The last couple of articles I wrote were on understanding horses when they are confused and resistant. Ultimately what most of us want from our horse is for them to be reliable.
The key to having a reliable horse is understanding what makes a horse reliable. To help a horse become reliable we need to encourage our horse to try, to think, to understand, to be responsible, to be confidant, and to deal with stress. It is important to have all of these things individually but they are so interconnected that when one of them starts to develop they all start to develop. If all of these things happen the training will almost take care of itself.
When a horse tries he shows his willingness to learn. Assuming the horse does not know what we want If we notice the smallest effort from the slightest cue and reward it we will encourage the horse to keep trying. Initially it is not important that your horse is correct only that he tries to be correct. When we ask for movement he may not do what we want but any movement that is remotely correct shows effort. With effort we can then direct the movement more specifically until he tries something different. The different movement will then get rewarded or not based on whether it was more correct than the last time. This continues until the horse performs what we wanted him to.
Through this process the horse has also been encouraged to think. He knows his recent action got a reward so he will try it again the next time I ask. When it doesn’t work and he tries something different he has to think to realize that what he tried last time no longer got the release. This process of rewarding very little should also encourage deliberate movement. If he starts over reacting you are possibly using too much pressure. This is when confusion is setting in. Even a little can be too much and because you are looking for very little movement he will respond to a very subtle request. The less pressure you use the smaller a response you can expect until he is sure what you want. If your horse continues to overreact you should back up to the last thing your horse did right and start the process again. If his movement is deliberate and smooth he is thinking about what he is doing and what you are asking.
When the thought process is encouraged and your horse’s movement has become smooth and consistent he then understands what was expected. If you do not have consistency you do not have understanding.
Consistency and understanding will develop responsibility. When you then ask your horse to perform on cue it is his responsibility to do his best. He should continue to perform until you ask him to do otherwise. His best may not be great but it may be the best he is capable of on that given day. It is important not to give him more responsibility than he can handle. Less assertive horses need less responsibility than strong willed horses. If you give a strong horse too much he will think he is in charge and you will lose some of your authority with him.
When a horse accepts responsibility for his actions he is well on his way to being confident. Confidence can be slow to develop and is very fragile. When a horse is really confident he will believe in himself and he will believe in you.
Confidence will now give your horse the courage to deal with stress. Everything we do with our horse is stressful. Handling, training, housing, feeding, and transportation are major stress factors. He needs to know that he can cope when he is alone and when he is with you. If he is coping with whatever stress he is under his movement will be deliberate. It will stay deliberate because he has confidence in you because you gave him the responsibility to think. This will allow him to understand that if he tries he will get rewarded.
© 2006 Will Clinging