Now I do not at all consider myself a professional horse trainer. That being said, every interaction I have with my horses teaches them something.
I work a lot with horses and dogs. When I was training my dogs the professional trainer said something that really stuck with me. He said, “I won’t train the dog. I am training the human to train the dog. After all, they are the ones that will have the daily interactions.”
Knowledge is power. My greatest dream was to have a horse. When Ferrous came into my life I could ride him as often as I liked and do things I wasn’t able to do while a lesson student. I learned to lunge him, took him into a round pen to fine-tune our communication skills, teach him to trailer quietly and calmly, and play at Liberty.
I learn from watching others, asking questions, Googling videos, and recently started taking lessons in horsemanship.
I don’t consider myself a professional but after taking even one lesson from a professional horse trainer; I realized how much I didn’t know about my communication with my horse. More, I realized that everything I do from the moment I enter the paddock is teaching my horse something positive, or negative. Like with dogs, my interactions are creating reactions and I AM a horse trainer in many ways.
My Thoroughbred friend, Delight, is the perfect example. He has always been large and would occasionally intimidate humans with his size. A little ear pinning and snap, a charge, or planting his feet to not move forward. Most of the time he was great, but suddenly he would be “stubborn” or “grumpy”.
This escalated when he went to another barn and he quickly, within two months, became aggressive and unrideable. I took him under my wing and asked for help with his training since I had no experience. The results were shocking to me. I was doing so many small things that were inviting him into my space as the dominant partner.
Being an equestrian isn’t just about riding. As lesson students we are (or should be in my opinion) taught to groom, tack, bathe, and walk the horse appropriately. I didn’t learn any of this until I was an adult and I thirsted for knowledge to become the best horsewoman I could be. I believe this will take a lifetime as there is always something new to learn.
I am a huge fan of R+ training since I work best with positive reinforcement myself. That, and my goal is to build confidence, not undermine it. There are a lot of methods for any type of training but I gravitate toward this and certain aspects of natural horsemanship. The latter makes sense to me since I am working with an animal and want to understand HIS language so I can better communicate and we can find a mutual language.
Lesson horses are the unsung heroes of the horse world. If it wasn’t for that ONE amazing lesson horse that taught you to post, canter, or jump the first time you may not have the confidence or the love of horses that you do today. Yet often, they are so overlooked. A lesson horse has to be forgiving of all mistakes (which will be many) and still be a solid, safe citizen knowing the rules and correct way in order to help teach you. They need regular schooling to remind them of behaviors they unlearn but rarely get. They absorb all the tension of a nervous rider and internalize it into their muscles. Often not complaining, but truly ambassadors for their species.
I think about my three daughters learning to ride. Unbalanced, hesitant, or too assertive. And the lesson horse, teaching them with forgiveness and stoicism.
TIP Training/ Retraining OTTBs/Adoption
This year the Extreme Mustang Makeover will be in our state and I’m looking forward to attending. I love mustangs and have been lucky to meet and ride many amazing members of the breed. But TIP training or restarting an Off-Track Thoroughbred are prime examples. They work with professional trainers for 60-90 days and then are up for adoption.
Often there is a great relationship, a mutual trust, between the adoptee and the trainer. Then suddenly the horse is in a new home, a new environment, and with a new person. There will definitely be some backsliding, miscommunication, and a learning curve. As the new horse owner, your horse will look to you for guidance.
At the end of the day, every single interaction we have with our horses is teaching them something. It is up to us to acknowledge our role and learn how to create positive associations and behaviors for a long-term, trusting partnership.