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You're a what? Horse trainer.

You're a What?

Horse Trainer

Louise Emanuel is a teacher, but her class is unlike any you're accustomed to. Instead of learning how to conjugate a verb or calculate a square root, her pupils are coached to run, jump, and turn on a dime. They range in age from less than a year to their teens, would rather snack on a bag of oats than a chocolate bar, and have four legs. If you haven't guessed by now, Mrs. Emanuel trains horses, some of which she breeds, to compete in a 3-day, three-event competition that is, she says, "the fastest growing sport in the United States' --combined training.

The triple-tiered competition commences with dressage, in which a horse executes a complex series of precise movements in response to a rider's commands; it continues the second day with a timed cross-country run to test stamina and jumping ability; and it concludes on the third day when the horse jumps fences and walls in an arena. The combined scores determine the winner. But victors aside, the competition provides "the true test of the horse as an athlete,' asserts Emanuel.

Emanuel trains her horses on 30 acres in the Maryland countryside. While horses are her first love, her farm is home to a menagerie of animals.

A first-time visitor steps gingerly from the car to be greeted by dogs so large that you could saddle and ride them. "They're Anatolian Shepherds,' says Emanuel. The Shepherds are a Turkish breed growing in favor with ranchers across the country as a working dog that guards their stock from predators. Fully grown, they can weigh over 200 pounds. When a pack of dogs attacked a young foal recently, one of the Anatolians put them to rout. Alongside the dogs are goats that Emanuel also breeds to provide milk for her foals and pups.

Her work and surroundings might lead you to believe that Emanuel was born and raised on a farm. Actually, she came from a military family that moved frequently. Her equine introduction occurred in an unlikely setting--not the Wild West, but the Land of the Rising Sun, where her father was a member of the occupation forces in the postwar period.

Later, her family moved to Buffalo, Minnesota, where she encountered her first mentor, "a real country veterinarian,' says Emanuel, "who knew all phases of horsemanship. He had many horses, and I would do anything around the stables to get 5 minutes on their backs.' She did not have a horse of her own until years later, but she worked with the animals whenever and wherever she could.

Besides riding horses, Emanuel kept up with her formal studies. She studied economics in college, which, she says laughingly, "should have taught me something about the horse business. There's no minimum wage. This is truly a labor of love.' The expense of maintaining and training horses is substantial. Horseracing has been called the sport of kings. Now it, and other horse-related events, such as the 3-day competition, could be called the sport of millionaires. Many Olympic riders and trainers have patrons with names like DuPont, Borden, and Firestone. Those who don't, may have trouble making a living.

Despite the expense, Emanuel went into the business of breeding and training horses about 14 years ago. She has trained horses for the track and for show, but now concentrates principally on combined training.

As an experienced judge of horseflesh, the trainer must separate the competitors from the nags. It's never a simple task. But the demands of the 3-day require a special horse.

Ideally, a good 3-day horse would be a "warm blood,' she says. "Cold bloods are strictly working breeds, draft animals like Clydesdales. A hot blood would be a thoroughbred. They are built for speed. Turn on their engine and it will engage.' But many thoroughbreds don't have the temperament or the physique necessary for combined training; a thoroughbred might chafe under the strictures of dressage and not be strong enough to take the pounding of the cross country and the jumping. Warm bloods must have some of the qualities of each, such as the speed of a thoroughbred and the stamina of a work horse.

"What you need,' says Emanuel, "is a highly intelligent horse that has strength and a touch of arrogance but can respond to the challenge of the 3-day. You're asking the horse to switch gears and that is not an easy thing to do.' In her search for the perfect horse, Emanuel has experimented with cross-breeds. She has even bred her Clydesdale and Appaloosa stallions with thoroughbreds to get the right mix of strong bone, fine movement, and speed.

Training for competition commences with dressage. "The art of dressage is the display of precision and control that comes from the understanding between horse and rider,' says Emanuel. Every horse must complete a series of set movements that demand strict obedience to the rider and fine muscular control. This part of the competition might be compared to the compulsory part of the competition in figure skating, where skaters must perform finely executed maneuvers like figure 8's. The demands of dressage are rigorous and can be mastered in only one way--constant and continuous repetition. "Patience is one of the most important qualities of a trainer,' says Emanuel. "To be in a hurry is to do a great injustice to the horse.'

The first stage is ground training. Long before a rider is aboard, the trainer will be leading the horse through the routines with a long line or by hand.

Once a horse becomes familiar with the trainer's commands, it can begin working with a rider. The horse must be responsive to the rider's signals, or aids. The almost imperceptible movements of hands and legs or shifts of weight. "A horse responds to control. Its competence is very dependent upon the skill of the rider. Look at the kind of horses you find in "hack stables.' People complain about how bad they are. That's not the fault of the horses. In a weekend, they'll probably be ridden by 12 different people, not even 2 of whom have had lessons or know how to give the horse the proper signals. For that reason, I don't rent my horses. I don't want them ruined.'

A large part of a trainer's job is dealing with injuries and ailments. Many trainers will keep a little black bag of remedies to deal with the most common physical problems. Emanuel herself is a licensed veterinary technician. Throughout her career, Emanuel has had to suture many cuts and nicks that demanded immediate attention. On occasion, she even administers intravenous solutions to the animals.

In working with horses, a keen eye is one of the trainer's most valuable tools. It only comes with experience. A trainer must always be on the lookout for signs of trouble. "Swelling around the tendons, among other things, can lead to serious problems. You have to catch them early.' That's one reason Emanuel insists that persons she teaches to ride groom their own horses. A groom's role is essential in the care of a horse. "You pay in blood for a bad groom.'

Sometimes, problems escape the most experienced eye. Emanuel recounts the story of one horse who had dental problems that actually prevented it from jumping. Prior to a jump, a rider will pull back on the reins to collect the horse. In this case, each time the rider pulled the reins, the bit would hit an abscessed tooth; so rather than respond properly to the rider, the horse reared its head. Despite numerous veterinary visits and even one appointment with an equine dentist, the problem was not discovered until one of the grooms found it. The abscess was treated, yet the learned reaction of the horse remained long after the problem was resolved. "It's been nearly a year, and we almost have the problem licked,' says Emanuel.

A trainer must assure that a horse is getting the proper diet. It's not a simple matter of strapping on the feed bag. As surprising as it may be to the uninitiated, "horses have a very fragile digestive system,' says Emanuel. Improper feed can lead to conditions that cause a twist or strangulation of a horse's intestine that often proves fatal.

Though she can claim a lifetime of experience with horses, she is quick to acknowledge that there is always something to learn. The same holds true for riders. "Even the Olympic riders always have coaches,' she says. She herself is a frequent participant in courses and seminars.

Her days begin early. Feeding the animals, cleaning stalls, and exercising the horses means that she's regularly up before the sun. And the work continues at least until dark.

Travel is a major preoccupation. The Mid-Atlantic region is the heartland for combined training competition, and Emanuel is frequently on the road. Accommodations are far from luxurious. Frequently, she'll bed down under the stars to save money.

There's not much free time either. "It's a 7-day-a-week job,' says Emanuel.

Training horses is a labor of love not only for Emanuel but for many others in the business. Only that, she says, can explain her willingness to work the long, hard hours for little financial return. "It's difficult for people who aren't animal lovers to understand, but there is a spirituality to this relationship that is impossible to put into words. If I can do the thing I love best and still eke out a living, I'll do it.'
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Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1987
Words:1588
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