Introduction to What Every Horse Should Know
February 16, 2012 by cherryhillhorsekeeping
When watching horses, we often say, “…he should know that…..” somewhat like we heard our mothers say as we were growing up, “You should know better.” I guess once we get to a certain age and have learned XYZ, you’d think we’d also know our ABCs. But often that is not the case. Frequently the basic lessons are missing and that is so often true with horses. Basics are the building blocks; they are foundation for everything else that is to come. If there are holes in the foundation, at some point the horse, the person, or the barn could come tumbling down.
Sugar is a sweet gelding that can really turn out a pretty western pleasure picture as long as his stable mate accompanies him to the show and stands ringside. Oh, and Sugar has this silly habit of moving during mounting so needs someone, well, two someones, to hold him while his rider gets aboard. And one more thing – he must routinely be sedated before he loads in a trailer. Then there’s just that one foot that he jerks away from the farrier………Sugar has holes, things he really should know. Things that he should have learned at the beginning. Although he can walk, jog and lope with the best of them, there are important basics missing from his training.
But before we even begin to make a list of what we think a horse should know, let’s celebrate all the splendid things a horse inherently knows. I’ve discussed why horses do what they do in detail in “How to Think Like a Horse”. There I give you a bird’s eye view of a horse’s evolution, physical traits, senses and behaviors. But there is so much more.
Horses bring with them beauty, nobility, grace, curiosity, generosity, honesty, and forgiveness. Horses have amazing physical attributes, keen senses, strong instincts and they are very social animals. Such rich character is a great gift to us.
As we develop our horses with a partnership as a goal, we need to preserve those things that make a horse a horse. In that way, there are no losers. Both human and horse emerge winners. If you work together for safety, effectiveness and unity, it will be a satisfying and successful experience.
I’ve written many step-by-step training books that guide you through specific lessons. Those how-to books can help you master the nuts and bolts of horse training. But this book also focuses on the behind-the-scene goals that are necessary for developing a trainer’s consciousness. Understanding training concepts is helpful for seeing the big picture. As you read you’ll see that certain themes reoccur throughout a horse’s life – from foalhood to the senior years.
Whether you are handling a foal for the first time or asking your riding horse to cross a creek, in the mix there will be measures of fear and trust, willingness and patience, leadership and mutual respect, obedience and confidence, generosity, patience, and harmony. Seeing how all of this works when it comes to handling, working with and riding horses, will help you become a more complete horse trainer. Understand the concepts, master the skills, develop the horse.
This book is devoted to those universal lessons that every horse should know whether a trail horse or reiner, dressage horse or jumper, rodeo horse or ranch horse. In addition, each horse discipline will have its own set of specific skills that the horse will need to learn.
Throughout my life with horses, I’ve been a “be here now” and “back burner” trainer. When I work with a horse, I am in the moment. But afterwards, I take a bit of time to review what happened, where we are, where I’d like to be, and what skills and principles are necessary to get there. Then I put all that on the back burner until the next time I work with the horse. Things have a way of reordering themselves in the subconscious. That works better for me than overanalyzing and becoming too detail oriented while I am working with the horse.
It is my hope that you’ll read this book from cover to cover, reread parts in between training sessions, add something to the pot and put it on your back burner to simmer. Skills are great to master but concepts really bring about those “Ahhhh” moments. You’ll see how each concept can be thought of separately yet they all intertwine to make the whole horse.
Mastery of the concepts will help you design your own custom training program. You can use the subjective and objective goal chapter at the end of the book to help you get started. The checklists there are designed to help you find an entry point for your horse and they will provide you with some ideas of what you need to review or work on next. You’ll be constantly making and revising individual “To-Do” lists for each of your horses.
Horse training is not strictly linear though – at any one time, several things are occurring. In addition, each horse comes with his own set of influences: age, sex, breeding, health, soundness, condition, previous handling, temperament, and attitude. A particular horse might pass certain tests quite easily and need much more time to master others while his full brother might be vice versa.
As you design a program, you will also need to keep in mind your own temperament, experience, talent, timing, physical abilities and goals. To get help with how-to lessons, please refer to the training books listed in the appendix.
Thankfully horses tell us every day what they need to learn. Their voids become quickly apparent because until they are taken care of, they will crop up in all sorts of places. A horse that has never learned to stand still might paw and move around when tied to a hitch rail, move back and forth when the farrier is trying to shoe him, sway side to side and move up and back in a trailer, or starting walking while a rider is mounting. He has missed the basic lessons of Whoa and Patience
That’s why no matter what age a horse is, it is a good idea to start from square one to evaluate what he does and does not know. This is especially important if, when looking for a horse to buy, you test ride a horse and find him to be well suited to your riding needs but really don’t know if he is OK with clipping, bathing, trailering or shoeing. By testing him on the basics, you can see whether his schooling is complete or deficient.
No horse is perfect and no horse performs everything perfectly every time. Horses are living beings, not machines. Each horse comes with natural talents and challenges – some things come easily, others are tough. Our role is to fortify the strong portions of a horse’s nature and help the horse develop and become more confident in the weak areas.
As you look at accomplishing your goals, you will want to keep these things in mind.
1. Break larger things into smaller achievable goals.
2. Do simple exercises well rather than more advanced maneuvers in poor form.
3. Be consistent. (Always be training.)
4. Be patient.
5. Preserve a horse’s curiosity, willingness to learn, good attitude, and spirit.
6. Work for balance and quality of movement.
7. Let results be your measure, not time.
8. Feed a horse according to his age and work requirements.
9. Exercise a horse daily.
10. Give a horse a job, a purpose.
11. Practice regularly.
12. Use reward and yielding to reinforce a horse’s good behavior.