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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.