The training and education of a horse is not a casual undertaking; it is not for the faint-hearted, and it is not for the inexperienced.
A renowned horseman of the twentieth century considered a horse to have mastered the basics when he was light in all parts of his body at all times during riding. To reach this goal could take up to ten years of correct schooling. Another well-respected horseman of our times has said on many occasions that as a horse is started, so shall he go.
For horses that enter the schooling program with previously acquired behavioral or disciplinary problems the time may be longer because these issues must be resolved before any worthwhile education can commence. These kinds of horses, because of a poor education, must first be persuaded to hang around long enough to be trained. When they have been convinced to finally listen, the training process will progress quickly.
Inadequate riding skills will always produce, promote, and instill faulty movements in the horse.
The rider, without the correct position, cannot successfully communicate with the horse.
Accidentally delivered communication signals through instability and lack of balance of the rider will misinform the horse and will tend to confuse him.
Make sure the difference is understood between those who are true horse-trainers and those who proclaim to be horse-trainers. The former are but a limited coterie of individuals who are thoroughly qualified to undertake the important job of training and educating a horse. The latter are pretenders to the throne, so to speak, regardless of the title they may bestow on themselves.
The oftentimes fragmented and fast-paced climate in the horse-clinic world is not conducive to the advancement of the horse’s knowledge base. What is performed in haste is rarely remembered or retained. Unlimited patience and diligent repetition are the keys necessary to open a horse’s mind for learning; not temporary, quick fixes as seen in these clinics.
AT THE OUTSET
There are two parts to this process which need to be explained before the start of this presentation.
The first entails the training of the horse. Training refers to teaching the physical aspects of this schooling process which, through diligent practice, repetition, and instruction, will enable the horse to be well conditioned, supple, and responsive.
The second is about setting up the horse to learn. Education refers to the mental aspects of this process, wherein the horse learns and understands what is expected of him in any circumstance presented to him. It is critical to the successful development of the horse that the human really comprehends that working with the horse’s mind is the key to getting things done.
If the human mechanically forces a horse to do something physically, the horse might get it done but its mind has not been reached. Therefore, the horse has not learned anything positive. But he has learned to position and protect himself from the pain to come.
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A HORSE
Everything that the human asks a horse to do involves the horse traveling at any requested rate of speed and configuration on either a straight line or a curved line or a diagonal line (which is really an offset straight line).
For the horse to do this his body must be developed to flex both laterally and longitudinally so he can operate on these lines with fluidity and correctness. In other words, he must be able to bend as well as travel straight.
While this seems simple enough, in practice, it is in this simplicity that there is great complexity.
Here, in capsule form, is what has to happen to correctly shape the back of a horse for the demands of the work. The spinal processes must be kept perpendicular so that the backbone can rotate, which allows the rig cage to get out of the way. This means that we have to be able to move the forehand and the hindquarters where we want them to be, which requires a horse to bend evenly from end to end. This, in turn, requires efficient distribution of weight, which requires the horse’s ears to be horizontal, which requires the inside leg to step under the mass of the body sufficiently, which requires the pelvis to tilt, all without resistance, ———-and that is just part of it.
A SYSTEM FOR BUILDING A SOLID FOUNDATION IN TRAINING A HORSE
What is now presented offers a rational progressive system for training a horse using gymnastic exercises in a logical format that will give a horse a good foundation in its first two years of a training and education program (whether a young horse or an older horse that needs reprogramming) after which a horse can then begin more specialized schooling for the particular riding discipline for which he is destined.
These guidelines should constantly be kept in mind during the training process:
A. Always strive for quality of movement rather than just riding the movement itself
B. Work on smoothness of transitions from gait to gait and within gaits – no rushing or abruptness on the part of the horse.
C. Establish form and correctness first, then as the horse develops his muscles, ligaments, and tendons swiftness of response to signals will come easier.
D. Exercises should complement one another and have a logical progression of complexity.
E. Each segment of a horse’s learning tree must be carefully parsed into easily understandable sections for the horse to digest it completely.
While groundwork will not be specifically addressed, it is an important element in the education of the horse and will enhance the riding portion of the program.
It helps in the overall development of the horse’s muscular system without the burden of the rider encumbering the horse.
It promotes rhythm and relaxation and develops a work ethic in the horse.
Correctly done it helps in suppling the forehand and the hindquarters and aids in putting the horse on the bit (with the use of side reins in the hands of a skilled handler).
THE FIRST YEAR
This period is devoted to a horse regaining its natural balance while being ridden by a sensitive and knowledgeable rider.
The objectives for the first year of training are to have a horse achieve:
* First and foremost, an immediate responsiveness to the rider’s sensitive use of the hand, seat, and leg signals. Forward movement must be firmly established
* Next in importance is acceptance of the bit
* Relaxation (demonstrated by the rider’s ability to release and retake the reins at any gait without altering the pace)
* Regularity, which is demonstrated by the correctness of the gaits, i.e. a four-beat walk, two-beat trot, and a three-phase canter
* Freedom of Gaits (there should be no constriction of gaits and the horse should be balanced, forward and straight in the working trot)
One method to achieve these objectives is through the execution of the following ridden exercises which can be ridden as single exercises or in combination with other complementary exercises:
* Natural walk, trot, and canter on straight lines on reins that are not firm or taut but are flexible
* Establishing rhythm in the gaits (smoothness)
* Leg yielding in walk
* Turn on the forehand to teach obedience to the inside and outside leg
* Turn on the haunches to mobilize the shoulders
* Riding large circles, half circles, reverse circles, center line work for straightness and across the diagonal in working trot
* Canter 20-meter circles
*Smooth walk-trot; trot-walk transitions with no head tossing
* Smooth transitions within a gait, e.g. ‘big’ walk with a horse using more thrust with its hind legs into a more collected walk with a horse stepping more under itself and lifting its back but without slowing the pace
* Developing half-halts with the rider using the seat and stirrup stepping to achieve this and not so much the reins
* Introduction to lengthening the stride in trot
*Halting immediately when cued
THE SECOND YEAR
The objectives for the second year are as follows:
* Straightness (riding in position within the reins and the legs)
* Balance (lateral and longitudinal equal distribution of weight over all four legs)
* Suppleness (shifting the point of equilibrium smoothly)
* Impulsion (thoroughness, thrust and carrying power with a swinging back
* Collection (stepping under the mass of the body with propulsion and carrying power with a crested neck and nose near the vertical)
The exercises listed for the first year must be continued and the following additional exercises should be added:
* Leg-yielding at the trot
* Simple lead changes (trot to canter then back to trot, walk to canter then back to walk in a smooth manner – no head tossing)
* Shoulder-in at the walk and trot
* Increasing and decreasing the diameter of circles from 20 meter down to six-meter (or smaller) circles at the trot and canter
* Smooth transitions from and to gaits; walk, trot, and canter
* Half-passes and full passes in both walk and trot
* Rein-back on straight lines as well as semi-circles
* Travers and Renvers
* Full halt from the trot
*Full halt from the canter, then rein-back and canter depart
* Single flying change, left and right leads
In order to completely train a horse to an adequate or even a high level of performance one needs to be technically qualified in one’s craft and to meet certain time-proven standards of excellence.
This is not to say that there has not been in the past or that currently there are not world-renowned riders who have reached the pinnacle of success in their chosen field of equine endeavor, be it dressage, stadium jumping, reining, barrel-racing, etc.
But it is to say that as talented as they were or are they may not have had or currently have the requisite skills to train and educate a horse.
Technically qualified means knowing what specific technique should be employed to accomplish a particular action or reaction with the horse.
The following are but a few examples:
* Knowing what the five rein effects are and the almost infinite ways of combining them to be most effective in guiding a horse as well as having the skill to use them appropriately.
* Knowing about and having the skill to make use of ‘stirrup stepping’ (claimed by the old German riding masters to be the most nuanced of the aids) to cue a horse to move, turn, place more or less weight on its feet and for how long a period of time.
* It is also essential to know the sequence of locomotion of a horse’s legs in all gaits and to know when and how to signal a horse to perform a movement when either a leg has weight on it or when it does not have weight on it.
I do not consider it to be an accurate statement by those who proclaim that this information can only be learned through feel and timing. It can be clearly articulated and demonstrated.
Technique is defined as a way of accomplishing a particular task that needs skill, thought, and planning used in an efficient manner.
While there are certain common techniques that can be used in the system of training and education of a horse through the method described earlier, there are no cookie-cutter techniques that will be suitable for all horses. Additionally, there are others that are trainer specific, and which reflect their level of expertise. Lastly, there are some techniques that will have to be tailored to address the unique needs of a particular horse.
KNOWLEDGE OF A HORSE
Finally, it is paramount for lasting success that individuals who are motivated to undertake this monumental and challenging task of correctly developing a horse have a firm knowledge about the nature of the horse, meaning its psychological and physiological make-up, plus knowing how it learns.
ATTRIBUTES NEEDED FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO WORK WITH HORSES
These individuals should also have a firm grasp on the four critical human attributes that are needed to assure a successful outcome: intent, attitude, approach, and presentation.