Maryland horse trainer Scott Purdum is taking the horse-training industry by storm. His clinics are in demand all over the eastern United States, and his uniquely designed training equipment is getting rave reviews from horsemen. His step-by-step training videos are also gaining in popularity – quickly.
So who is this Purdum fellow anyway? Scott grew up riding horses and began riding at the age of three. When he was only sixteen, he took on his first attempts at real training. His parents had a high-strung mare that spooked at practically everything, and Scott believed he could help the horse. He read volumes of books about horses and horse training, and he watched numerous training videos, too. He took the best parts of all of them and created his own formula. Upon his success with the mare, word about him spread to other horse owners in the area. Before long, he had three horses a month in training. Then that number increased to five, and then to ten.
What makes this 23-year-old trainer so special? Well, for one thing, Scott has learned to think like a horse and to use this kind of knowledge in his training methods. Scott uses an equine’s natural instincts to his advantage. He explained it this way:
Horses are herd animals and are fight-or-flight creatures, and they usually prefer flight. A horse can go from grazing calmly one second to what Scott calls a “high-energy state” the next second. Centuries of instincts have programmed this in equines to enable them to escape predators in the wild. The trainer’s job is to get the horse into a calm, relaxed state of mind. According to Scott, a horse in this state of mind is willing and will do anything asked of it. “They might not always get the right answer, but they’re sure as heck going to try.”
How does Scott accomplish this feat? By teaching a horse to pay attention to his energy. It’s all about the energy.
In each group of horses, there’s an established “pecking order.” One horse will be viewed by the other horses as the leader or as the dominant horse. The other animals in the herd get their energy from that one horse. They take their cues from it. If it’s calm, they’re calm. If it’s nervous and excited, they follow suit. Let’s say a subordinate horse has positioned itself at the pasture gate, and the dominant horse has decided that it wants to be at the gate. The dominant horse lays its ears back, gets into a high-energy mode, and pushes the lower horse out of the way. The lower horse reads the herd leader’s energy and runs out of the way, giving up its position in favor of the dominant horse. Now the lead horse has what it wants, so it becomes calm. The submissive horse realizes that the dominant horse has become calm, so in turn, it calms down, also. To be an effective trainer, Scott establishes himself as the dominant “horse.”
Scott says he often talks to owners who have tried remaining calm when their animals misbehave, yet the horse does not calm down, and it remains excited, even though its handler is calm and relaxed. What went wrong? Why didn’t it work? Scott explains that the problem here is that the horse does not recognize the human in question as the leader or dominant horse, so the calm state of mind does not transfer. For the horse to truly pay attention and respond to the energy you convey, you must first establish yourself as the leader.
Scott’s basic training philosophy? He believes successful training has two parts: the horse’s mind and the horse’s body. He states that 90% of the times, misbehaviors are not the problem. Instead, they’re the symptoms of an underlying, bigger problem. In order to alleviate the symptomatic inappropriate behavior, the underlying issue must be identified and handled first, then the symptoms will dissipate.
Scott calls his training methods “advantage horsemanship.” When asked how it compares to natural horsemanship, he explained that the two schools of thought have much in common, but that they also have differences. Scott shed some light on this topic by saying that there’s actually nothing natural about riding a horse: “Out on the open range, you don’t see a lion on top of a horse unless the big cat is acting the part of predator. But since humans have bigger brains, we have the intelligence to be able to work with these animals and to teach them to allow us to ride them. To me, the term Advantage Horsemanship means a combination of every single facet of horse training.”
Scott has studied the principles of natural horsemanship and the tactics of tradition breaking methods. He found advantages and disadvantages in both, so he took what he considered to be the most effective elements of these methods and combined them. He added a few “tweaks” of his own, and Advantage Horsemanship was born.
When asked about especially tough cases he’s handled, Scott related the story of a Chincoteague pony. The pony was a young stud colt, and from the beginning, he was “pushy,” according to his owners. After being confined to a stall and beginning simple, basic training, the pony resented “being told what to do,” and it became aggressive. It was brought to Scott’s training facility, and while it was at Scott’s barn, it would strike out at Scott’s employees, attempting to bite, kick, or paw them. It got to the point where Scott could not allow anyone else to interact with the pony except for him, due to safety precautions. After talking with the owners, Scott discovered that they had unknowingly been partially responsible for the pony’s inappropriate behavior, so he worked with them in addition to working with the equine.
Scott worked with the Chincoteague for a month before the owners took it home. It calmed down, and the owners were able to handle it on their own. According to Scott, the pony is now doing well and is ready for training under saddle.
Scott told about another case he handled that was very unusual. A horse owner called Scott about a problem horse, and the trainer visited the owner’s barn. This particular equine would “go crazy” whenever a blanket was placed on its back. It would kick, run, and generally become very frightened. Scott recommended the horse be brought to his facility.
After working with the horse for a week, Scott was making little progress. He would leave a blanket on the horse while it was grazing in the pasture, and for a time, the horse seemed okay with having the blanket on its back. But Scott noticed that whenever a breeze would even slightly rumple the blanket, or whenever something else would occur to remind the troubled animal about the offending blanket, the horse would spook and become extremely agitated. Scott was puzzled, and he even enlisted the aid of other trainers in this case – to no avail. No one seemed to be able to solve the mystery of the “scary blanket.”
The horse in question was a rescue horse, and finally, the frustrated owners returned the horse to the rescue operation. They purchased a new horse to replace the rescue animal, and much to their horror, the new one began exhibiting the same behavior as the former occupant. Everyone involved decided that this was just too uncanny to be a coincidence.
They finally discovered that the stall bedding material was conducting an electrical current and was shocking the horses. Once, when the new horse was led into the stall, its hair stood on end, and when the owner touched the horse, he received a jolt. It had been the owner’s practice to blanket the animals once they were stalled, so the horses were associating the blanket with the pain of being shocked. No wonder no one could break the first horse of its blanket fear!
Scott went on to relate his experiences with a BLM mustang. He said it was one of the smartest equines he has ever worked with. Scott began saddle training the horse, and all was going well. He could put anything on its back, including a surcingle, and tighten it up with no problem. When Scott placed a saddle on the mustang’s back, however, the horse would take off. Scott says that horse probably threw his saddle onto the dirt twenty times.
After two months, the horse was accepting the saddle and was doing well in its training. It was doing so well, in fact, that Scott even shot a couple of videos using the horse and used it in his teaching demonstrations at several clinics. Even so, the horse’s intelligence continued making training difficult at times. Scott says as soon as the horse learned something new, it would use the knowledge against the owner. The mustang would do fine with Scott, and at first, it did well with the owner. But as time went on, the horse learned exactly how to “push the owner’s buttons,” making riding difficult.
The horse was returned to Scott for more training, but what Scott discovered was that the horse had figured out his training methods and had “outsmarted” them. Scott had to re-teach the basics to the mustang, using different methods. The canny equine soon figured out the new methods, too. Scott finally deemed the horse was unsafe for the owner. He feels that this was his only failure as a trainer.
When asked if he found older horses with ingrained bad habits more difficult to train, he responded that that’s often the case. While an “old dog can be taught new tricks,” as Scott says, it’s sometimes hard to “un-do” years of bad habits. If an equine has not yet established a bad habit, it’s much easier to train them to do what you want them to do.
Scott grew up riding English, but switched to Western about nine years ago. “I discovered I was better in jeans than in breeches,” Scott explains.
One aspect of Western riding that Scott does not like, however, is the Western saddle itself. In his view, it forces the rider to sit back on his bottom and to swing his legs forward. And according to Scott, humans don’t have balance that way. They achieve balance with a straight up and down position – not sitting back. Also, it’s uncomfortable for the horse’s back. With these factors in mind, Scott designed a Western saddle that rides more like an English saddle, helping the rider achieve proper balance.
When asked about the future of Advantage Horsemanship, Scott said what they really want to do is to go national. He’s had amazing success in the East, but he’d like for word to get around in California and the entire West coast, also, as well as in other parts of the nation. A manager has been retained in order to help accomplish this feat.
Judging from the success Scott has achieved in the East, it won’t take long for him to reach his personal goal of national prominence. His clinics and videos are certainly helping with the endeavor, and his name is often in the news. As a matter of fact, he recently won the top honors at the Northern Illinois Trainer Challenge, against trainers from Kansas and Indiana. With accolades like these, Scott’s sure to be a household or perhaps a barnhold – name in no time.