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Utah’s horse world – 10 tips for making your horse training fun and effective

You're always training - make grooming time a fun, affectionate experience and your horses will learn to enjoy your company. (Here Indy gets in a little cuddle time with mom, Sarah).
You're always training - make grooming time a fun, affectionate experience and your horses will learn to enjoy your company. (Here Indy gets in a little cuddle time with mom, Sarah).
by Kelly Petersen-Hammer

While recent articles have discussed the topics of properly tacking up and mounting our horses, we realize a lot of people have horses who are too young or too green for riding, and there are riders who’d feel more comfortable spending more time building a relationship with their horse on the ground. That’s never a bad idea!

Take the time to know your horse and appreciate her learning style.
photo by Sarah Robertson, with Lily

Here are our current top 10 tips for making your training sessions enjoyable, interesting and effective;

  1. Be prepared. Have all your accessories (lunge line, training stick, halter, surcingle, side reins, etc. – whatever you intend to use) organized and in place before you get your horse in the pen. This helps you feel more relaxed, more in control, and aids you in being a competent leader.
  2. Don’t interrupt dinner. Unless you’re offering free choice hay, don’t drag your horse out of their stall at meal time (dinner or breakfast). Why not? Horses are designed to graze several hours a day. If you’re limiting their feed to two meals a day, you’re already introducing a high degree of unnatural stress. Why exacerbate their worry by pulling them away from something they look forward to for hours? You can wait.
  3. Deliver information in bite sized pieces. Give your horse simple, concise directives that are not unnecessarily complicated. Remember that horses speak physically. You are constantly saying something to them with your body. Know what you’re saying and speak with clear, easy-to-understand requests.
  4. Slow down. Never be in a hurry with a horse. These are prey animals. As the leader, it’s your job to be calm and in control. Be aware of, and refrain from, predatory actions. Hurry typically relates to panic in the horse world. If you’re rushed, you’re going to trigger their flight response and tap into the reactive side of their brains. In this state, it’s impossible for the horse to learn.
  5. No nagging. Ask the horse (clearly and concisely) for whatever response you’re seeking. If you are sure he understands the request but is choosing to ignore you, tell him more firmly what you want. As soon as you get the desired reaction, back off. Horses do not respond to nagging; if anything, it annoys them.
  6. Know your horse. It’s important that you know your horse well enough to quickly assess their mood, mindset and health on any given day. You can’t inflict a prescribed training agenda on an animal that’s too distracted or not feeling well enough to learn.
  7. Adjust your teaching style to the horse’s learning style. Speaking of knowing your horse, it’s essential that you understand how your horse learns and what motivates her. Like people, horses are all individuals. How you deliver your lessons, and the duration thereof, will depend on these important factors along with her energy, health and attention span on any given day.
  8. Be realistic. Don’t expect a green horse, whether he’s 14 years old or 4, to go from a green broke, barely-under-saddle mount to a reliable trail partner or show ring success in a matter of months. Training takes years when it’s done right and done well. If you need a finished horse, buy a finished horse.
  9. Work on yourself. Take riding lessons with a quality instructor. How do you know if someone’s any good? Observe a trainer’s methods and riding skills before you get on board. Good trainers are typically calm and gently in control. Watch their hands when they ride. If there’s a lot of pulling on the reins, or if their horses look tense and tight, their skills are likely poor. Good trainers have horses that are generally confident, controllable and not overly reactive. Listen to the way they talk to students; are their lessons appropriate for that person’s level of expertise or are they rambling about insignificant concepts just to show off imagined knowledge? Watch how they interact with other animals (dogs, goats, etc.). Someone who’s impatient, abrupt or harsh with critters in general will not handle your horse in a respectful manner. There are a lot of good trainers in Utah. Don’t waste your time and money building bad habits with someone who’ll risk the well-being and correct, safe, education of you or your horse.
  10. Read within reason. It’s great to get information and ideas from articles or DVDs. Training lessons from famed and entertaining experts such as Parelli Natural Horsemanship, Julie Goodnight, Craig Cameron or Clinton Anderson can be both helpful and exciting, but don’t imagine that intellectual understanding translates to the physical reaction time and muscle memory that’s always essential to handling horses effectively. If you haven’t been working correctly, calmly and intelligently with horses throughout your entire life, your learning curve will be on par with that of a young horse; it takes years.

Take your time and enjoy the adventure! There’s a lot of fun to be had when you focus on creating a relaxed, rewarding and happy experience for you and the horse.