When I start work with any horse I am never sure what I am faced with. In order to make my training time with that horse more efficient I need to know more about the horse’s personality. There are many factors that influence how teachable a horse may be. I use the first few sessions to help me put together an individual profile on the horse. In order to be accurate I have to look at any and all information I am given about the horse. Age, breed, past experience, the type of home he comes from etc. The owner’s personality will often help me out as well. Are they timid, aggressive, unsure of what they want, I can use this to help me understand if the horse has been over handled, allowed to get away with things, or left to his own devices. When creating a profile I try to remember that the horse’s genetics is only half of the equation. The environment the horse lives in or grew up in is the other half.
By this I mean you could take an exceptionally well bred horse and put him in a neglectful or abusive environment and he will never meet his potential because he has not had the opportunity to do so. Or on the other side you could have a Heinz 57 mutt of a horse and put him in a supportive, nurturing, environment and he may develop beyond what was ever expected of him because he was encouraged and allowed to.
When profiling a horse I then need to actually study what the horse is doing or how he is behaving without me adding any pressure at all. In a round pen I just let him go and watch what he does. I want to see is he is scared, acting threatened, behaving aggressively, running is circles trying to escape, is he trying to distract himself or is he paying attention to me. This will help me roughly establish a self confidence level or lack of self confidence level and a basic understanding of the horse’s threshold for stress and how they respond to that stress. Putting the horse in a strange enclosed environment with a strange handler can be very stressful for a young inexperienced horse. Or in the older horse how they respond may indicate poor past training or an anticipation of being worked a certain way.
I then want to see how he behaves when I do start to apply pressure. Does he get faster, slower, more distracted or more attentive? Does he get more expressive in his movements by kicking or rearing or bucking? This will help me judge the horse’s sensitivity levels and give me an idea about his desire for authority or need for leadership.
By controlling the horse’s movement I can also get an idea about his willingness to learn. Is he a confident horse that just wants to please, a scared horse that just doesn’t want to be hurt or a princess that just wants her own way? These are just three examples of how a profile will contribute to personalizing the approach I take to working with any horse. There are endless combinations of personality traits that if left unaddressed will affect the progress of the training.
I believe that there are three important parts to the training process, philosophy, approach and technique. Philosophy is the general intention about how results are achieved. For example natural horsemanship is a philosophy as is training through force and domination. Approach is how you present yourself when teaching. Do you come on strong and force an issue or do you work quietly and allow the horse time to work through his options. Technique is the specific teaching tool employed at any time. Technique is affected by approach and approach is affected by philosophy.
Philosophy is fairly constant but approach and technique must be flexible to achieve success. The more horses I work the more I believe in the necessity to modify any and all techniques based on the personality of the individual horse I am working. Being adaptable as a trainer is important. I have learned many things from many people and sometimes the technique just isn’t working the way it should. I try to adapt techniques that are fundamentally sound but just aren’t working. Sometimes by changing things it makes it easier for the horse to grasp the concept.
The horse personality will help me decide if I need to change and how if it is necessary. With the very withdrawn horse I may need to get louder or for the hyper reactive horse I may need to be smoother. I try not to over look anything about the horse when trying to figure out my approach. Things like facial expression, muscle tension, the comfort in how they move and the speed of departures and transitions all mean something. It is then trying to interpret what they mean in terms of training. A single gesture could mean many different things so it is important not to jump to conclusions. Look at the whole horse and even better SEE the whole horse. If what you are doing is not working do some research? Get too strong, get very quiet, move faster, move slower move smoother. Watch how the horse responds differently when you do something differently. If things change for the better you have successfully modified your technique. If things stay the same or get worse don’t quit, just keep changing. I am sure I have said this before but I will say it any way. The best piece of advice I was ever given about training horses was from Ray Hunt and he just said”think”.
&2008; Will clinging