Horse Training Tips

Let’s consider a question: Let’s say you’re in 3rd grade. Your teacher is teaching math today but your teacher isn’t exactly clear on how to approach the subject. The teacher knows what it means to add numbers but doesn’t quite know how to relay the process that would lead you to arrive at the correct answer. Worse, if you happened to get the answer right your teacher then didn’t affirm that you had answered correctly. Can you imagine how confusing such a situation would be? Now, if your teacher had the math lesson planned out, understood how to teach you the process of addition, you’d be far more likely to arrive at correct answers. Clearly, a teacher must know the process of how to arrive at the correct answer, and what the correct answer is, otherwise how could they effectively teach it?”I am astounded at the number of horse owners that try to teach their horses something that they themselves don’t know the answer to, nor what it is that they’re trying to teach.”As in our example above the teaching experience results in confusion and possible student anxiety. You see, if you’re going to teach your horse how to leg yield his hindquarters in a particular way, then you must know exactly how you want your horse to do it.

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Yesterday I was inspired to write this article because I gave one of my assistant trainers a task on her worksheet that said “Work on leg yielding.” with a particular horse. As I watched her perform her tasks I noticed that she was picking up the horse’s feet and having the horse do more than it needed to do at one time. I mentioned that she did not need to work on that task in particular and she said: “My assignment sheet says to work on leg yielding.” I apologized and explained in detail what leg yielding was in this case and she went about doing the task correctly.

What to do (and not to do).It’s important to make sure your horse understands his assignment. Thus, if you are trying to teach him to move his hind-quarters away from you and you want him to cross the inside leg in front of the outside leg as he steps over, then that is precisely what you want and precisely what you ask your horse to do when you teach him. If he doesn’t do it, you keep asking him until he does. When he does, leave him alone.

When teaching, don’t over praise with your voice. If the horse does something right and you get overly chatty with “…good boy, good boy, good boy, good boy, oh what a good boy you are.” the horse will not have time to think. Let him chew and lick and think about it. Problems when the horse isn’t given time to figure it out – at least, he doesn’t know he did. In other words, what you want to have your horse do is think about it and ask himself: “What just happened that got him/her to leave me alone?”The trick here is to not drill him on it again and again because then he’ll think what he did wasn’t right after all. Thus, he won’t ever get it right. Move on to something else and come back to that task again later during the lesson. Then if you get him doing two things really well you can then combine tasks.  For example, you get him to move his haunches over in just the way you want then you go to the front and get him to step over just the way you want. That accomplished you can go to the simple side pass by applying pressure to both of the areas you just trained simultaneously and he will side pass by moving both his front and hind over at the same time. It may not be perfect but you will have put one and one together. When teaching ask yourself if you’re asking the horse to perform a sequence of events.

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Training your horse may only be one step at time but be sensitive not to over train. Remember to train from both sides of your horse and when he gets it right move on to another task. First and foremost, know what you want him to do and look for it; when he gets it, stop asking. Just stop and smile and say “Good Boy.” one time. Then give him a minute or two to lick and chew on it so that it sinks in. As well, be sure you’re not asking for too much too soon. For instance, if you want him to step backwards two steps and then move his hindquarters, that combination may be too much to do all at once. He has to first learn to step back when you ask, then you can teach him to move his hindquarters.

Before trying to teach remember to first ask yourself if what you’re trying to teach is a sequence of events and decide if it is best to break down sequential tasks into simpler single events that you can later combine after your horse has mastered individual parts of the sequence.Next time we will talk about the controversial saddle fitting issue. Have a happy, positive, productive training event!-