Ten Quick Tips for keeping horses happy while training

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Want to bring along a young horse that loves to train so much he nickers when he sees you coming? It’s not that hard if you’re willing to hear the horse. Below are some easy ways to ensure your horse is excited about performing the jobs you request.

  1. Keep the sessions short. When starting young horses, 10-15 minutes is plenty. Five minutes is fine too. Pick a lesson they can easily understand, enjoy and accomplish quickly.
  2. Hear your horse. Sometimes they don’t want to train. With a young horse, it’s better to recognize this and offer a day off rather than forcing a session when they’re not receptive. Other days, it might be best to choose a simple (or complicated) request as a goal. The more you get to know what your horse is trying tell you and the better you are at reading such cues, the easier it will be to end each day with an accomplishment that makes you both proud.
  3. Customize lessons. No two horses are identical (contrary to some of the popular ‘horsemanship methods’ of the day) and offering flexible training approaches that incorporate his proclivities will help your horse appreciate and respect you and his job immensely.
  4. Include the horse in the conversation. Too often, trainers (professionals as well as novice experimenters) craft a lesson plan that’s all about them and then wonder why the horse objects. If you let your horse participate in the learning strategy instead of trying to apply formula approaches, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the horse gathers, retains and applies what you’ve requested. Plus, you’ll find you’ve helped create a partnership that’s richer, safer, more rewarding and more fulfilling than you might imagine.
  5. Always be confident and clear while recognizing the horse with kindness and understanding. Horses melt when they find a leader and a teacher who sees respect as a two-way street. Sadly, some have interpreted the herd mentality using bossy, aggressive and demanding Alphas as the behavior model. Watch and you’ll see these horses aren’t the leaders – they’re avoided. Leaders of the herd are followed by choice, not according to water and feed pecking order. These are the heralded Alphas.
  6. Stand your ground. While combative or aggressive behaviour doesn’t usually encourage a horse to enjoy training, backing down once you encounter an issue often leads to a difficult and obstinate horse that views you as a pushover and/or inappropriate guide. There’s a big difference between unflappable insistence and ‘teaching a horse a lesson.’ If a horse turns into a drama queen over a simple request, keep your cool but make it known that in a battle of wills, you have the staying power to quietly continue asking for cooperation until it happens. Some young horses (particularly strong-willed fillies) will test your mettle to see if they can intimidate you (and if they are successful, your productive training days are probably over).
  7. Ask your horse what he likes to do and reward him at the end of the training session with a task he relishes. You might be amazed at what you discover. There’s no right answer to this one as it depends on the horse. Some view the trails with joy; others want to jump; maybe there’s an area they love to be rubbed; it could be time with a special companion; or a grazing place that’s not usually available. Funny thing is, most horses who love to train want to do something they find fun under saddle. Figure out what that is and you’ll have a horse that gets excited about doing right so they can continue the riding time.
  8. Be patient. When young horses act out, it’s usually because they don’t understand. If you react to this with escalating pressure or demands, they’ll learn to resent you. Give them the time they need to figure out what you are asking before you punish them for confusion or move on to another lesson.
  9. Appreciate the smallest attempts to respond to your requests. Don’t expect the horse to be perfect the first time. If you’re asking him to move forward and he takes a step, recognize and praise the effort. If you’re working on steering and he turns his head or moves off your leg for a moment, stop pushing and give him a reward and a break.
  10. Strive for fun. If you make training something your horse anticipates with joy, you’ll have a ball. As you work with your young horse each day, remember that anything you do to make his job interesting, engaging and enjoyable will encourage him to want to please you and come running when you call. Include him in the process and you’ll be awestruck by his eagerness to learn and perform.

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