Every Day Is a Training Day

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Anytime we are around our horses, we are reinforcing positive behavior or inadvertently reinforcing non-useful behavior. Problems often arise because the human is unaware of his role in creating or reinforcing these undesired behaviors. If you buy into the Alpha/Beta theory, then you must be Alpha all the time, not just when it is convenient. If you establish to the horse that you are in charge, then act like it or the horse becomes confused and resorts back to the “fright and flight” instincts.  When we have a problem, it is easy to focus on what it is going wrong, rather than why is it going wrong. However, getting away from the problem and working on things that build a foundation toward overcoming the problem helps the horse and rider get more in tune with one another. In essence the horse must have trust in the rider (Alpha). Then when faced with the problem, the horse has more recent, positive experiences to build upon. Instead of resistance or flight, the horse learns to rely on the human (Alpha) for direction and self-preservation.

Developing more trust, confidence, and respect when riding will carry over into problem solving.  Putting more time and effort into preparation shortens the time that it takes to solve the problem. Notice I said “shorten” not eliminate problem solving. Every horse will have their “demons” that they must overcome, just like people. As the rider becomes more proactive, the horse will begin to willingly wait and look for guidance from the human, staying in a learning, attentive state of mind. The horse learns to go with the rider’s flow and the rider learns to go with the horse’s flow. This is horsemanship as it should be.

There are six rules that I try to follow in a training program. These rules work for young horses and old, problem horses and the really broke ones.

  1. Have a plan. Know your goals for the day and focus on how to get the horse to willingly respond. Don’t overdo it though- work on something; get a positive response and ride off and let the horse relax.
  2. Never get angry, frustrated, forceful, or tentative. If your horse gets troubled, resistant, or afraid, you must stay relaxed, positive, and confident. Be willing to adjust to fit the individual horse and situation.
  3. Maintain impulsion. Keep life in your horse’s feet and the drive coming from the hindquarters. Without impulsion, everything is more difficult, if not impossible.
  4. Use your seat. Subtly communicate speed, direction, gait, slow down, and stop through your seat, pelvis, and lower torso.
  5. Use your legs. Communicating lateral movement with the legs is a skill often underdeveloped.
  6. Avoid using the reins to stay balanced in the saddle. Being able to ride through all your horse’s gaits and back down to a halt on a loose rein is important to develop confidence and control. Minimizing rein pressure keeps your horse’s feet free and he will stay mentally soft and light.

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