Training Horses – How to Know When It’s Time to Add Something New
Training Horses – How to Know When It’s Time to Add Something New. As a trainer I always asked my students to warm their horses up before a lesson, beginning with a walk around the perimeter of the arena. There is a place and reason for longing horses prior to mounting, but it has never been my personal preference. For safety reasons, I liked my students to be able to saddle up and mount their horses without needing to do any groundwork except a quick check for softness. The basic rule for training horses has always been, once your horse is soft and happy at whatever you’re doing, you are ready to move up one notch in work; one notch, not two.
When you and your horse are working well on the rail at a walk, add a circle or two each direction. Check for whoa every now and again, and then move up one notch to trotting on the rail. Once the horse is soft and obedient at the trot, circle, whoa, and move up to the lope or canter. You should have the idea of what progressive exercise is by now.
Riders who skip basic warm-up exercises are often surprised when their horse gives them trouble at the canter or lope. When a student would ride over to tell me their horse was giving them problems turning to the right at a lope, I would ask if they had a problem turning right at the trot. Usually they had skipped the warm-up. If your horse is stiff at the trot, I guarantee they will be stiff at the canter.
Let me explain this concept just a bit more before moving on. Here are the steps to take before asking your horse to lope, your horse must perform them quietly and obediently before moving up to the next maneuver:
* Mount while your horse is standing still
* Walk around the arena
* Turn left, turn right and stop from a walk
* Trot around the arena
* Turn left, turn right and stop from a trot
* Lope/canter around the arena
* Circle left, circle right and stop from the lope
If you move from the barn to a lope you have skipped at least eight steps. You will seldom have an issue at the canter if you have mastered all the previous steps. Within each of these maneuvers are many smaller performance tests. Does your horse yield to your leg, your hands, your seat? Is the horse properly framed in each turn? Is your horse offering resistance anywhere, or does he seem confused? Here’s a chance to demonstrate your leadership ability.
Whatever you want to teach your horse, you must select the appropriate time to introduce it. The secret to building a strong foundation, where you build new successes upon past ones, is to only add one new thing at a time. I am suggesting that you use the Scientific Method to train your horse. You may remember that the Scientific Method allows only one variable to change so we can know that the resulting change came from the one new addition.
Before adding that one new cue, piece of equipment, location, or obstacle, be sure that you and your horse are warmed up and everything is working well. Don’t try a significantly different bit without warming up in the old bit. Don’t go to a horse show using a new saddle or bridle. Get your horse used to it at home first. Don’t add spurs and cattle on the same ride.
When will you know it is time to add a new lesson or skill? When your horse is performing current maneuvers with confidence and obedience. If you train your horse to trust your judgment, allowing them to master the lessons already learned, you are well on your way to being a great horse trainer and an owner your horse will love.