What is Training?
Training is the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour, according to Google. The main word in this sentence is teaching. Training is not about making a horse behave or perform in a particular way, training is all about teaching.
The two main components required for attaining a skill or behaviour are training and relationship. Both are necessary. Just training on its own without a relationship will never really work, resulting in slow or no progress, or a horse that does what it’s told but is dead inside (Learned Helplessness). Relationship on its own can work if the horse already has all the skills you require for whatever you want to do. If you’re in this category lucky you! Go out and have fun with your horse and read no further. If however you’re like most of us and there are things you’d like to do with your horse which they don’t yet know how to do, then read on.
When you decide to do a ‘training’ session with your horse, pop on your teachers cap. You are in the role of teacher and mentor. A mentor models the behaviour they are seeking in their students. If you want a calm horse, then you need to be calm. If you want your horse to listen to you, then you need to listen to them and so on. A good teacher wants their students to succeed. When you’re doing a session with your horse, try and always set it up so your horse can succeed at whatever skill you are working on. Asking them to do something they are not yet prepared for is frustrating for both of you and can result in things going backward not forward.
Break skills down into bite sized chunks, don’t try to teach the whole behaviour at once. For example, this morning I was with a horse who had been throwing her head up when her rider mounted. She was an Arab and when her rider mounted the head sprung up at high speed (She’d been checked by a chiropractor and was sound, plus had no problems with the riding, just the mounting). My job was to ask her to lower her head while the human mounted. We did this in a series of bite size chunks. First I asked for the head to stay down while weight was put in the stirrup, once she had achieved this without needing to be asked we moved on to laying over the saddle, continuing until she could do this with the head down without being asked. Then the actual mounting, and by the time we got there she didn’t need any more help and just kept her head at normal height. This behaviour was dealt with in 10 minutes by teaching her what we wanted for each tiny step. If it reappears we will repeat the steps, knowing that each time it will take less time.
I always try and remember what it was like when I was at school. Which teachers did I actually like, which did I learn things from, and what were they like? How did they teach? Without exception it was those teachers who took the time to treat each student as an individual. Those that were patient and kind, who listened and communicated with me as an equal and who were looking to reward, not to punish.
And remember that every single thing you do is training. From the moment you open the paddock gate you are training, whether you mean to or not. Horses have no idea that one thing is a training session and another just everyday life. The beauty of this is it means every time you go near your horses you need to be present and in the moment, you can’t just ‘attend’ to horses while thinking about something else.
So have fun being a positive teacher for your horse and reap the benefits.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles