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Want to save friend from bad instructor & dangerous horse

From: Donny

Dear Jessica, I know you get a lot of letters every week and there's no way you can answer them all, but I sure hope you'll answer this one. I got a friend of mine into horses two years ago and she's a pretty good rider now, sort of lower intermediate level, but I would still consider her to be a beginner as far as buying a horse, owning a horse and taking care of it, etc. She called me last night and said she was going to buy a horse from her instructor and wanted me to come out and see it. I hadn't seen her for about four months and was really surprised that she was already buying a horse. Well Jessica I went out there to see it and couldn't believe what I saw.

First off, she changed instructors and is riding with someone that I would never have let her go to if she had asked my advice about it. Second, the horse is one that the instructor has owned for a long time and can only take to local shows because they don't test for drugs and trust me that horse is always drugged. If it wasn't drugged it would rear and bite but with drugs I guess it just had to focus on standing up and walking and not falling over. We all used to joke about it when we would see that instructor at shows and make bets about when the horse would wobble bad enough to fall down. It used to wobble so bad it would kind of stagger in place, but it usually stayed up (but not always). We called it the WEEBLE (because of the kid toy, WEEBLES WOBBLE BUT THEY DON'T FALL DOWN, but this horse did fall down quite a few times. Anyway it disappeared for a few years but I guess this instructor was giving lessons on it, and now she's selling it to my friend (I don't want to use anybody's real name here, Donny isn't my real name either) as "experienced school horse and riding horse". That's a joke. Third, my friend told me how much she will be paying for this horse and it's about three times what you would pay for a regular old riding horse around here, and this horse is worth LESS than a regular old riding horse.

Jessica I don't even know where to begin, I want to keep this from happening and I just know that my friend is going to get hurt, and even if she doesn't get hurt, she will still be paying good money for a bad horse. Plus she is already paying good money for bad lessons! I didn't say anything while we were still at that barn but on the way home I tried to tell her why this is a bad idea and why I am worried about her. But she thinks her instructor is GOD and the horse is some kind of fancy expensive horse that she's getting a great deal on because the instructor says she is just so talented. Well Jessica I can tell you something about that because I've been riding for more than ten years now and my friend is not talented. I'm not talented at all, I just work hard at my riding because I love horses and riding, but I have no natural "gift" for it. My friend is more talented than me but say on a scale of 1 to 10 my talent would be a 0 and hers would be a 2. I have ridden in lessons with riders that are really talented and believe me I know the difference. It scares me that she is so far gone, taking lessons with a bad instructor and believing lies and going to buy a dangerous horse for a lot of money when she isn't even learning to ride right.

Talking to her isn't doing me any good but she's a really good friend that I've known since grade school and I don't want her to get hurt and I'm not the kind of person who can just shut up and let a friend get hurt. Can you tell me some way I can convince her that she's getting in trouble? I thought maybe if I could get a whole group of people together who know about this instructor and this horse, maybe we could do something like an "intervention" for my friend and MAKE her listen to us and get out of this situation before she gets hurt or broke or both. Please, I need your advice. Please don't use my friend's name or my name (Donny is okay to use) because the instructor I'm talking about is involved in some bad stuff and I'm afraid I would be in danger if I said her name anywhere or even my friend's name or my name.

Thank you, Donny (not my real name)

Hi "Donny"! Don't worry, you're anonymous. You had put your friend's name in the letter twice, so I just changed it to "my friend" - I didn't want to make up a name for her in case I accidentally hit on her actual name. I also took out the name of your state and the name of the barn.

You're anonymous in another way, too - I'm sure that you feel as though this is a unique situation, but alas, it is not. I'd say that in an average week, at least two or three very similar letters are sent to HORSE-SENSE - and that's been the case for almost 10 years now. I'll let you do the math. ;-) A lot of people are concerned about the risks of bad instruction, novice riders buying unsuitable horses, and, yes, even bad instructors selling unsuitable horses to novice riders. I'm sorry to say that these are very common concerns.

Last week, at a Chinese restaurant, I got a fortune cookie that said "Good advice jars the ear." This is often true. You're giving your friend good advice, but good advice is beneficial ONLY if the person on the receiving end of the advice is listening, hearing, processing the information, and is then willing to take appropriate action.

As a friend, and as a rider with much more experience, you have a responsibility to warn your friend that the instructor is not good and that the horse is not suitable. Right - YOU'VE DONE THAT. You do not have a responsibility, or, for that matter, the right, much less the power and authority, to INSIST that your friend do what you think would be right. You're not the boss of her, and you can't enforce advice - that's why it's called "advice" and not "command". ;-)

You've expressed your feelings and advised your friend to find a better instructor and drop her plans to buy this particular horse. Your friend knows and respects you. If she isn't ready to hear what you're saying, you must realize that saying it over and over, or louder and louder, or with a chorus singing backup, isn't going to convince her. If she's an intelligent and sensible person, she will eventually allow herself to process your words, and then, perhaps, her own good sense will drive her decision.

Meanwhile, don't hammer the subject into the ground, and for heaven's sake don't bring in a committee of people to tell her horror stories about the instructor or the horse that her instructor wants to sell her. If you've been riding for ten years, you must have noticed that most students are devoted to their chosen instructors, regardless of the actual quality of the instruction. Shouting or bringing in a committee to back up your concerns will only cause your friend to want to defend "her" instructor and "her" horse. By the time she tells another, say, ten people "My instructor is wonderful and the horse is perfect for me", those beliefs will be imprinted on her brain forever. At that point, she may stop listening to your advice on ANY subject, and that would be sad for both of you.

Believe me, I understand your feelings - I've been through this many, many times. What you need to do now is even more difficult than telling your friend what you think: NOW you need to STOP telling her what you think. ;-) Stop trying to repeat and reinforce your advice. She heard what you said. If she takes your advice, well and good. If she chooses to ignore it, she may get into trouble, but that's exactly when she'll need your help. If you alienate her now, you'll make it difficult for her to turn to you later.

I'm often asked why I don't just "lay down the law" on HORSE-SENSE and "tell people what they have to do". The answer is simple: I can't. Even if I have very strong feelings about what someone should or shouldn't do in a particular situation (and I often do), I'm not in a position to force anyone to do, or not do, anything. All I can do is try to elucidate situations, provide some useful information, point out what is or isn't safe or reasonable or practical, and then offer some suggestions. Your friend, just like all the people who write to HORSE-SENSE - including yourself! - is an independent individual who can and will make her own decisions, for better or for worse. You care about her and you've given her good advice. That's great - you're a good friend. But now you must respect the fact that your friend's decisions are hers to make.

By the way, if it's any comfort to you (I'm thinking about your self-described "talent = 0"), consider this: When it comes to riding, talent is a very nice thing to have, but intelligence and interest and determination and discipline are worth much more. Many riders with great natural talent pick up skills easily and then lose or forget them just as easily - "easy come, easy go". The riders who have to struggle and work hard to acquire their skills, and make a constantly-renewed commitment to improving their riding, may take longer to get where they want to go, but they do get there eventually. And when they get there, they OWN the skills they worked so hard to acquire.


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