The way we train our horse has a massive influence in how successful that horse is going to be - not just in competition, but also in general riding, future life, and the bonding with its rider. To understand this, we must understand how the horse adapts to changes in its environment.
Horse movement and behaviour is dynamic in essence. What we get one day will be different to the next. However we generally see the full scope of the horse’s tricks within the first 12 months. Each mood or behavioural trait we experience is an expression of the horse’s personality. Our goal is to channel the horse’s physical, mental and emotional energy positively toward progress.
This can be emotionally exhausting for the rider (and trainer). Eventually, though, the horse runs out of new tricks and we end up revisiting the same issues. Sometimes this makes it feel like we are going backwards but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. We have learnt how to resolve this issue before, so we can work through it again. Each time we work through a problem we get through it a little quicker and a little easier until all that is needed is just a finest of tuning.
What we think our horse understands and what the horse actually understands is not always the same thing. In training, riding and teaching I use a training scale of exercises to ensure the horse understands each individual aid and then different combinations of the aids.
It’s akin introducing the alphabet to a child. They may pretend they understand it when it is first learnt but things get harder when you then have to put that alphabet into words and the words into sentences and the sentences into stories. Sometimes we have to go back and consolidate their understanding of the alphabet.
The horse’s learning curve is very similar to a child’s. Initially when you introduce a new exercise or aid they are very keen to learn and they try hard. This, however, may only last 2 or 3 times practising the introduced exercise before they understand what is expected of them. We then enter the testing phase. The horse knows exactly what is expected of it and is now trying to figure out every way it can possible think of to not do as he or she is asked.
This is generally where most people come unstuck, once a horse knows how to get out of work it becomes a battle of the wills to get them to cooperate again.
And finally, Acceptance. Generally one the other side of a great huff or snort, the horse has accepted that it just has to do as it is asked and will start trying.
This is where we should stop and reward them for trying even if it’s not at the standard we had hoped. If we encourage a horse to always be trying it will be giving us 100% - if we push for more we start creating our own problems.
A horse that is not in control of its emotions cannot control its behaviour. Showing a horse how to work through his or her own emotions is important for a controlled, focused and attentive horse. We need to teach the horse how to breathe...
Horses are such intuitive and emotional animals. They feed off the energy around them, whether it be coming from their environment, other horses, their riders, trainers or carers. The energetic stability of those around them is what enables a horse to cope, trust and respect others.
Every horse I compete knows how to breathe with me. It is essentially the art of dancing. At the start of each test at our halt salute, I take a deep breath and my horse will take a deep breath so they can focus and give 100% without emotional tension. This also allows for maximum fluidity and suppleness throughout the test.
Our riding must be designed in a way that is fluid and dynamic, just like the horses ability to adapt, for us to succeed. Mental, emotional and physical components all play a part (read about the physical adaptation here).