Thursday, August 7, 2008

My philosophy on horse training

Before I begin giving training advice, I thought it would be a good idea to share my philosophies on training. Every horse owner I've ever met views, approaches and trains a horse a little differently. It seems to me that peoples' ideas on horse training are quite similiar to religion, meaning that even those who hold to the same philosophy don't always agree on every little detail and people can get quite passionate on their beliefs! Just for the record and in case you're interested, here are a few of my beliefs and practices.

There is no one way that is the best way to train a horse and there is no one technique that will work on every single horse, every time. What may work well on one horse may have little to no effect on another. Just when you think you have horse training all figured out, another horse will come along that will challenge everything you've ever learned and prove you're wrong in many areas and you're sometimes back to square one. Just as people have different personalities with different ways of thinking and looking at things, so do horses. You have to approach every horse as a unique personality and try different methods or "tricks" with each horse until you find what works.

Speaking of methods or tricks, this is a good place to say that you do not need a lot of special gear or equipment to train a horse. There are certain basic things that will make training easier and quicker, such as a halter, a lunge line, a baton (or flag) and a round pen but if you had to, you could train a horse to do what you want with nothing more than a rope and a long stick, (to use as an extension of your arm, or a driver like a lunge whip, not as a weapon)

I start with what I and others have had the most success with and go from there. If it doesn't work, then I consider it my responsibility to get into that horses' head and find out what he or she needs from me to understand what it is that I'm asking them to do.

I use primarily natural horsemanship training techniques that I've learned from varied sources over many years with a dash of Native American training thrown in.

I'm also really big into horse language, the way horses communicate with one another. I find it incredibly rewarding to know what a horse is saying to me by the carriage of the head, the movement of the mouth or the flick of an ear. It's equally, (if not more), fascinating to sit and silently watch a herd of horses interact and communicate with one another with just body language and rarely a sound. Their ways of dealing with one another are so simple yet their communication is so intricate and complex and I know I still have much to learn. It's an amazing experience to get a glimpse into their world and watch how they interact with one another. It's definitely one of my favorite things to do and I believe that learning to communicate with the horse in their language is a major factor in how successful you will be in training.

And I might as well admit it now: generally, I'm a sap...yep that's right, a big sappy mush. I love on horses, hug them and give them kisses. I baby talk them and nuzzle their velvet muzzles. I love to smell their warm, hay scented breath. Sometimes, (usually when no one is looking) I bury my face in their manes, neck or withers and fill my nostrils with their wonderful horsey scent. I think they are the most beautiful, graceful, magnificent creatures on the planet and most of the time, I am in awe of them....and yet I don't tolerate any nonsense or bad behavior for one single second!

This is my horse training philosophy in a nutshell: Love them to pieces when they're good but quickly, firmly and fairly discipline them when they're not.

I'm really passionate when it comes to ground manners. I've seen a countless number of people who never teach their horse basic respect and ground manners. It absolutely blows my mind to see people who allow the the horse do whatever the horse wants to do and then make the excuse: "Well, that's just the way he is." To that, I say "Horsefeathers"! Any horse and I will repeat: Any horse can (and should) be taught manners! Needless to say, a horse is a very large and extremely powerful animal. Even the most gentle, well mannered horse can severely hurt you, even when they're not meaning to. A 12 year old girl whom I knew very well was killed a couple of years ago in the blink of an eye. It was no ones' fault. That type of danger is just the nature of working with such large and powerful animals. While there is no foolproof guarantee that you can keep yourself safe 100% of the time, I believe there are certain things you can insist on that will improve your level of safety. #1 is that you absolutely must demand respect, for you and for that 2 to 3 feet around you, whether you like to call it your space, your box or your bubble. Now, as I said before, I love to cuddle with a horse and I never want them to be afraid of me or afraid to be close to me but they cannot clumsily fumble and step all over me and they can't force or intimidate their way into my bubble. When they come into my space, they must approach me as they would a lead or alpha mare - they must be paying attention and they must either ask politely or move in respectfully...not cautiously or fearfully but respectfully. There's a difference.

I firmly believe in the 3 second rule: When they misbehave, you have 3 seconds to let them know what is unacceptable. If you're teaching them something new and they do what you expect, you have 3 seconds to praise them and let them know they are on the right track.

I will never advise you to do anything that will make a horse fear you, only respect you. In most cases, you can effectively discipline a horse by simply making him think you're going to kill him without actually doing anything directly to the horse or anything that will hurt the horse. Also, there are several instances in which you can discipline a horse in a way that he doesn't know he's been disciplined. These are my favorite techniques. Using the nail for a nipping or biting horse is a good example (more on that in another post) In that situation, the horse thinks he has done something to himself. He doesn't realize that you have done anything to him and therefore, he has no reason to get headshy or afraid of getting smacked. Now, I'll say here that I have no problem with a firm smack now and then. It doesn't hurt the horse, in fact, you're much more likely to hurt your hand than you are the horse. A firm smack is often necessary when dealing with horses, especially if a situation occurs and you have nothing else to protect yourself or get your point across. Because of the 3 second rule and the way a horse thinks, you cannot take the time to go find a crop or other instrument for discipline. By the time you get what you went for, too much time has passed, the horse won't have a clue why you're disciplining them and the training moment is lost, so you have to issue a quick, firm smack right then on the spot when they commit the offense. You should always try to avoid hitting the horse in the face or head if possible. If you're being attacked, of course you're going to react accordingly and you will have to do whatever you have to do in order to protect yourself but hopefully those instances will be very rare. Whatever the case, a horse should never be beaten or abused. A horse should never be humiliated or belittled. They are majestic creatures that deserve respect, too. Mankind would have never advanced in the manner and speed in which he did had it not been for the strength and speed of the horse.

Read this snippet by Charles Chenevix Trench in A History of Horsemanship and see if it gives you goosebumps: 'God found it good to bestow on man a supreme mark of His favor, and so He created the horse...Man, encompassed by the elements which conspired to destroy him, would have been a slave, had not the horse made him king.'

How true it is! Imagine how the history books would have to be rewritten if we removed the horse from our past! The least we can do is show them some respect and allow them to keep their pride and beautiful spirit.

It is my desire that the relationship between horse and humans should always be one of mutual respect.

Ok, with that being said, let's talk some training!

1 comment:

Horse classifieds said...

ya horses need a great care if you wanna see them well and fit thats a great responsibility for the horse owner .

Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie