Horse Training Takes Time

If you take the time to listen to an experienced horseman, I’ll bet that he or she will tell you that, with horses, tHere’s only one incontrovertible rule: Training takes time. While big improvements or breakthroughs can happen in a day, the physical and mental development that is real training takes weeks, months and years.

Horses are intelligent animals, but they’re highly sensitive and not terribly logical. So it takes thoughtful, clear, firm and consistent riding to train them to do whatever it is you want them to do. And that work has to be even more thoughtful, clear, firm and consistent if you’re retraining a horse who’s had poor training of some kind.

No horse can perform athletically without fitness and strength. And those attributes require many months to develop. Horses don’t magically become ?fit? for their job in a day or week or two. Horses who lack muscle strength or suppleness simply can’t jump, or do dressage, and they usually can’t comfortably go on a three-hour trail ride if they’re only ridden once a month. But often people ask horses who haven’t been ridden for weeks, or who get ridden once a week, to do these things. And then these riders wonder why their horses are anxious or disobedient. He’s trying to tell you he can’t do it!

Fitness starts with being sound enough to do whatever the horse’s job is. He needs to be correctly and regularly trimmed or shod; he needs to have had consistent dental care; and he needs to have any unsoundness or stiffness treated by a veterinarian and/or an equine chiropractor. Yes, that seems basic, but I see people struggling with horses whose issues could be largely solved by attending to these needs.

Equally frustrating to me is riders who complacently claim that their horse’s training is ?finished,? meaning that his training is perfectly complete. In what universe does training end ?for any athletic endeavor, human or equine?other than in retirement’ Do you really think that horses reach a point where they can’t learn any more, where they can’t possibly go any better under saddle’ Name one of today?s top riders?Steffen Peters, Phillip Dutton, Beezie Madden?and I can guarantee you that they don’t think that either they or their horses are as good as they can be. Every day, they’re working to improve something.

Training horses is a dynamic process, a situation that’s always ebbing and flowing, often going around (unexpected) corners, and rarely going in a straight line. We’re working with a thinking animal, an animal whose mind and body are extremely sensitive to environmental stimuli of all sorts. Some days He’s relaxed; some days He’s anxious about something or everything. He can become stiff or sore from work, from turn-out or from confinement. He can be developing an abscess or a saddle-induced soreness, issues he can’t express to you until they become obvious.

So, one week you make great progress, another week feels static, and another week is full of odd setbacks. Throughout, you have to analyze what you’re doing right, what you could do better, and what you’re doing wrong. And, only over time, can you see your horse’s performance at home and in competition develop and improve.

I like to see a horse’s training as a line graph, a graph that periodically has some dips but that, over time, is trending upward, toward a summit that will always be just off the page.

John Strassburger, Performance Editor

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