As a trainer I began my career focusing on what I could teach horses, yet as my understanding grew I found that true training is a two-way street. Horses teach us as much, or even more, than we teach them. I have learned how to be a better trainer by being attentive to the lessons the horses have taught me through the years. These lessons are countless but here are those I’ve found most valuable.
Years ago I worked with a Arabian gelding that could not focus for more than two-seconds at a time. I was constantly trying grab his attention. As I nagged he became more frustrated and I became more forceful. Though I was using methods I had successfully used in the past, this particular horse wasn’t interested in following my program. Eventually I realized my approach wasn’t taking the horse into consideration at all. This horse was easily distracted because he was scared. He was frightened by what was going on around him but without the skills to deal with his anxiety he couldn’t relax. Once I understood his feelings, our work together became productive and a joy. I credit this particular horse with my current direction as a trainer, helping each horse to be relaxed and receptive during the training process.
I want a horse to give me his all. For this to happen I realize that I need to give my all in return. This means that I provide: comfortable and suitable tack; clear communication; proper diet; well-maintained feet; regular dental care; and adequate conditioning for the work. Above all I am aware of a horse’s inherent capabilities, his strengths and limitations. I measure success only when he has reached his athletic potential in a way that is emotionally and physically beneficial and not in any way injurious.
Horses need to feel secure in themselves to be capable of performing on the ground and under saddle and for your safety as well. This confidence is achieved when a horse trusts the human who’s handling him. Horses are genetically preprogrammed to run or fight when they feel threatened, so they rely on us to guide them through the maze of distractions and sensations they encounter. We also ask them to carry out tasks they wouldn’t otherwise do. A horse is certain he can do what is asked of him when he feels comfortable and safe. He shows his confidence with a ready and willing demeanor. By being a calm and supportive leader, I show him that I have his back and that he’s safe with me, thus confidence is achieved not by expectation but by example.
Learning something new each and every day
This is what I love most about horses. I know I can never learn it all, but I cherish every new insight. They allow me to better connect with and help the horses I train – my way of giving back to them for all they have given me.