened to be one coming up in my neck of the woods, Red Bluff, California.

The show would serve two purposes. One, I could walk up and introduce myself to a potential trainer. Two, I could spy on my competition. (C’mon. Admit it. You’d do it, too.)

But as it turns out, I didn’t have much time to spy. Through some small miracle, I ended up having the time and resources to actually show. And even through a part of me – all right, a big part of me – was worried I’d make a fool of myself in front of a prospective trainer, I figured that falling flat on my face (again!) might actually be good. I didn’t want a trainer who might look down his nose at me. You know the type. The kind who scoffs at your riding ability. Who screams at you across an arena full of people. Who might order you to jump a flat-bed truck. And you know what? You’d do it.

Been there. Done that.

I wanted someone nice. Someone who might not mind cracking open a beer at the end of a long day. Someone who would laugh at my husband’s jokes.

So while I was at this horse show, I kept my ear to the ground, discreetly looking around, watching trainers interact with clients, and observing trainers giving lessons. But most of all, I studied the faces of those trainers’ clients. Were they happy? Were they being given encouragement? Did they look like they were having fun? Or did they look as if they were on their way to a colonoscopy? It dawned on me then that picking a trainer is a bit like dating. Only when you sit across from someone do you realize he has bad breath.

But something happened on my way to the show ring: I almost won a class.

You weren’t expecting that, were you? Neither was I, let me tell you. The event was novice amateur showmanship, an event, I must admit, I only entered because I love, love, LOVE the sparkly clothes. Seriously. If it involves polyester and rhinestones, I’m there. And so, wasting no time, I bought myself the blingiest and gaudiest shirt I could find. In hindsight, I probably should have erred on the side of caution, but I digress…

There I was, proud of our performance – and my super-sparkly shirt – in awe of some of my fellow competitors (one World Show qualifier! Whew whoo!) and thinking that I didn’t stand a chance. There were seven people in that class, and it was deep competition, “deep” being my Quarter Horse Word of the Month. For those of you as ignorant as I, it means there were some darn good people in that ring.

Imagine my surprise when they called my name for third place. Third? Had four other people blown it that badly?’

Are you wanting to show hunter under saddle, but don’t know where to start? Let AQHA help with our “Selecting and Showing Hunter Under Saddle Horses” DVD!

Nope.

I watched the tape. Everyone was really good. And yet I’d somehow managed to beat them. How had that happened? Could YouTube have taught me so much?

And then the hunter under saddle class rolled around. I was second out of seven.

My first half point! I was on Cloud 9. Training? Who needed training? All I needed was an Internet connection.

Visions of circuit championships dancing in my head, I anxiously awaited Day 2. The first class – novice amateur showmanship – rolled around. I’d practiced my pattern to the point that my horse was doing it in his sleep. My hard work paid off, too, because I was fifth that Saturday. Not as good as the day before, but I wasn’t disappointed. During the class, I’d made a critical mistake. I’d moved to the off side of my horse before the judge walked past his shoulder. That’s sort of like being offsides in the NFL. I think the judge must have heard my “Doop!” because he glanced back at me with a twinkle in his eyes. Still, I was happy. If not for that one gaffe, we might have done even better.

Just wait until hunter under saddle.

I got last place.

Last, frickin’ place. I fell flat on my face. Again.

Thppppppttt. That was the sound my ego made as it left my body. Or maybe that was the sound of the air leaking out of my head. (My husband would say air.) Talk about letdown. What had I done wrong? Why couldn’t YouTube tell me? Doesn’t YouTube have a help line?

This, my friends, is why you need a trainer. When I reviewed the tapes of my two rides, I realized that my horse looked as strung out as a Chinese dragon. Our transitions were horrible. I swear Bippy thought he was the Black Stallion the way he kept tossing his head. Worse, at the canter, he was a four-beatin’ machine. The Rockettes could have used him to keep the rhythm of their kick line. It was that bad.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: YouTube is great, but it can’t hiss at you from the rail to speed up. It can’t tell you to gather your reins and get your horse’s rear beneath your own rear (a big target, I might add). Nor can it tell you to sit back. Yes, I’m still hovering over the saddle. (Note to West Coast exhibitors: If you see something silver and shiny on my rear, it’s just the duct tape. Ignore it.)

So resigned to my fate, I picked a trainer. (Drum roll please…)

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lise von Uhlit. Lise is the poor soul who’ll be teaching me the finer points of Quarter Horse showing. She has my pity. She should have your pity.

But you know what? I can’t wait to take a lesson from her. Something tells me it’ll be an eye-opening experience. I just hope her eyes don’t roll back in her head when she sees us coming.

17 thoughts on “No Training Needed”

  1. I just love Pamela’s stories, I sure understand where she is coming from! I have found the kind of trainer she is talking about in Brett Walters from Bourbon,IN, I just love him and I can understand what he is trying to teach me, wereas, there are some of them that just talk right over my head. Keep the stories coming. Thanks, Terri Boznak from Indiana.

  2. I love this little stories! Course I’m still where there aren’t any trainers available… But i keep looking around and saving my pennies!
    Linda in Manitoba

  3. This a great story and OHHH so true! Pamela, we sent our horse from Alaska to Ohio for just such a trainer. Scott McFarland of McFarland Performance Horses not only has a way with horses, he is also an awesome educator whose soft spoken, calm, confident approach transfers to the horse he’s training as well as anyone he’s working with which helps them to be a more quiet and confident rider! Thank you again Pamela for sharing your experiences. It let’s us know we’re not the only ones that consider the ‘ole duct tape on the rear something to smile about….. John and Diane in Alaska

  4. Happy holidays, everyone!! And thanks so much for the kind words. I’m *so* thrilled everyone’s enjoying the series. You just put a big ol’ smile on my face. (And I’m sick, so that’s a major accomplishement.) Sorry for any typos. I’m fuzzy from cold medicine.

    Hugs,
    Pam

  5. Pamela I love your writing. I always know I can have a laugh after reading them. Everytime you write you sound so down to earth and not like the snobs you sometimes see showing. I am 67 and resumed showing about 5-6 years ago after a few decades hiatus. Had to be the show mom until she became a show mom. And sometimes my daughter is a show-daughter to her mom, me! I originally showed saddlebreds, then Arabians, and then with age on me I decided I wanted something comfortable and smooth and with common sense. So I picked a QH mare. Hah. Did she fool me. I went off her and bit the dirt about 4-5 times. She did well in the show ring though and she is now semi-retired. I got smart and bought a gelding QH. So far I haven’t kissed the dirt with him and he seems to be more sensible. Anyway keep the good stories coming!!!

  6. Thanks, Val. I’m like you; I can’t stand people who have “airs”. LOL. I grew up on the West Coast hunter/jumper circuit where it was pretty commonplace to bump into famous people. Growing up in that environment made me realize there’s no reason on God’s green earth to be full of yourself. True “celebrities” have to line up to use the out house, too (true story).

    I’m so glad you found a nice, steady-Eddie Quarter Horse to ride. I switched to Quarter Horses for the same reason. I so appreciate my wonderful Bippy’s sane mind. Every once in a while I pull the Warmblood out and I’ll do something that makes me think, “Oh, yeah, that’s right…you’re not a Quarter Horse.” This is usually after I’ve done something mundane–like take my jacket off. LOL.

    Take care!
    Pam

  7. Pamela I love your stories, I always look forward to them

    I compete in cutting, but like Linda, we don’t have cutting horse trainers in Manitoba. I just gather as much knowledge as I can from other riders, videos, books and the internet.

    Happy showing!
    ~Natasha (in Manitoba)

  8. Hi Pamela – just happened on to your story (lucky for me). Any horseperson can relate to your “tell-it-like-it-is” adventures in the confusing world of horses.

    Like Val, I’m a 67 year-old who competed when young, and then was “horse mom” to two kids and then horse mom to two grandkids. Now I’m actually thinking of competing again for myself – figure I should take some “me time”.

    My granddaughter has been showing AQHA novice (english and western). Last year (after some disasterous issues with wanna-be horse trainers), we were lucky enough to rediscover Becker Show Horses in PA. Jimmey and Linda Becker are totally fantastic coaches – so good with their youth riders. Also, they can turn a young horse into an AQHA star in any discipline. I used to ride under their dad (Jim Becker), and now his children (Jimmey and Linda) are continuing the family business with their father’s high standards and professional expertise.

    Have a great show season and keep the stories coming…
    Judy

  9. Thanks, Judy and Natasha!

    Show season. Ack. It’s just around the corner, isn’t it? It seems like just yesterday I was at State Championships and thinking, hooooray, time off! LOL. Guess it’s time to start riding again, eh? I have a feeling I’m going to have legs like spaghetti noodles. Anyone else notice that the older you get, the faster you fall out of shape? And it seems to take twice as long to get back INTO shape. Oooi! ::slaps head::

    Hugs to all. Happy riding!

    Pam

  10. Hi Pamela,

    I love your stories (and the comments) too. They always make me smile – thank you.

    I had to work hard to find that trainer too – but did with Kevin Crane in Albion, ME. It’s a bit of a trek from us in New Brunswick, Canada (along with a coggins test and federal vet border crossing fun) but it’s worth it, Kevin is incredible! He’s helped us unmeasurably.

    Good luck in your new show season. We have a bit longer to wait here in Canada as our first show is in June – but you’re right, it’s time to get started. And yes, to the falling out of shape issue. It’s really time to get started… think i’ll get some duct tape…

    Pam

  11. Hey!! A fellow Pam! How cool is that? I don’t run into many of “myself”. LOL.

    Good luck to you, too. And I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who struggles to get into shape. I sense new fodder for a column, don’t you?

    Pam

  12. Love your stories, they hit so close to home. I just started showing am nov qh and the shows have been a blast and I have made so many friends. I would never have thought that I could show qh but my wonderful trainer Jim Dudley in Columbia Missouri has not only gotten trained my horse but has worked so hard to make me a horseperson. Not just how to sit or cue but how to ride my sweet qh gelding. He is knowledgable, kind and such a wonderful man. Thanks Pamela for the wonderful stories and I hope to meet you at a qh show soon.

  13. Enjoying the columns. Trainer/instructor: Sandy Vaughn. Multiple World Champion AQHA Horseman of the Year. Multiple Amateur and Youth World Champions. Down to earth. Highly recommend. She will work as hard with you as you do with her. Great with your horse, too. Sandy’s specialty is hunter both on the flat and over fences but she can train and ride a western riding horse, trail, and win there too
    Hope your present instructor does well for you. Keep columns coming.

  14. I can really relate to this. Most of what i learned was throught books, and internet articles. sometimes it works sometimes it don’t but when it does, its one heck of a ride. For instance, from reading books, I taught myself to jump. now after 2 years, i can jump bareback 4 feet 3 inches. It just depends on the type of learner you are I guess. Anyway, can’t wait for the next article!

  15. Thanks, guys! I just saw these messages today (New Year’s Eve!) and so sorry for the tardy response. I’m tickled pink that y’all seem to be enjoying the series. My articles are a labor of love and so it’s good to hear they’re resonating with so many readers.

    I’m slated to write more articles for the JQURNAL in 2010 so I hope you enjoy those, too. Make sure you renew your subscription. (Shameless plug.;) Happy New Year!

    Pam

  16. I hope someone will talk to you about running that bit up to his ears!! Sometimes, watching and mimicking others is not a good thing. OLD school said ‘put 3 wrinkles in the cheek’, for no apparent reason – LOGIC, comfort and better horsemanship say, NO wrinkles. Try it on your horse and BOTH of you experience the difference –

  17. I am a permant beginner in both English and Western. My trainer- Anita Baase from Gambrills Maryland. Not only has been my friend for 15 years, she has been my trainer who laughs when you do something silly, yells when you do something stupid and teaches safty first before you get on a horse. I have learned more about showmanship from her than anyone. I like the author love the clothes. It is fun to dress in the sparkling stuff. Most of it I make myself. On the other hand I relate to her as well, I am always intimitated by everyone else. Love the shows hate the stress.

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