The Decision to Train Your Own Horse

It is okay to have dreams and goals with your horse, in fact it’s a good thing. However, you’ve got to be willing to get down to brass tacks and do the work that gives the horse the ability to perform as you wish.  For one person, this might mean accepting that he doesn’t actually know how to train a horse properly and seeking help from a professional trainer. For another person, this might mean changing or delaying her goals if the horse shows that what she wants to do isn’t the right path for him.

A lot of people want to train their own horse. To bring a horse along correctly is a significant commitment that requires time and patience. You’re working with a living animal with a mind that works very differently from our human minds. You’ve got to be willing to move at the horse’s pace and communicate in his language, not your own.  Pushing the horse to meet your human goals will almost certainly cause you to ask too much, which will compromise the horse’s confidence or even worse leave a hole in the training foundation which will later resurface. 

It takes years and complete dedication to learn to properly train horses and it takes years, not months, to properly train a horse.  I’ve been working with horses for 40 years, under the supervision of the top trainers and coaches in the industry, and I am still learning.  Training isn’t a part time, when you can get to it, activity. Even if you have someone qualified to help you, you will still make more mistakes than someone who has experience training horses because that is how we learn. The work must be consistent and the pace always must be determined by the horse.  Rushing a horse’s training inevitably creates problems that have to be addressed, adding more time before reaching our goals. Failure to pause the progress of the training to address any issues that come up will leave cracks in your foundation that will have to be addressed throughout the horse’s life.

If you’ve never trained a horse before, audit as many training sessions of an experienced trainer as you can. It’s best to watch the trainer work with multiple horses. Every horse is different, and this will help you see how the trainer adjusts the training regimen based on each horse’s needs. This way you can gain a sense of the timing and hopefully develop some skills for your own project. When it’s time to start your horse, get an experienced trainer to oversee and guide your work.  This will keep you on the right path and avoid many of the pitfalls of making the wrong judgment call.  It’s important to realize that being a good rider doesn’t make you a trainer.  Training and riding are very different skills. Learning how to train takes a lot of time and experiences with different horses.

At its most basic level, the goal in training a horse is to create harmony and a partnership between a prey animal (the horse) and a predator (you).  It’s very important to never lose sight of this fact. As prey animals, horses survive by reacting to the world around them. When confronted with something scary or alarming, they run first and fight if there is no other option. They don’t analyze and strategize and consider options the way humans do. If they were to discuss whether a scary thing was going to harm them, it is likely they would be extinct. It’s critical to avoid acting and thinking like the predator you are and to try to always approach the horse on his terms, as a prey animal, instead of expecting him to approach the work on yours.  This is especially important when introducing new things. Too often, inexperienced people adopt the role of predator when interacting with a green horse and then blame the horse for reacting poorly or not as desired. In reality, the horse is just confused or scared and trying to survive.

In my work, I come across lots of horses that have never been properly trained.  It’s much harder to get them on the right track after they have learned to compensate for gaps in their training.  They are the true casualties of improper or inadequate training because most often they are blamed for not behaving the way a human wants them to.  It’s a wonderful thing to be able to bring a horse along and give him or her the skills needed to be all that they can be but it’s also a huge responsibility. If you are considering learning to train horses, I encourage you to take the time to learn all you can and to go into it with your eyes wide open to the amount of work and commitment it will take for you to produce a properly trained horse.

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