Seasoned equestrians and novices alike can gain more benefits from customized horse training programs than formula approaches. It’s not just the lost in translation challenge when you try to implement rigid techniques designed by others. You’ll find even more disconnects with rote tactics that assume each horse reacts the same. If you’re not keeping your horse in the conversation, you’re losing opportunities to bond on a much deeper level.

Is it you or your horse that’s stuck?           

If you keep doing the same thing and your horse doesn’t get it, is he dumb or are you? As Albert Einstein quipped ““Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

To be fair, most novices that get stuck really try to do the right thing with their horse by seeking out knowledge from people they believe to be good advisers. I really feel for them. Not surprisingly, they tend to gravitate toward the most heavily publicized and artfully marketed products. Just because a method is popular doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you or your horse. What the promoters fail to disclose – in fact they do the opposite and tend to claim if it didn’t work you did it wrong – is that each horse is different. How they respond to you depends on how you respond to them.

To bring this back to the media for a moment – sex and violence sells (sadly) so this is most of what we see in the news. Today, what seems to be the rage with horse training is the “easy, do-it-yourself kit” that promises your ‘Bucky’ will magically transform to ‘Rover’ if you simply follow the program. Which begs the question – even if that were so, do you really want an obedient horse that blindly does what you tell them or is it better to encourage a horse to think for himself so he can save your butt when you get him into trouble?

Customizing a young horse training program that works

If you’re determined to bring your horse along without help from a competent trainer or instructor, there are some things you can do to make it a more pleasant experience – for you and your horse.

  1. Reward the tries. Any time you’re teaching your horse something new, it’s important to acknowledge the try immediately. If you demand he respond perfectly to your first request, he’s not going to understand what you want and will likely get frustrated.
  2. Get the timing right. Mot novices tend to either bribe the horse too soon with rewards before the horse responds as desired or take too long to reward the horse for effort. The latter often leads to reinforcing an undesired behavior (e.g. the horse comes forward when you want but you congratulate him as he’s backing away from you – so you’re unknowingly teaching him the back is what you want).
  3. Keep lessons short. Two hour drill sessions are rarely effective with young horses – and not too welcome with older ones either. When tackling something new or unfamiliar, strive for 10-15 minutes of training time, tops. End on a good note so you both feel good and can start with the progress you gained the next time.
  4. Don’t rely on a single method. No one is absolutely certain what’s going on in a horse’s mind. You can guess and get it right sometimes, but not always. Plus, every horse is different. Instead of rallying behind a single approach as the only right way to reach every horse, take the time to read, watch and learn what others are doing so you can incorporate a mix of techniques to find what works. There’s merit in every approach (even if it’s learning to never do that again) so it makes sense to be open to what your horse is trying to tell you as you experiment.
  5. Watch what more experienced people do. There’s nothing like seeing it live to help gather understanding for reaching your horse. Books, videos and other at-home resources aren’t the same as seeing what’s going on unedited. There are tons of clinics you can audit for a small fee, lesson stables that will let you watch and even some trainers who welcome the public on certain days to their facility. Ask around to find someone local who’s known for their ability to reach challenging horses. Make a call to see if they’ll let you watch. They might say no, but they might say yes. Imagine how much you could learn.

The next time you blame your horse for misbehaving, consider what you may be doing to cause misunderstandings. Just because a rich guy or a celebrated gal claims they’ve discovered the cure-all for every horse issue they’ve encountered, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Trying to mimic what someone else designs (or copies) is rarely a good way to connect with your particular horse. The best trainers customize their approach to build a responsive rapport with every horse.

If you find yourself challenged with a horse training issue, feel free to shoot me an e-mail and I’ll try to help. We also offer on-site assessments (for your horse or one  you’re considering for purchase or adoption) in the Western New York area. Call (585) 554-4612 for more information on our services.

12 Responses

  1. Thank you, yet again Nanette for another great post. I love how you break your training into 5 easy to understand steps.

    I think most ‘new’ trainers forget about rewarding the trys. After all, it is the horse’s best guess when they do something, – anything – when we ask them to move forward or back or whatever.

    I played this game with a student. I asked, “what color is the ground?”
    she responded, “brown”.
    I said, “no, that is wrong”. Then, more forcefully I asked what color is the ground.
    She looked intently at the ground and said, “black”.

    I said, “wrong again!”, more sternly. Then I shouted, “WHAT COLOR IS THE GROUND?”

    She looked at me and said, “I don’t know? What do you want me to say? It looks dark brown or black to me!”

    Then I asked her how she felt. She felt confused and didn’t know how to answer.

    Then I explained this is quite possibly how horses feel because we tell them NO NO Wrong Bad.

    I then asked her her how she would feel if I would have said, brown is pretty close keep going. or other words of encouragement.

    If the horse is rewarded for his best guess for what we want he will more than likely be a willing partner in our training.

    Thanks Nanette.

    ~Laura
    http://www.thistleridgestables.com/horse-trai ning-5steps/

  2. Thank you, yet again Nanette for another great post. I love how you break your training into 5 easy to understand steps.

    I think most ‘new’ trainers forget about rewarding the trys. After all, it is the horse’s best guess when they do something, – anything – when we ask them to move forward or back or whatever.

    I played this game with a student. I asked, “what color is the ground?”
    she responded, “brown”.
    I said, “no, that is wrong”. Then, more forcefully I asked what color is the ground.
    She looked intently at the ground and said, “black”.

    I said, “wrong again!”, more sternly. Then I shouted, “WHAT COLOR IS THE GROUND?”

    She looked at me and said, “I don’t know? What do you want me to say? It looks dark brown or black to me!”

    Then I asked her how she felt. She felt confused and didn’t know how to answer.

    Then I explained this is quite possibly how horses feel because we tell them NO NO Wrong Bad.

    I then asked her her how she would feel if I would have said, brown is pretty close keep going. or other words of encouragement.

    If the horse is rewarded for his best guess for what we want he will more than likely be a willing partner in our training.

    Thanks Nanette.

    ~Laura
    http://www.thistleridgestables.com/horse-training-5steps/

    1. What a great way to illustrate noting the try, Laura. Yes, I agree, this is often neglected – even with more experienced riders. I think we all need to get better at trying to explain and illustrate timing too. That can be something hard to impart on another after it becomes second nature. I do find, though, that novices are great at picking things up when they can watch. Such eager and willing learners!

  3. I especially like your #4 suggestion. If local trainers aren’t readily available at home, go to horse shows or events. Most shows are free to watch, and from the rail of the warm-up ring you can often watch and listen as trainers warm up their students and horses. Also a good way to identify trainers whose approach suits yours, should you decide to get professional help.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Helen. Yes, there’s so much you can learn from watching others – not only to see what they do right but what might not be a good approach for you.

  4. Nicely written and good points for horse training. Horses like people have their own separate personality. A cookie cutter mind set that training should be the same for every horse will not work.

  5. Thanks for stopping in and checking out the blog, Steve. Hopefully more trainers will start to recognize the importance of creating customized programs for each horse they encounter.

  6. I found this very informative blog about horse training and I noticed the good pointers of effective ways in customizing the horses in their young age. I think this program could help many. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Kim, it’s great to see another from Australia joining the Horse Sense and Cents following. Thanks so much for checking out the blog and leaving a comment. I look forward to getting to know you better.

  8. Great post! Too true that people instantly assume that it is the horse which is at fault if it doesn’t take to something new. It can often be quite apparent to those observing that the fault lies with the master – incorrect body language, agressive voice tone and impatience can quickly confuse a horse and undermine its confidence. The same applies in racehorse training, each horse has to be treated as an individual – there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.

    Thank you for your post.

  9. Hi Ruth,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. One of the comments that I used to find particularly frustrating (this was a number of years ago when I was doing a lot of teaching) was ‘he won’t’. Of course in this case, it was usually a horse I had seen doing what was being asked many times before. I agree with you on the racehorse training too. It would be nice to see more applying an individualized training approach to each horse.

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