Teaching horses new skills
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, September 20, 2018 09:40 AM
Recently, I have come across hearing phrases like: "My horse is afraid of being lunged." or "My horse doesn't stand at a mounting block." etc. They sounded like the final verdict like nothing can be done about it - it is just what it is. This is of course is not the truth. The truth is the horse wasn't taught a particular skill, nothing more and nothing less. Think about your horse. Is there something you wish your horse knows how to do? If you want your horse to do it you must teach that to your horse. A horse comes to this world with instincts but not with the skills required to be with a human and work for us.
It is quite amazing actually how many riders and horse people do not understand this simple principle. For many of them, the horse somehow must know how to behave or do something and if it doesn't they are lost. Instead of working on an issue or new skill they try to entirely avoid the situations where that skill is required. If they cannot avoid they hope and pray for the best outcome.This puts the blame on the horse. Either horse was good and behaved properly or the horse was bad and didn't behave well. The rider/handler has nothing to do with that! The consequence of such approach - people get stuck, there is no progress and horses get labeled unfairly.
Often people get trapped in such situations with their horses either because they expect them to know, or because they give up the training too early, they are impatient that results are not coming fast enough. First group of people needs to learn more about horses in general. Second group may simply lack technical skills of training their horse or got a difficult case on their hands and must spend more time in order to achieve the desired results.
In the second case, sending your horse to the experienced trainer sounds like a great idea. However, be warned! Trainers work for commission and time is usually the measure, so they are pressured to produce results to please the client. On the other hand, if a rider is not involved in the process he/she will not know how the skill was taught to the horse and what is important in order to keep the skill or improve it in time.
That is why taking lessons and learning how to teach a skill yourself is much more valuable then simply asking someone else to install it. Even though it may take longer to do it yourself.
I have three students who started their young horses themselves under my guidance. Two of them did it first time in their lives. One is still in the process but progressing steadily, the other is already riding her 3-year-old in arena, on trails, walk, trot. The third had a previous experience in starting couple young horses. However, this time the training is progressing faster and with more confidence. They all have been and are thoroughly enjoying the process: the build of the relationship, the skills they know now and the confidence in themselves and their horses. On my part, it has been a great joy to watch that!
There are several general principles that you need to remember when teaching a horse any specific behavior or a new skill:
  • You must understand YOU are teaching it to the horse. Your horse doesn't know it, has no concept of good or bad behavior, has no desire to learn it
  • You must break the learning process into small, digestible steps. If you are not sure what they are consult a trainer you respect and admire. Take lesson/s from him/her
  • You must develop very good observational skills of yourself and your horse to know exactly what caused what
  • You must praise very small progress in your horse actions, especially, in the beginning when they do not know yet what you want
  • You must see the process from a big picture. You should not get caught up in the particular results of today's training session. Training a horse is like growing a garden. Hard to see every day progress but things blossom over time with care and attention
  • You must see mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve for both you and your horse
  • Seek situations that challenge you and your horse as long as they do not overface you both
  • Last but not least. Patience, persistency and repetition not time tables and expectations will help you succeed!
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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