As enthusiasts, riders and trainers, we are always looking for ways to increase our knowledge and understanding of horses. It doesn’t matter how much experience one has already, there is always more to learn. Everyday as we train our horses, we are simultaneously learning from them. Ideally, it begins to feel like a conversation built on mutual respect and understanding.
We’ve been thinking a lot about how to explain new concepts to young or green horses, as most every rescue that we bring home from auction benefits from a fresh start to their training. To begin, we try to break every task down into baby steps to help our horses truly understand what we are asking of them. Although we always have an overall goal in mind, one can’t expect an inexperienced horse to master a new concept right away. For example, if we ask a horse to back up and they have no idea what we’re saying, then we break it down: we apply pressure on the reins, and as soon as the horse even considers shifting his weight back, we immediately praise and release the pressure. We are rewarding the horse for trying to figure out what we want. Eventually we will get a step, then several, and in time the horse will quietly step back in response to a subtle cue.
With good training, it is all about consistency and timing. Horses instinctively look for a way to relieve any pressure. That is why good training is pressure and release oriented: we squeeze with our legs, the horse moves forward, we release…we put pressure on the reins, the horse stops, we release. Because horses are always looking for the answer which takes pressure away, as trainers we must be quick to reward and release for any move the horse makes towards our overall goal.
Most likely we’ve all gotten caught up in the moment of a great ride, or decided upon a specific task that we must accomplish before ending a training session. However, we always need to focus on our horse’s reactions and movements, and be ready to praise, release and reward with a break. If a horse never gets a clear release, then he won’t know when he is on the right track, so our feedback is crucial. When we are consistent and fair in our pressure and release, then a horse can relax into his training, as he learns that there will always be a solution to a problem and a release to any pressure.
When we approach any training with these things in mind, it helps to ensure that we remain patient, systematic, and present in the moment. Although it’s not always easy, these are certainly all-important traits for anyone who works with horses!