Training made painful – what not to do when starting a horse under saddle

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Do you cringe when you see what some people do to young equine minds? You will. Common sense should prevail when a horse starts acting out to be heard so dramatically he becomes dangerous, but sadly, it doesn’t in many cases. Usually it’s ego or ignorance that that leads to such stupidity, and unfortunately, it’s the horse that suffers (and future owners who must undo the damage).

Horse training done wrong

Recently a gal was staying at Halcyon Acres (when Hyde showed up in this Jeckle it was clear goodbye was the best response) who ultimately revealed she viewed animals as possessions to be neglected and then punished when they became confused about intense intermittent demands. The occasional time she was able to wrestle away from her self-proclaimed busy life to devote to ‘training’ was fleeting, cruel and unappreciative. Regrettably, her self-centered perspective seems to be more the norm in our youth today than the exception. If this is representative of the new generation of ‘adults’ we’ll be seeing coming into this world, we’re in trouble – and so are the horses.

So, if you want to know what creates a fearful, miserable, uncooperative and leery horse, let her behavior be a lesson for you.

Teaching a young horse to misbehave

Watching this ‘horse breaker’ in the round pen one day with a two-year-old Thoroughbred that was starting under saddle was frightening. The trench that recently appeared around the perimeter should have been a signal that one of her ‘methods’ included chasing the horse to exhaustion.  Join-up precepts aside (and there’s a lot about embracing a process to create a submissive horse that should be questioned by those who want a horse that’s engaged and enthused), it’s hard to see how ‘sending’ a horse until he’s wobbly-legged helps create a solid and safe steed. This little gelding already had some trust issues and while making him too tired to react might seem like an effective approach – it wasn’t.

The moment of truth occurred after she hopped aboard. It wasn’t enough to go for a quick win when the horse complied with her demands and gave the wanted response ten minutes into the lesson. She had to extend it for another hour or so and end on a ‘lose’ (it was the horse’s fault, of course) because she had family watching and waiting for dinner.

By the time the ‘lesson’ was over, the confused and unappreciated equine (he tried, but his efforts were met with escalating demands instead of recognition for his kindness – funny how that seems to extend to people interactions with this youth too) was so frustrated, bewildered and fearful, his instincts told him to react with avoidance tactics.

During the combat hour, the horse reared, tried to flip, attempted to rub her off on the fence boards and crashed through the round pen after she hopped off and continued to punish him for ‘misbehaving.’ She escalated the conflict by failing to recognize and reward correct responses, ratcheting up the punishment with hands, legs and then a stick with no praise for his efforts while pushing this young mind way too far to be able to process or comprehend what he was being asked to do.

Horse head cases are usually created

He’ll be a head case for the rest of his life if this approach continues. Of course, he’ll be blamed for bad behavior even though the early under saddle conditioning taught him to distrust and dislike humans.  It’s funny how quickly horses who aren’t given a chance to be heard get labelled ‘bad actors’ when they apply and act on what they’ve been taught.

Great equine performers contribute to the conversation

Some horses will shut down and comply with such methods once tortured enough to decide it’s easier to simply tune out and acquiesce.  Rarely will such tactics encourage a horse to excel in people requested disciplines. Others become dangerous in their effort to avoid pain, misery and a human species they have been conditioned to hate. Sure, usually with the right breed (TBs are tougher), you can intimidate and force a horse to comply with your demands by teaching him to be submissive and compliant, but don’t expect him to like it – or give you the extra effort to make your relationship and performance achievements special.

Young minds (and older ones too – even the bipeds) need to be given the chance to be heard, recognized, appreciated and understood. Make it all about you and you may get a compliant horse – but not a happy one. Partnerships need give and take. Few thrive with dominance. Think about how you respond to a person who keeps demanding more without appreciating what you’ve already given. Imagine how the young horse might interpret such actions. The next time you decide you’re going to ‘teach your horse a lesson,’ think about how he may perceive your actions. Is that going to help you get to where you want to go?

Please share you stories and comments below. Thanks.

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