The first horse I refused to train by Stacy Westfall

For many years I accepted any horse for training. Maybe they were bred to be famous or maybe they were unregistered and abused. Either way, I would take them. 30 days, 60 days, three years. All were possible if you just paid your bill.stick n string

Until one day….

A man called and asked if I would train his horse for 30 days. I said ‘yes’ and we set the date for the horse to arrive. I asked him some general questions about the horse, which was a two year old, and about his goals, which was to ride it.

I gave my general disclaimer about ‘30 days of training doesn’t equal a broke horse’ (the real speech is five minutes or longer) but he made it clear that money WAS an issue and he only wanted 30 days.

I thought, ‘OK, I get it. Money is an issue and I will do my best…but I am not sure he ‘heard’ me when I explained the horse won’t be solid after 30 days…..’

So I made a mental note to give the ’30 days speech’ again when he dropped the horse off.

He arrived in the evening, after work, after dark, with his horse. I gave my speech again and this time it was received even more poorly. He was only paying for 30 days and I needed to get my job done.

Understanding financial pressure and trying to size up what he wanted to achieve in 30 days….aside from ‘rideable’….which is a matter of opinion in many cases….I began asking more goal oriented questions.4H

Frustrated at dealing with my many questions and clearly irritated that ‘riding’ could mean more than ‘riding’ he finally stated that he was planning on having his son ride the horse in 4-H that coming summer.

So I gave the ’30 days’ speech….again. He didn’t appreciate it.

Jesse was finishing things up in the barn for the night and I decided to work the horse for just a few minutes in the arena. I knew I needed to accomplish a lot in 30 days and the sooner I started the better. The horse led decently down the isle and into the indoor arena.

I attached a lunge line and picked up a stick and string. The horse seemed quiet enough and I began rubbing him all over with the stick and string. It went well and the horse didn’t mind at all. I began to relax.

I lead him to the middle and asked him to lunge around me. He walked out and began to  trot a circle around me…maybe someone had done some work with him.stick n string off side

One circle, two circles and then he turned toward me and charged, ears pinned. Stunned, I jumped to the right and swung the stick to make contact with his neck. He swerved to avoid me like a pro and headed back out to the circle.

“Jeesssse!” I yelled to my husband as the horse circled me. I felt like a mouse being circled by a hawk. ‘Yeah?’ he responded as the horse dove at me again.

‘HELP!’ That brought Jesse running.

With no time to explain and no ‘good’ spot to stop in sight I asked him to join me in the circle. He took the rope, I took the stick and in two more circles when the horse dove in again, ears pinned, I was able to stand my ground and hit his left side of his neck several times. Finally he stopped facing us at the end of the line seeming to contemplate his next move.

I filled Jesse in and after a few minutes rest decided to give the horse the benefit of doubt. Maybe this was his first time and he was just testing me out. It sure felt like he had done it before but….

We, Jesse and I, went several more ‘rounds’ with the horse; who did improve but never lost the hawk like study of us. We found a ‘good’ place to end (horse not charging us!) and put him away.

And I started thinking. Not so much about the horse…but about the owner.

The owner wasn’t listening already, was not open to my thoughts and ideas. He was just upset that 30 days and rideable wasn’t clear enough. Would he ‘hear’ me when I explained his horse was tough? Would he care? Who had taught this horse to charge? Didn’t he say he wanted his son to ride this horse? When I say this horse is not kid safe will he listen?

He hadn’t ‘listened’ up to this point so I had no reason to believe he would begin now. And now there was a child involved.

No. I wasn’t willing to be involved in this.

I called the owner…and he was mad. Mad isn’t strong enough. He was HOT!

The horse stayed at my house less than 24 hours.

Let me be clear here. I have dealt with worse horses. ‘Bad’ horses don’t bother me….I find them exciting and interesting.

Owners who won’t listen are a losing formula. Things are hard enough if the owner is in agreement with me…but when they are not, no one is going to be happy.

For me, this was a turning point. I moved the ‘goal setting’ conversation to the beginning of the process….well before the horses arrived. If the owners goals didn’t line up with what I was willing to do, or participate in, then the horse didn’t come.

If more trainers, and owners, would draw a line in the sand based on their values the world would be a better place for horses.

PSP.S.-Oh, in case you are wondering what became of the horse….

I ran into the owner at the county fair in the fall. He was still REALLY angry but made it a point to let me know his son HAD shown at the fair on the horse. Yes, he had shown and he had been dumped three times during the fair that week. But he had shown.

I walked away knowing that the owner felt glad that he had proven me wrong.

I felt good that I had NOT participated in the craziness. If your child being dumped three times at the fair is your idea of success…I don’t want to be on your team.

(also…the horse in the photos is NOT the horse I refused to train)


Update, March13, 2017. With over 230+ comments this topic clearly resinated with readers. Occasionally the comments will turn toward the breed mentioned. I only mentioned it because I was attempting to have you visualize the experience. The breed could have been swapped for any other breed because the breed wasn’t the point…the owner was.


  1. janelle on December 16, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Interesting story.
    Heres another. I was at a local breakers. Someone came with 3, 4year olds totally unhanded. They used a shoot to unload them from the truck. They were skinny, scarred, wild things that she had breed herself.
    In the end he refused to break in one of the mares(she was worse than what you described) but worked away at the other 2.
    My horse came to be started and went home. They were still there.
    I asked him “why? She will most probably put them back out in the paddock and he will have risked his life for a few dollars. Worse she will try and sell them and he will get the blame.”
    Every one always blames the trainer, not the idiot breeders that fail to do basic care or education and then expect someone else to fix there mistakes.

  2. justin hull on December 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    A very understanding moment and I can see that given the possible parameters you had little option. What made me sad was that the the most important question asked could not be answered. How did the horse get that way in only two years? What happened to the horse? How did it get so insecure in just two years of its life that it felt they only thing it could do was attack a human to feel safe.

    The other thought I had was this, as a trainer, how much of a responsibility is there when you see potentially dangerous horse (or situation) and how far can you go to effect a change. The victim in this story was the horse. The owner didn’t really care about it, and you as a professional had no connection to it, but what happens down the line when this horse, poorly trained, very aggressive, winds up seriously hurting a rider or its self.

    At the end of the day we all need to insure we are not injured in our activity around horses, be it trainer or rider so I can see how this decision had an effect on you. It may be easy for me, as just an owner, to say “couldn’t more be done”, I can’t help but feel for that horse and pray it finds a good and loving home that may help it feel secure again. I am also glad you guys were not hurt as well.

  3. Phyllis Ormsby on December 16, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Amen. Agree with you totally.

  4. Mike Kincella on December 16, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Way to go Stacy.As a Trainer and Riding Instructer, I support you 110%. I don’t take horses in training for less than 90 days.Not safe for me or the owner rider. MK

  5. Annette on December 16, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I appreciate this article. I had a young lady drive 2 hours to ride a green broke 3yo. Actually, her boyfriend was going to buy the horse for her (first red flag). She showed up in tennis shoes because her boots were still packed. During our visit about her horse career I learned that she had been taking lessons every other week…….. for 90 days. That was her only experience. I told her that this was not the right horse for her and tried to help her (and her boyfriend) understand what they should be looking for. It isn’t fair to the buyer or the horse to make a bad match.

  6. Rick Stalder on December 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Mrs Westfall I agree; Safety is job#1 in all facets of life. Usually the moral decision is most always better than a legal decision. God bless! 🙂

  7. Trish on December 16, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    I had a horse who was very similar to the one in your post. At times she was very sweet and loving, but the minute you turned your back on her she would charge you with her ears pinned. I did send her to a trainer for over 30 days and I have to admit she was better to work with, but in the end she still charged him. He advised me to sell her before she hurt me or one of my children. I did sell her as a brood mare only and her babies were very sweet according to the man who bought her for such. It was heartbreaking for me as this was my dream mare, a medicine hat with blue eyes. I appreciate any trainer who is honest about a horse instead of trying to make money by training a horse who is not trustworthy. Nice article!

  8. Molly Whillock on December 16, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I trained for years, I had a horse almost like this, he bucked with several people, jumped out of round pens , ran away with the saddle on and was lost for days, then he was brought to me, the trainer who could fix any problem horse. I rode the horse 30 days, trimmed his feet and told the owner to come pick him up and don’t bring him back! Get rid of him asap. Some just aren’t worth it, when there are good minded horses being given away every day because the ASPCA made it where you can’t kill these monsters. The good horses are the ones who suffer. People go to a sale and buy a horse for 25$ thinking it is a good deal just get it broke! Some don’t want to be broke! The need to go on down the road.

  9. Fiona Anderson on December 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I think its sad that the child had to try to
    ride that horse. The man should have. It might have turned stupid into smarter.

  10. chocolatehorsefarmgypsyhorses on December 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Spot on….Stacy….you are absolutely spot on!!

  11. irisvillagegirl on December 16, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Well there ya go…I had a great feeling about you when I watched my first Stacy DVD -rRide Safely On The Trail-great instruction with simple language that I could understand! I totally believe everything you say. Sounds to me like that guy was trying to bully you into promising something that he really knew was impossible! I admire you greatly and love your philosophy!

  12. Bob on December 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Sounds to me like that man was abusive– to his horse, his son, and possibly others. Good call in not participating. WOW!

  13. Stephanie on December 16, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I agree with this trainer. This is why I don’t train too often for people anymore as the last few people I trained had the same issues about their high expectations in such a small amount of time. I would only on special occasions or when referred with their full understanding.The expectations of the horse is way too high and the owner is unwilling to listen or believe what I say is true most of the time. Owners can be very impatient. My contract states the horse is the one that makes that decision. Some horses take longer than others. 30 days is a very short amount of time for a young horse, especially a 2 year old with no previous training or bad habits that were not disclosed in the contract. I always recommend 45 days of just ground manners and building up to the riding with an additional 90 days under saddle after words just to get started. If someone wants all around or the horse would be for a youth or green rider, the days would be extended further WITH owner participation. I refuse to train a horse and send the horse back to owners who have no clue as to what the horse went through and the training methods used. I don’t have the time to teach 90+days worth of training into one day (take home day). Owners would also have a better appreciation of they were involved in how much work and time goes into training. This horse the poster talked about needed a more patient owner who was willing to put the money, time and respect of the trainer. Safety over money any day.

  14. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt on December 16, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Poor horse!

    Totally the owner’s fault, even if he didn’t cause the problem.

    You can only work with what you’re given. You obviously made the right choice – I hope the horse didn’t go through more abuse or mishandling between your house and the summer showings. Sound like the horse was fighting back appropriately still – dumping the kid three times.

  15. Donna Smith on December 16, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    I adopted a horse like this. She is ok on the left side but completely aggressive on the right side. Yes. I have two horses, a left horse and a right horse. We can work through the issues with the right side, but if any time passes when I can’t work her, she regresses to square one. I am certain she was abused on her right side and is protecting her right side. I will not give up on her and know I will be working for a long time. But that’s ok.. I am committed.

  16. Dennis on December 16, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    First, I want you to understand that I am not a horse person. However, I want you to also understand that you did nothing wrong by refusing this job/customer. You are the “Professional” in business providing a service to your customers. Refusing to do the WRONG thing for a customer is the right thing to do. Regardless of how mad it makes them.

  17. Houyhnhnm5 (@Houyhnhnm5) on December 16, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Horses are so much easier to fix than people. My favorite horses often came to me as damaged, even dangerous goods and went on to be useful, even delightful partners. On the other hand, even nice humans often don’t hear or listen. For example, a sweet, late middle-aged woman took lessons from me for a long time. She came to look great, but only on a push-button horse. When faced with even a tiny difficulty, she tightened up and leaned forward–the fatal crouch. As kindly as I could, I started warning her of what could happen, especially at her age. Finally, she went to another barn and began taking–what else?!–jumping lessons. On the flat, her lesson horse stepped sideways unexpectedly and she ended up in surgery.

  18. Kris Bowman on December 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Stacy, I have been taking on the troubled horses since I was 16, and am now 61… I too, have sent horses right back to their owners because of something like this happening. It is insane to take on such a horse, expect him to become ‘kid safe’ in a mere 30 days ! So- good on you for making the choice you did…. There’s no way I would have kept said horse either- and then add in a son to ‘ride’ it ? Ha- no way in heck.

  19. Lonia Maxwell on December 16, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    I have been a 4H leader and there is nothing more dangerous than a horse and rider that are mismatched. Sometimes try as we may to encourage parents to find a horse that “works” for their child, they get what they can afford and we all know oh to well, get stuck with what doesn’t “work”.

  20. Glenda Bales on December 16, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    I am a trainer of 40 years and I agree with Stacy. I met with an old man who had been training for many years and we were discussing people that wanted a lot done to their horse in 30 days. I asked him what he told a person when they asked what he could accomplish in 30 days. His answer to them was ” I learn the horses name.”

  21. Sandy Tyree on December 16, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    You rock as always 🙂

  22. Lisa Weaver on December 16, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Sometimes I notice an overwhelming tendency like noted above, “animals are the innocent ones, people need the fixing.” And yet sometimes we are very quick to give up on those very people that need the fixing. I think frankly that you never need to justify why you do or don’t take a horse in for training. It is your decision, just as it is their decision to insist on “only 30 days.” The difficulty here is an unwillingness on the human’s part to listen or accept any other opinion than their own. Most anger stems from a short list of things like, fear and/or guilt. While all horse trainers work daily with horses, you cannot divorce yourself from the fact that you must at some point deal with the person. We seem compassionate for their shortcomings, and damning to their human owner’s issues. I’m not making an excuse for it, simply making the statement that I think both the horse and the human need to be dealt with. It sounds like you completely did both, at that point, you have completely fulfilled your responsibility in good faith and should never feel anything but peace about your decision. Alrighty then…. let the flaming begin 🙂

  23. Dianne on December 16, 2013 at 6:30 pm

    Hi Stacey I am from Sydney Australia, there are people like that here as well, but never doubt what you did was the right thing, you showed a lot of integrity, which is more then some people would they would just look at the dollars, well done!

  24. julie bair on December 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    My experience (forty some years) has taught me that when I train a horse and turn it over to an uneducated, insufficiently skilled rider who is not capable of communicating with his horse in a way the horse understands is absolutely a losing proposition. I ask the owner if he / she will come at least twice a week to work with me and the horse through out the training process. That way they learn to do the things I am doing to get the results they want because that is what the horse understands. If the answer is “I don’t have time” (or similar) I decline the offer to train that horse. If I train a horse, I have another horse that I can ride. It’s only when I get to train the horse AND the rider that I can call myself a successful trainer. Then the owner has a horse that he / she can ride too (which is what they are paying for). Anything less is destructive to my reputation because every mistake the owner makes with that horse later will inevitably be either my fault or the horses’ fault. I don’t know why it never seems to occur to some people that they need to learn too if they want to be successful with their horse. It is not, after all, a motorcycle.

  25. Allie G on December 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Good Call Stacy! I try to explain to people that I can’t promise how far along their horse will be in x amount of days, but I can promise that however far it is will be solid and safe. And I no longer work horses in which the owner/rider won’t participate in the training process at least to some extent. It is only fair to the horse to do so. You had not only the safety of the child at stake, but also the horse and anyone else around him AND your own reputation as a trainer. Imagine after getting bucked off 3 times at fair having that kid brag about you being the trainer!. You made a good call all the way around. Any exceptions I make in my work with horses has to lean to favors being done to make situations safer…. not cutting corners that make things more dangerous.

  26. Samantha on December 16, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Good choice on your behalf. I love that you don’t rush horses. They aren’t machines and don’t deserve to be treated as such. He had no right to be angry, and with that attitude, he had no right to own a horse.

  27. Dorothy Nutt on December 16, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Good call. Parents should listen to a trainer and be willing to spend a little extra

    to make sure the child is safe.

  28. Kevin J. Williams on December 16, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    i feel sorry for the horse given the proper time and training from the very get go, probably could of turned out just fine.

    • bitsandpiecesintx on January 5, 2014 at 7:38 am

      Horses are like people, some will never be trustworthy or gentle. Just saying.

  29. Nadine Parkinson on December 16, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Absolutely nothing more true. When I bought my mare, who was 3 at the time. I knew that she had been used as a trail horse. What I didn’t know was how she was trained. Later I found out that they threw a saddle on her back jumped on and went for a ride :/ Needless to say she went through a whole retraining for several months and I’m still working with her on her little mishaps from how she was trained. When I first got her if you got on and their wasn’t another horse and rider in front of her she would just begin to freak out. It was like riding a rodeo bull! It was absolutely crazy. Now she is 8 and doing so much better every day.

    • shadowhooves on December 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm

      I have one of those as a current client. Horse was bought by owner at auction for dirt cheap and had been a “trail horse” sorta…had thrown her rider and needed a “tune up”, but was afraid of the saddle, afraid of having a leg thrown over her, definitely too much horse for her person, and first time I legged up on her she bucked me off pretty epically. It’s taken a long time to get her to where she’ll allow the saddle and girth, and even is desensitized enough to the leg on her right side where she’ll stand for mounting but even now she’s a work in progress and a big bundle of crazy for her first 5-10 minutes of riding, still too much horse for her owner, and especially since this is more of the variety of training session where it happens once a week weather permitting, not in 30-day blocks. Fortunately the owner in this case has been pretty willing to take it as slow as needed and has been taking riding lessons on a more dead-broke horse to get more accustomed to what she should be doing with this mare. There’s hope but it’s definitely one of the toughest cases I’ve ever worked!

  30. Anita Nichols on December 16, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Good for you! I feel bad for that poor horse because it will never know togetherness with it’s owner and probably will be handled with a heavy had the rest of it’s life. What a shame.

  31. doug on December 16, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    As a RULE of nature, and I do emphasize RULE, which means a LAW of nature that cannot be BROKEN, stop looking at the ears and look at the legs. Any horse with their front legs wide apart and their hind legs close together, is a bad deal waiting to happen. The ears are secondary. Sad that the industry has promoted all that is wrong and against the LAWS of nature.

  32. Stephanie RIchards on December 16, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    To answer the question….I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME THING. I admire the work you do Stacy and the backbone it takes to have INTEGRITY in the horse world. People like this guy are hard to change and in a perfect world they’d only be allowed to own goldfish.

  33. karifur on December 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Sounds to me like the only thing he actually proved with his little story about his son showing the horse at the fair, is that you were right in the first place.

  34. AlisonMcDermott on December 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Well Done Stacy!

  35. melody on December 16, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Wow. I just can’t believe some people these days. So if the horse would of hurt his son I would imagine he would have it put down and the horse most likely has been beat. Sad just sad. You did what you needed to do Stacy………

  36. Dorothy on December 16, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Its never the horse that is the problem…it is the people problem in the equation and time limits that people want to set….I hate the I want a young horse for my child to grow up with attitude….I tell people green on green makes for black and blue broken bones and hospital bills…how is your insurance coverage and what is your child worth to you.

  37. Destinie Whitt on December 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    If only owners were willing to invest as much time learning as money…..

  38. Sarah moore on December 16, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    Ya I wouldn’t have bothered with trying to teach the horse either..

  39. Tami on December 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Green + Green = Black & Blue. Sure hope that kid only gets bruises. You were smart to stay out of that mess.

  40. Alli Farkas on December 16, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Next time someone asks for the impossible, give them a business card with a fictitious name and the title “miracle worker” under it.

  41. mariomartinez635016313 on December 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Sounds like the kid needed a seasoned draft horse. Drafties are awesome under saddle. In fact they have two speeds slow and slower. But I agree with you the owner needed to be whipped. Thank you for the nugget of wisdom Stacy.

  42. Amanda Decker on December 16, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I completely agree that, that conversation should be had and heard and listened to by the trainer and the customer. I sure wish mine had been more clear with me 🙁 You have so much talent and could have made wonders in this horse I’m sure, but it was the best decision to not get involved. Especially with a child in the equation.

  43. Claudia on December 16, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Has happened to me plenty of times. I have learned to say no to people that just plainly refuse to understand or always know better. I like you have walked away many times and left owners mad or badmouthing me, but I could care less. People need to understand that every horse is an individual and some need more training than others. If you don’t have the money to invest in a horse don’t buy one!

  44. Andrea Koenig Leyenhorst on December 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Curious as to why people are riding 2 year olds.

    • Bri on May 2, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Because ‘Murica. 2 year olds race, 2 year olds ride, 2 year olds is the standard age to break here in the US, especially in the western disciplines. Have you ever wondered why American horses break down in their late teens when European riders, even in harrowing sports like Grand Prix jumping are winning those competitions of 18 year old horses and are putting their horses live into their 30’s on a regular basis? Most English riders, at least those of Olympic caliber, and some savvy western riders don’t start this early either, even here.

  45. msthompson4556 on December 16, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    It is really sad when people who know nothing about horses buy them and expect to just learn as they go. I bought a 3 year old with no training at all but I had already owned two horses for five years before that and had been riding since I was 11. I knew he would need 60 days minimum to be “rideable” in the sense that he wouldn’t throw fits every five minutes and knew how to walk, trot, and lope. It’s obvious that the man did not know how much time it takes to make an effective line of communication with a horse in order to have it agree with what you want from it. I think that sometimes horse owners need the training more than the horse itself.

  46. Barley and I on December 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Nice to hear that there are still icons out there (Yes, you are!) that do not throw good principles away for some money or to just proof someone wrong. R E S P E C T !!! 😀

  47. Cathy on December 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    This is why I quit training horses. I got really sick of people expecting the world without allowing time for it to happen properly. The other issue I had was people sending horses to me for a “tune up” and stating nothing is wrong, they just didn’t want to put the first rides of the year in only to have myself be struck at, bitten, or other serious issues only to hear that they knew I would find out so that’s why they didn’t tell me even when asked. I commend you for the job that you do and for sticking up for yourself in this case.

  48. Victorea Luminary on December 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Stacey, thank you for sharing your experience. Obviously it was not the horse as much as the man who was the real problem. Seems to me that something happened to that horse for him to react as he did. Sounds like he was pushed and was angry about it. The man sounds like his ego was more important than his sons safety. I have a real problem with humans who act this way and who ruin good animals.

  49. Beth kane on December 16, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Stacy you are talented beyond most of us, you can assess,and determine of safety is not his number one objective,do you really want anything to do with a child be hurt?
    I respect your talant and honesty, if people are not willing or able to pay,it is on them. Tuff lessons, and unfornatuate for this youngster… May his path cross people like you to learn from…

  50. Ricky Rogers-SonShine Ranch on December 16, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Good Call! I deal with mean horses and most are wild mustangs who more than once have tried to kill me. However, as an experienced trainer I have always been able to remedy that type of behavior – But typically mean behavior from people is hard to fix and certainly not part of training a horse – I feel sorry for the horse as he obviously never was fully trained will most likely be the one who takes the blame or even ends up in the slaughter pipeline because of someones irrational behavior!!!! It takes time to train a horse to where he is safe – 30 Days typically they have only grasp the fundamentals of what is considered a trained or broke horse!

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