Following the Money

Danger starting to understand self-carriage. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert. Danger starting to understand self-carriage. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

As a small-scale eventing trainer, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of a dollar. There’s good money in finding a diamond in the rough, polishing that horse until it shines and then finding the horse a spectacular person who will enjoy the fruits of your labor. But it seems this idea has attracted many riders looking to make a quick buck.

The issue is this: Those trainers are less focused on correctly polishing their diamond, or truly training their project horse, and more focused on a quick flip and a fast profit. The result is underdeveloped, overfaced horses without a correct foundation of training.

Maybe it’s a lack of knowledge on the part of trainers. Maybe it’s today’s society, with everyone expecting instant gratification. Maybe it’s buyers’ unrealistic expectations. It seems everyone wants a younger horse, jumping higher fences, with a lengthier show record … all on a smaller budget. But these things take time. And, in the horse world, as in every other industry, time is money.

Whatever it is, it’s causing a problem. And that problem is moral hazard. (Bear with me as I indulge my inner business student.)

Moral hazard occurs when one person takes risks because another person is going to incur the costs associated with those risks. This is happening in masses in the horse industry. Trainers take on a young prospect with the intention of selling it. Knowing the extra profit they can enjoy if the horse is going at higher levels, the trainer pushes their project too fast too soon. They skip important, but maybe somewhat boring, steps in training and jump right into the fun stuff. They jump higher fences, force “head carriage” and ask more technical questions of horses that just aren’t ready.

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

Milo figuring it out over a baby jump. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gilbert.

And why? Because once the horse is sold, it’s the buyer who has to deal with all the shortcomings in training. The buyer will pay for a broken down horse because it wasn’t correctly developed both physically and mentally.  These trainers are taking unnecessary risks with their horses because they won’t have to pay the price later on down the road.

It’s really tough to sit by and watch it happen. I cringe when I see trainers making decisions knowing their motive lies somewhere other than the horse itself. But for every trainer taking shortcuts and ignoring the best interest of the horse, I know there are several trainers taking their time, listening when the horse says they’re ready for the next step and actually developing quality horses without overfacing them.

I hope that I am one of those trainers. I may be the turtle in this race, dragging along at a pace others find comical, while the hare zooms by trying to get to the finish line. Little does the hare know, there is no finish line and no one’s keeping score. I won’t judge my training by the number in my bank account, but rather by the health and happiness of my horses. And although it may be hard to make a living with these moral shenanigans, I know that following the money very rarely pays off for the horses in the end.

Lindsay is the owner of Transitions Sport Horses, based in Lexington, Kentucky. She participated in the 2016 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover on Rebel Annie and is back again in 2017 with Hot Java. Keep up with their journey here on EN and via her blog, Making It to the Thoroughbred Makeover!