Can A Grassroots Trainer Compete With A Top Tier Trainer?


BACKGROUND: Recently the question was posed on-line by a blogger “How do I as a grassroots trainer compete with top tier trainers?” The blog went on to state the grass roots trainer believed the playing field was unfair.

REASONING: Some reasoning used in the blog to justify unfairness (1) Top Tier trainers were willing to offer / promote methods the grass roots trainer was not. (2) Judges / Show Management did not assess classes fairly or adhere to rules for all exhibitors. (3) The top trainers & their students were given preference at shows. An example listed included that offenses for top trainers were ignored or swept under the rug.

BLOG CONCLUSIONS: (1) Grassroots trainers and their students were competing for 2nd and 3rd places at best. (2) Grassroots Trainers & students could never compete with Top Tier trainers because top trainers often cheat the system without consequence. (3) Loss of current students to Top Tier trainers is inevitable because the students want to win.

MY REACTION: If the reasoning provided via the blogger are true, I better call off my equine career now. Here are some of my thoughts regarding the question & position above.

Some perspectives I personally believe to be true.

  1. Comparing oneself to another individual is most often futile. No two people or animals are the same nor should they be expected to be. Emulating behaviors, values, principals & methods that you admire in other individuals is a much better use of time than lamenting about what 1 person has that you do not.

  2. Life is not fair. I could expand but it would be wasting space.

  3. Positive Attitude, Hard Work & Receiving or Continuing Education are the most important “tools” any trainer at any level can ever expect to develop.

  4. Inappropriate education, lack of experience, entitlement attitude & unwillingness to learn the business starting at the bottom are the four largest barriers I see for aspiring trainers of all disciplines. Rarely do individuals become respected horse trainers without positive attitude, hard work & appropriate long term education. Developing these tools will take time and effort.

  5. No one (including judges, committees, show managers or those competing) is perfect.

  6. Not all human beings are ethical, nor do they wish to be.

  7. What goes around tends to come around. (Karma) We just may not be privy to when karma rears its head or the details.

  8. Be clear and honest with all clients about your experience, values & charges from the beginning. It saves time and trouble later.

  9. The USA does not have a National Level Horse Trainer Certification / Licensing process. Therefore anyone with good, bad or ugly equine skills can call themselves a trainer in this country. Unless a national system is implemented and regulated, there will be extreme differences in the skills, technique and quality of professional training and instruction. It is probably safe to say we will never have the uniformity of instruction and training that countries with “equine systems” have.

Addressing the Original Blog Question

To begin, I agree that competition is difficult for all involved no matter what the equine discipline. Multiple items are on the line at competitions for students and trainers of all levels. Here is where it is important to be clear & honest. I also agree that not all “trainers”, top tier or grass roots act ethically. Competition between “Top Tier” trainers and “Grass Roots” trainers is possible and encouraged. However, it is reasonable to be realistic with ones goals & evaluation of the situation.  

My goal is to be a Respected Trainer, no matter what level of competition trainer I currently fall into. By respected, I mean that: (1 The horses in my program are well taken care of, their wellbeing is always considered first. (2) All clients are worked with in an honest and respectful manner. (3) We all attempt to make the best of all situations, placing safety and learning as top priorities. (4) Each horse is well trained and behaves accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy winning classes and trips. However, a safe show without prizes is always better that an unsafe show where horse or human is injured.

Generally any trainer, if at the top of their field or not, wants to do better for themselves. Most trainers at the top have realistically worked hard to get there. “Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” – Unknown. It is true that some are not really trainers, some have not treated horses well, that some are lucky, some are good at faking knowledge & that some have cheated the system. Not all humans are ethical.

We all also have pet peeves about how others in the industry operate. My college professor formerly said, “Even a monkey can train the really good horses”. He is correct, a few horses are just that good & get to the top in spite of their trainers / riders. It’s one of my pet peeves when an unskilled trainer gets lucky with a horse of that nature, & ends up stealing a client. (Life is not fair.) I’ve even had an instructor lie to potential clients at a show, claiming my training work as their own. (Not all humans are ethical.) When the truth comes out that the other instructor or trainer was simply lying or lucky, it is hurtful for their reputation. One can remain a respected trainer by maintaining integrity in these types of situations.

Often, the formerly lost client horse returns (karma) to get unscrewed & re-started. This can be a tough situation as we could be tempted to spread word of those failures around. All of this however, is part of the horse training business. In times of dealing with pet peeves, repeat the phrase “not my circus, not my monkeys.” My advice would be to go on with life and ask “What can I do to improve my personal training / teaching skills?” (Develop training tools.)

Some thoughts on competing with trainers of all levels:

(a) Work on yourself first. You might be an excellent rider yourself, but do you have the skills / experience of training & riding more than one horse to the level you desire to compete at? Producing a number of horses to a level of consistency in a particular discipline is a good start to reaching that goal of competing with top trainers.

(b) If you are in doubt about your preparedness, or the competition horse(s) preparedness, ask another industry professional you trust. You may have to pay for that evaluation or extend a similar professional courtesy to the evaluating individual. This is the same concept as doing your homework or double checking your numbers. It also is a good way of keeping egos in check by consulting your peers.

(c) Converse with owners or clients and think about realistic competition goals. Make a list of tangible goals such as run the pattern clean, jump the fence height we’ve been jumping at home. Once these goals are consistently met, stronger goals can be set and achieved. Start at the small shows and work your way up. If you are not winning at the smaller shows, chances are that more skills are needed to compete with top trainers. It is worth mentioning that smaller shows can serve as a confidence builder for clients. A word of caution is that it is easier to be a “big fish in a little pond than a little fish in the big pond.” Discuss the pond concept with clients and owners.

(d) Talk to the client about show expectations prior to the show. What are your realistic expectations of the horse? What can clients expect of you? What are you willing to do or not willing to do to win? Do your actions and decisions protect, honor & preserve the health of the horse?  These are things you do have some control over and they can and should reflect on you as the trainer or instructor.

(e) Never assume you will or will not win. Rarely is there ever a perfect pattern, run or course. There is potential to do better than a top trainer or worse, it all depends on those items of positive attitude, hard work & learning through experience.

(f) Know the rules. There have been many instances where I have sat in the judging chair & watched as trainers of all levels sent in students or rode in horses in the wrong equipment. This can be an automatic no score or huge penalty, depending on the class or show. If in doubt, ask show management about rules & read the current rule book. Even if you & your horse have the best ride of the show, a judge is not allowed to reward it with the wrong equipment worn or wrong pattern performed.

(g) Be gracious. If you do happen to have the best ride or client ride of the day, be thankful and ask what else your team can improve upon. If you place 2nd – last place, use it as a learning opportunity. Be grateful for what you have achieved. Check the score sheet, ask the judge, scribe or ring master what items could be worked on before the next show. Then, go work hard at those items!

(h) Educate your clients and owner audience.  This is especially important in our current culture of instant gratification. Horses take time to develop, period. Tell clients (honestly) about your work. Tell them (truthfully) what you value as a trainer and why and how you can help that horse & rider team. Always maintain integrity. You concentrate on being you and let others concentrate on being them.

(h) All the other stuff (bigger trailer, more money, more clients, the other trainer is a cheater) is BOLOGNA. Everyone has barriers and obstacles, some have fewer than others. How we deal with those challenges is what defines us.

Final Thoughts: We can’t control what others do or all circumstances. We can’t control all competition factors or make every single show variable equal. We can be responsible for educating & improving ourselves. We can be an instrument for positive change in any organization. We can control our actions & reactions. Concentrate on what you can control to work toward equal competition success.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work & learning from failure.” – Colin Powell

FOR SALE : Tango Playboy Bar

Tango is a 2009 Registered AQHA gelding. Beautiful bay coloring with a small star & heavy muscle. He is built like a tank and should be able to carry any size rider. Stands about 15.2 hands. Asking $3,200. Offers considered to a great home.

Started under saddle and continuing his training until sold. His owner is not able to dedicate the time to riding him frequently and continuing his education due to her work. Tango loads in the trailer, works well in the line and in the round pen. All ground work completed. This boy is ready to be taken in the direction you choose. He would be best suited for an experienced horse owner. Tango has a nice personality but will take the leadership role if the handler does not provide guidance.

His pedigree can be found on AllBreed Pedigree and includes Nu Peppy Chex.

Video located on my youtube channel: SunRR1 under Tango Playboy Bar

Please contact Mel to set up a time to view this handsome guy.

SOLD- Georgia - 2007 AQHA / FQHR reining bred mare

Shining Glo or Georgia has Shining Spark and Mr. Joe Glo bloodlines. 

She had 1 foal by Easy Otie Whiz in 2014 that is a great NRHA / AQHA / FQHR / Ranch Prospect. (Foal is SOLD)

Georgia has been shown in Open, AQHA, FQHR and local ranch shows (thru early2014) and represented MQHA at the 2015 MN Horse Expo. She is talented in reining, ranch reining, ranch horse pleasure and ranch rail classes. Georgia has schooled western dressage and is bodily talented enough for higher level WD classes. W/T/L is flowing, spin, turn on forehand, leg yield and lead change. Trailers very well on her own or with horses.

With limited riding this year and last, she is doing great, earning AQHA points in Ranch Riding / Pleasure. She is ready for a new show home or snap her up as a beautiful athletic brood mare. Up to date on vaccines, current negative Coggins, recent dental and just trimmed. Offered at $5,500.

Georgia is a quick and responsive horse, making her a fun ride and perfect prospect for an AM rider looking to step up their show skills.

Contact Mel for details.

Thanks for looking!


Issues Might Require More Than A Tissue........

Whenever horses are bought in for training I have a list of questions to ask the owner. Of course the list of questions entail the standard; age, color, height, feed amount, breed & value. Additionally I like to know some particulars about what the owner wants to do with the horse after training, general attitude, perceived reason for training, previous training and any behavior issues they feel are strange about the horse or have dealt with previously.

Generally, younger horses tend to have less training and potentially fewer issues if they’ve been handled correctly in the past. Older horses tend to be wiser in the ways of the world and can be very respectful or have knowledge of saying “no” to requests or have gotten by with saying “no” in the past.  In the mind of the horse getting by with saying “no” to requested tasks makes him the leader of the partnership and is a win or reward situation for the horse. It often leads to what people describe as the problem horse.

Horses can present problem issues due to:

  1. Mental unpreparedness (fear) or aggressiveness (disrespect) leading to anxiety.

  2. Physical unpreparedness including lack of condition & pain.

Upon arrival, each horse is evaluated first on the ground. One would be surprised at exactly how much information a good evaluator can obtain from a groundwork session. I use what the horse tells me in the groundwork session to formulate the plan of action for their training at the farm. I also use this knowledge, along with how the horse progresses in the plan, to determine what the owner needs to learn to maintain his or her horse.

Many issues we see in training horses are mental, due to lack of respect and fear which both lead to anxiety. Whatever the cause for the issue, we can work at fixing it by providing leadership to the horse and therefore earning and giving back respect. I find that a respectful relationship between horse and handler where the handler is clearly the leader makes for the best partnership.

Some owners have difficulty with the thought of leadership leading to a partnership. Think about a law firm. It consists of many or few lawyers working in conjunction for a unified goal. In the law firm there is a managing partner. That managing partner is responsible for the “leadership” of that firm. It doesn’t mean he or she can’t be kind, or beats up on his or her partners, or doesn’t listen to his or her partners. It does mean that he or she ideally is the one the other partners look to in time of crisis. He or she has the respect of the other partners, applies discipline when necessary and has final say on the important decisions that influence the productivity of that law firm.

When one looks at leadership from this objective manner, our role as “leader” of the partnership becomes much more weighted with responsibility and clear. This is why leadership during issues may require more than a tissue. It most likely will require some thought, action and backbone.

Obtaining leadership and building respect begins on the ground! I’ve personally found that if the horse cannot successfully & respectfully complete the basic task on the ground, it will not be able to do so with a rider. To build leadership and respect on the ground, I like my horses to be able to complete the following:

  • Walk forward on a loose line at the same speed as the handler.

  • Stop accurately,

  • Back up with impulsion and with no resistance. (straight and curved lines)

  • Disengage the hindquarters.

  • Pivot both directions on the hindquarters. (roll back or turn on haunches)

  • Lightly give the face / head side to side with halter and rope.

  • Move around me on a short or long line comfortably at all gaits.

  • Round pen work (accept new objects).

  • Latch on / join up / follow / pay super attention to handler.

My job as the leader is to reward the horse for trying to complete these tasks. At first they might get a reward for leaning the correct direction. If we reward correctly, it makes the horse WANT to work with us. By the same token, if we reward incorrectly, we can actually cause disrespect and anxiety in the horse. As the horse begins to make progress, we have to delay the reward to build leadership, build respect & ultimately yield progress. The horse at some point has to do more to earn the reward or the horse will become stagnant. We also have to recognize as leaders when the horse is being disrespectful and use appropriate discipline to rebuild respect. All of this must be done with control of our own emotions.

Below are some examples of the horse acting disrespectfully. Consider a display of one or more of these behaviors an opportunity to recognize & fix a larger issue. There are a few behaviors (which I will note) that are completely disrespectful & extremely unsafe and must be dealt with swiftly. If you feel you cannot deal with the noted behaviors swiftly, please find a professional to assist you immediately. The longer the truly unsafe behaviors continue, the more difficult they will be to deal with. That being said, many of the smaller issues will also lead to the larger issues if leadership and respect are not demonstrated & obtained.

  • Walking into, over, on top of or running past the handler. (unsafe)

  • Moving opposite of the intended pressure the handler is applying. (unsafe)

  • Dancing or inability to stand still or relax.

  • Turning the hip to the handler (not facing) or using the shoulder to run into the handler. (unsafe)

  • Elevated head position for extended period of time / lack of attention of the handler. (unsafe)

  • Failure to back up off a signal or out of the space of the handler. Failure to move forward with pressure.

  • Using the head or body to direct where the handler can stand or what tasks they can perform.

  • Refusing to move near on or over objects. (Reasonable if they are truly scared of the object, but leadership must be applied to move past this issue.)

  • Anxious or aggressive (ears back or ears pinned, mouth open) expression. (unsafe)

  • Pawing

  • Striking (Extremely unsafe)

  • Bucking (Extremely unsafe)

  • Biting / nipping / mouthy (Extremely unsafe)

  • Rearing up (Extremely unsafe)

  • Kicking (Extremely unsafe)

The behaviors that are noted as “extremely unsafe” are avoidance responses and very disrespectful. The issues can be lessened and or eliminated in most cases once the handler provides leadership and gains respect of the horse. Prior to fixing the “extremely unsafe” the unsafe and other disrespectful behaviors will be worked through and therefore fixed as well.

In some cases, extremely unsafe behavior is exhibited when the horse has a physical issue, is in pain or has a medical problem. Most often when the problem is pain (medically) related, the horse will have a quicker change in attitude. Many horsemen and women fail to recognize the small disrespect issues that lead to the large unsafe issues. These small issues will build over time and the horse will often get worse. Of course, if the horse is having a pain issue, that pain will need to be addressed so we might eliminate it before working on the mental side of the horse.

After we get the horse working in a respectful manner, it is just as important to work with the owner / handler to teach the following groundwork skills: (1) Safety (2) Leadership (3) Appropriate reward (4) Recognition of disrespect from the horse (5) How to work through the issue rather than avoid the issue.

Building all of these skills take time and practice. However, mastering these items on the ground will only lead to more productive time under saddle and a better partnership in the long run. Don’t forget providing leadership gains respect and begins a lifetime partnership. It all starts on the ground!


Below are some helpful reminders for preparation for a successful ride. Other than safety considerations, appropriate gear and preparation are the keys to success on the trail. There may be other items you wish to add to this starter list over time. Keep a copy in your tack room or trailer and jot down items to add to the list as you think of them. Some trails will require the use of all of these items while other trails will not require many of them at all.

Horse Supplies

  • Water  (Clean 5 gallon gas can labeled H2O only works well.)

  • Buckets 

  • Hay / Hay cubes /  Grain 

  • Grooming supply / Hoof pick

  • Shoes / protective boots 

  • Fly spray / mask /leg guards

  • First Aid Kit            

  • Emergency boot 

  • Leg wraps / trailer wraps (before and after ride and for emergency)

  • Health papers / Coggins test

  • Hay bag / Feed bag

  • Tie line / ties

Rider Supplies

  • Saddle & Headstall

  • Halter & Rope 

  • Pad / blanket

  • Cinch / Girth

  • Saddle bag 

  • Extra halter & rope

  • Extra leather pieces & Leather punch 

  • Protective boots (rider) & Shoes (hiking or driving trailer)

  • Extra Clothing for Weather changes

  • Compass

  • Tools / tool belt (Can leave these with the trailer but I carry a multi-tool often.)

  • Lariat rope

  • First Aid Kit

  • Fire Starting Kit        

  • Food 

  • Water 

  • Rain slicker

  • Sunscreen 

  • Trail Map in plastic covering

First Aid

  • Cloth (clean) or diapers  (compression wraps)

  • Vet wrap

  • Duct tape or Sports tape

  • Eye / wound ointments 

  • Wound spray 

  • Fly mask

  • Disinfectant (iodine) 

  • Scissors 

  • Protective gloves 

  • Pain reliever / Benadryl

  • Matches

  • Plastic bag (container or captures water)

General Trail Guidelines / Trail Manners 

1) Practice good trail etiquette and common sense. SAFETY IS FIRST!!!!!!

2) In general when using public trails, all others yield to horses, EXCEPT for humans / hikers. Therefore, horses have the right of way. There are some exceptions to this rule and situations where it is beneficial for horses to yield to others. Communication is KEY when using joint trails!

3) If there are pack-strings present, the packed horses have the right of way above all other horses.

4) When riding in steep terrain, horses moving downhill should yield to horses moving uphill.

5) Always carry a trail map and make sure an individual at camp or at home knows where you are riding, your route and when you are expected to return. This is important in emergency situations.

6) Communication is VERY IMPORTANT. If you are the leader, you are responsible to let others know if you are stopping or moving out or changing gate. Consider the safety of the group before you act.

7) Be Prepared - you are responsible for your horse and for obtaining the skills needed to work with that horse. There is nothing more damaging to a ride than participants that are unsafe or those that cannot manage their horse.

8) Horses are herd animals. Be sure to ride with proper spacing and have a plan to stop your horse should it spook.

9) Practice at home. If you have planned a trip, do your research. Know what you will encounter and practice it before your arrival. This will make the trip much more smooth. (tie to a trailer or line, hobble the horse, other)  Enlist an instructor or professional if you need help.

10)   Match your speed to the terrain. It is physically demanding to go both up and downhill. Do not ask your horse to trot or lope up or down the hill unless necessary. Choose flat, visible surfaces to lope or trot.

11)   Horses that kick are a training problem. If they are on the ride, they should be in the back of the line so they do not have the opportunity to practice this poor habit. Warn others by tying a string in the tail. All horses may kick if they feel crowded, practice good spacing to prevent kicking.

12)   Help your horse over difficult objects such as logs, deep mud, streams by giving a loose rein and allowing them to pick their way over the objects. (This assumes your horse is trained to cross trail objects.)

13)  Know your impact on the land! Always stick to trails in parks, always ask permission to ride on private property and stick to where the owner allows you to ride. Do not destroy preserved areas with excessively large amounts of hoof prints.

14)   If you are riding with the group, stick with the group unless you have planned and discussed it with the group in advance. This is considerate and polite.

15)   Leave pets at the trailer or at home. We all love the family dog but no matter how well behaved the dog is, it may cause a wreck by moving underneath horses, running off and or getting lost. Having a dog leashed and tied to a horse can also be dangerous for the handler and others.

16)   Check with the US forest service, county or state park office or land owner for specific trail rules to that area.

Feel free to add to this list as you learn and grow in your trail experience. Happy Trails!!!

Turbulent Trails? Think Safety First!

Trail riding can be a fun part of horse ownership. Trail experiences range from the easy cool down walk around the yard or field to the challenge of the mountains or rugged ranch country. Whatever your trail riding level or experience, safety considerations should always be first on your mind. Here are some tips to improve your trail experience. Do you have any to add? Feel free to leave your comments below.


Choose a trail leader. - Unless you are hitting the trails on your own, it is helpful to have a person in charge. This person does not have to be controlling every move of the group but they should be responsible for safety and logistics. The leader might pick the details, like ride location, departure time, partners or working order, specific trail and return time. They should be familiar with the route or responsible for navigation. They might also be in charge of when the group goes at a faster or slower speed, appropriate for the terrain. The leader should leave word or note about the group at the stable or trail head or ranger station. They should also help with planning in emergency situations. Leadership does not have to be permanent, it can rotate over each occasion or season. Individuals serving in the leadership role should be experienced trail riders because of the responsibility it entails.


Communicate your plans. – Whenever we ride in open country we increase the difficulty of our ride. With that difficulty comes the chance that if something unsafe happens, there are less people around to assist. On your safety check-list, add the item “phone a friend” or “write a note” or “leave word”. Whichever phrase works best for you, remember to tell somebody. Include details such as location, start time, return time, route, number of horses, number of riders and emergency contact information. In emergency cases, you will be glad to have these items in place ahead of time.


Approach trails with group mentality. – Ever had that one horse and rider that can’t stay with the group? It’s annoying and unsafe, so work on it! By working as a group, issues like this can be corrected, making the experience more enjoyable and safe for all. The leader should be aware of all the horse and riders. Is one horse getting left behind or raging ahead? Leaders should be able to stop the group and wait or ask the last horse to catch up or first horse to come back. They might also send the slow horse out ahead or help that horse and rider team along to make things easier for the group as a whole. Horses are herd animals and will get nervous when left behind or alone in a group. Keep that in mind and plan accordingly.


Know your strengths and weaknesses. – Do you have many years of trail experience? Are you a beginning rider on your first ride? The trail ride is idealized, dreamt about by youth & adults and romanticized through American Western movies. Many riders dream of going down the trail, racing away from the scene of a crime, drinking beer and singing with their buddies or having a romantic ride with their love interest. All of these are possible but not probable scenes. The reality is that trail riding takes good horsemanship skills, awareness and sometimes work to be successful. As you and your equine partner get better together and have more experience, the rides will become easier. Part of making the ride easier is knowing what you do well as a team, what you struggle with and planning how you can succeed. If you are new to trail riding, ask other riders if there are things you and your horse could be doing better. Also, take mental note of things that you feel did not go well on the trail. Resolve to work on those items in a controlled area or with an instructor.


Plan for success. - Most of us don’t plan to be un-successful, however we can do our best to ensure success! How can we plan for success? We can obtain knowledge by riding often in advance of a planned ride. We can work on our overall horsemanship skills so we are better prepared in case of emergency situations. We can pack appropriate gear for the ride. We can decide what challenges we are ready to take on and what challenges might take more preparation.


Have realistic expectations & goals. – If you are a new rider or are riding a new to you horse it is safer to start with a small trail ride instead of hauling out to the great unknown adventure. As an experienced trail rider, don’t expect to cover new terrain all on your own, enlist the help of others who know the area. Are you taking a young horse on a first trail ride? Expect to have challenges, be relieved if you do not. Seriously, young or inexperienced horses are one of the largest disruptive factors and provide many safety concerns on a group ride. Some young horses will handle their first trail rides with grace, others will not. If you are taking a young horse, I find it best to plan that ride with an older, “Steady Eddy” horse or two. Complete several short & easy rides with that young / inexperienced horse prior to a large ride. Finally, know what shape your horse is in! If he / she has been standing in the pasture all winter long, chances are you won’t be able to expect the horse to complete a 2 or 3 hour ride.


What other good tips do you have for trail riding? Watch for my list of trail etiquette, safety and packing items. Ill post it on my blog page as a resource for trail riders and further discussion. Happy Trails!

Thank You For A Wonderful 2014!

2014 Accomplishments

While setting goals and making plans for the new year, I like to take time to reflect. 2014 was another successful year for our show crew and for training clients in general. Thank you to all of those who are a part of this journey!!! Here are some accomplishments of 2014.

-Started 2014 Western Dressage Practice / Drill  Team 

- Hosted Western Dressage Clinic with clinician, judge, exhibitor & instructor: Kate Phillips.

- Finished WI Horse Council Open Show Judges Card (Mel Harms- Grossman)

-Represented MN Western Dressage group with board members at the WDAMN booth.

-Exhibited Western Dressage through Drill Team at the Woodloch Open House (Donna A,   Tammy G, Kara Thornton Geneeva C, Wanda W, Lori J & Sherie C)

- Presented Western Dressage learning program at North West Saddle Club (Mel)

-Western Dressage Show - Foley,MN (Tammy G, Donna A, Sherrie C, Kara T)

- WI Foundation QH show ( Kara Theis, Mel, Wanda)

- Western Dressage (Lakeview, Hugo MN) Donna A, Kara T, Lori J, Wanda W, Gayle C, Shan B, Heather G. Tammy G.

- AQHA show - Windom MN (Kara Theis, Mel)

-WI Foundation QH Show (Kara Theis, Mel)

-MQHA Show - Winona, MN (Kara Theis, Mel)

- Judge Trempealeau County Fair—WI  (Mel)

- Washington Co. Fair (Katie N & Josey and Paul A.)

- Western Dressage (NorthWest Saddle Club) Tammy G, Donna A, Kara T & Ernie for Gayle C with Mel Showing

- WI Foundation QH Show - WI (Wanda & Shannon W, Gayle C, Kara Theis & Mel)

- Western Dressage - Washington Co. MN (Kara T, Donna A, Tammy G.)

- FQHR World Show - Lincoln NE (Kara Theis with Dolly and Mel with Chico)

- SunRunner Ranch, Buffalo MN, OPEN for Training Business. Oct.2104 

- Judge Woodloch Schooling Show (Mel)

- AQHA World Show - OKC (Kara Theis with Dolly) Showing in Ranch Horse Pleasure.

Exhibitors improved scores through out the year and worked toward series and personal goals. Many exhibitors brought home first, second and third place ribbons at multiple shows!!! Congratulations to each horse and rider team on your 2014 show & personal accomplishments


Definition: Ethics refers to principles that define behavior as right, good or proper. An ethical person demonstrates respect, responsibility, fairness & caring. Ethical decisions create and maintain trust between individuals or groups.

What would you describe as ethical behavior?

When in doubt about how to proceed with a particular situation, I find it easiest to think through as follows: 1) Define the situation in the most factual manner possible. Take the emotion out of the picture to ensure to most clear thought process. 2) Pose the following questions: Is the situation ethical? Why or why not? 3) Note your thoughts. 4) Reflect on the situation. (Self or group reflection) 5) Move forward based on your answers.


Lets’ explore some situations I’ve used to address this topic with 4-H Youth in the past. We can use the method outlined above.

Situation 1: Flavoring water with Jell-O to help an animal drink at the county fair.

Is the situation ethical? Answer: “Yes” It is good for the animal to drink water while at a show to maintain health. If the animal does not drink, it may suffer from dehydration and illness. Jell-O is a non-toxic food substance with no performance enhancing effects. Therefore it is ethical to offer the animal jell-o flavored water to encourage health.


Situation 2: A parent completes a 4-H record book for their child. The book must be completed in order to show the animal.

Is the situation ethical? Answer: “Maybe” In this situation I’d have a couple more questions to clarify the issue. It may require deeper digging to find a definite answer. According to 4-H rules the youth would be responsible for completing the book. In most situations I would say “No” this is not ethical and the youth should not show the animal.

“Maybe” enters my mind in the following circumstances; A) The youth has had an accident that disables them is some way to prevent them from completing the record book. The youth should however work with the parent to do as much as is allowable themselves. B) The 4-H member is very young and unable to read and write to the degree required to complete the book. In this case as the one before, adult and youth should work together to complete the book. Even better would be if an older youth helped a younger youth to work on the book.


Situation 3: Tranquilizing the horse because it is exhibiting poor behavior at a show.

Is this situation ethical? Answer: “No – I could consider Maybe” Again, more questions might pop up in this drama to reach a definite answer. “No” is the easy answer here. It is not professional, safe or allowable via the rules to tranquilize horses being shown. If you’ve been exposed to the equine industry long enough you will realize this practice does occur. Hey, I’ve even got a great story about a horse who displayed bonkers behavior in front of my major college professor (the judge) at a show. We worked through the situation and he won a class at the next show. We did our work in a respectful manner, as not to endanger others.

“Maybe” is the place I might be convinced to go if: A) The horse is so out of control it is endangering itself, other horses or humans. (As a side note, endangering yourself or others are some of the same qualifications used in committing one to an institution for any number of afflictions.) In this case, it would be best to enlist help, calm the horse and take it to the stall or home. The out of control horse is unfortunate because one would forfeit show and trailer expenses but enlisting help in controlling the horse or removing it from the situation is the safest option. B) A youth or amateur rider is involved. Again, let me make it clear the purpose of using drugs would be for safety only, not to get the horse shown. Drugs should only be used in the circumstance where the horse is displaying dangerous actions and only to remove the horse rider team from the show. The much better option would be to forget the classes and enlist help to work through the issue in order to prepare for the next show.


Situation 4: A parent is yelling at a judge because their child did not win the class or event.

Is this ethical? Answer: “No – Just plain No” I’m not saying that judges are beyond being questioned. In fact if you do not understand why a judge has done something or believe a judge has made a mistake, by all means question the judge. Questioning a judge should be done in a respectful manner and according to association rules. Most clubs, breeds or open shows require you submit the question / complaint in writing or in the presence of a ring steward. I would not define one adult yelling at another as “right”, “good” or “proper”. Furthermore, it does not set a good example for anyone to view adults behaving in such a manner.


Remember, we are responsible as adults (and youth) for mentoring future generations of instructors, trainers, showmen and horseman. One way we can mentor others is by modeling ethical behavior ourselves. My challenge to each of you is start & end each day striving to set the example of what a good, ethical horseman looks like.


What are some things you can do to model good equine ethics? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section.



Majority of horse owners have a differing view of what a perfect horse professional is or is not. Poll any number of owners and you will get nearly that many number of opinions. There are three key elements to consider when searching for an equine professional in any area or discipline.

What are the needs of the horse?

For example, a young horse may need several months of qualified training before it is ready for an owner to ride or show. An older horse may require only a tune-up or may also require longer sessions if adding training in additional disciplines. Important items for consideration here are if a professional can meet the short or long term goals of the project.

What are your needs as the owner?

Determine your goals for involvement as a horse owner. Some owners desire to be very involved in the training, showing or riding of their horse. Other owners have more of a hands-off approach to ownership and enjoy watching others work with their horse. In return some professionals enjoy working directly with client education and others prefer to deal only with the horses. Your involvement goals will play a role in selection of a professional.

What is the end goal of the training program / use of the horse?

Here is a tricky question and where it is important to be realistic. Some breeds, bloodlines and body types of horses are better suited toward one performance area vs. another performance area. It is important to choose disciplines that play to the strengths of your horse. A good professional will help you find & strengthen the positive aspects your horse displays in order to help you toward your goal use for the horse. A good trainer should also be able to tell you if he / she believes’ a horse is suited for a particular discipline and why.

Below are some other helpful tips in choosing a professional to fit your needs.

Do your homework – Research professionals well before your horse is ready to be started under saddle or several months before the next show season begins. The extra time you take to choose a good professional will pay off for both you and your horse in the long run. Do your friends have recommendations? Does the trainer / instructor you are looking at have openings? Are they qualified to train horses or provide instruction through previous experience or education? Does the instructor / trainer carry insurance to protect themselves and or the horse?

Not all Professionals are professional or created equal - This statement may strike some as odd because it is so obvious, however it is often a neglected thought. As in all business, quality of work with horses counts and attributes to successful horse and owner partnerships. Many professionals in the equine industry perform with quality and integrity, Some trainers / instructors are simply not professionals, nor do they have the knowledge or skills to be professionals. Unfortunately, many parts of the equine industry do not require a degree or certification or training to perform as a professional. For this reason, it is very important to protect yourself and your equine partner by following suggestion # 1. (Do your homework)

Determine if you require a trainer or an instructor or both - There is a difference between a professional trainer and a professional instructor. That does not mean one individual can not perform both tasks. It does mean that some individuals are qualified to provide one or the other service but not both.

Ask for references – Check with current and previous clients and or show management from various places a professional has exhibited. Is the trainer / instructor banned from a certain group? Why? If you get negative feedback regarding a professional, ask the person directly for their version of the story. If the individual is willing to discuss a negative comment, it will give an indication of how they handle conflict, which can be very insightful regarding your future dealings with that person.

Check your budget – Training and lessons costs money plain and simple. How much are you willing to spend? Do you have enough cash to finish the project you start? Have a candid discussion to see what potential costs might be incurred. Will the services fit your budget? Majority of the professionals I know charge according to their skill & experience level. Therefore, the more skilled the professional, the higher the charge for services will be.

Gage your comfort level. – Ask to sit in on a lesson or attend a show the professional is participating in. Do you enjoy how they work with horses & clients? Do you understand when they explain something to a student? Does the professional work well one on one or with groups? Will the they consider an evaluation with the horse?

Inspect the merchandise – View colts the trainer has started or older horses the trainer has worked on. Are those horses comfortable / performers / do well for their owners? Does the trainer have video or photos to share? Watch students of the instructor at a show. How do they perform? Are the students confident and prepared?

Tour the facilities – How clean and organized is the barn / arena / office / tack room? If those areas are all dirty and chaotic, what does that say about the general training / lesson operation? What type of reception do you receive?

Honestly answering the questions above will help you have an open conversation with potential equine professionals. A search process is necessary to find a trainer / instructor to meet the needs & goals of you and your horse. Candid discussions also help alleviate any confusion later on in the training process. As the horse progresses in the training process it may be more difficult to switch professionals due to location, schedules or finances. This is a decision you want to take time in making and make correctly the first time.

What do others find valuable in choosing an equine professional?

By: Melissa Harms - Grossman, B.S. Animal Science, Equine Emphasis