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  • Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Training the Rider to Train the Horse

In the horse world, there are two main types of people, horse riders and horse trainers. While trainers are an excellent option for starting young horses, they’re not always the best solution for problems with older horses. This article will discuss some of the reasons why this is so, and suggest that a more effective path may be to train them yourself.

Riders have lessons focusing on their riding position and application of the aids. If a rider has a problem with their horse, or the horse isn’t giving the correct responses, they’re sent off to a trainer to have the problem ‘fixed’. It’s not seen as their place to fix the problem, which is the speciality of the trainer. Why these two skills have been traditionally separated makes no sense. As Paul McGreevy BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), professor of animal behaviour and animal welfare science at Sydney University says “Once pain has been ruled out (as a cause of problems), it’s always both you and the horse, riders affect horses, and horses affect riders; thus has it always been, and thus shall it ever be”.

Training may not stick when you send the horse away for training with someone else. The reason the horse is having the behaviours in the first place is often because of something the human is doing. If the horse goes to a professional and learns how to do everything ‘correctly’ then within a few weeks/months of returning home the old behaviours re-emerge, because the human is still doing the same things. No matter how good a rider someone is, if they don’t understand training theory and application, chances are they’ll end up at the beginning again. This is extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

Every single person rides and interacts differently with horses, the feel of one human will be nothing like that of another to the horse. If someone else trains your horse, the horse learns their signals and feel, and then has to learn yours when they get back home. This can be confusing and frustrating for the horse. Also the horse may do things that the trainer has trained, things you don’t understand, resulting in miscommunication and more confusion.

You build a connection between you when you train your own horse and learn so much more about them. You learn to recognize their emotional state and how to lower it before something becomes ‘big’. You develop a communication and understanding between the two of you that is totally unique. The position you are in, the timing, the amount of pressure you use and other elements will be different than the trainer.

In my life I have both instructed riding students and worked as a horse trainer, separately. But I started to see a flaw in the system. While my riding students looked lovely on a horse and could ride beautifully, if there was a problem with their horse they didn’t know what to do. If it was a riding school they would be put on a different horse, and if private, the horse would be sent off to the trainers or sold. When horses I had trained went back to their homes, the problem behaviours would return after a while, when they had been perfect with me. It became pretty obvious that the two needed to be combined.

So this is how I work now. My lessons are a combination of riding instruction, horse training and training the rider to train the horse. The journey that both human and horse go on together becomes more important than the goal. The things learnt together and shared deepen the communication, connection and trust on both sides. I now feel this is the only clear way forward for humans and horses together, and feel so lucky to be able to facilitate the building of such amazing relationships.

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Lismore, NSW, Australia

Ph: 0401 249 263



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