Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price
I began riding as soon as I was able to walk. When I was 11 years old, I started to ride horses. I specialized in classical dressage and show jumping. Before I began college, I spent several months in Germany training horses. During my junior year, Philippe Karl and Bea Borrelle took me to Europe to see their work with horses.
As I completed my neuroscience degree at Brown University, horses were still a part of me. In fact, I did research on pain in horses while I was there and later apprenticed with a farrier. Cornell University is where I am currently studying veterinary medicine.
Through my experiences, I have learned a lot about horsemanship and the various ways it is done. I have noticed that riding and training are often seen as two separate entities. Riding a horse is different from driving a car. You cannot just push a button and expect your horse’s behavior to follow suit. Riding is more like having a conversation with your horse. You ask him to do something for you, and he decides if he will do it. This conversation is carried out through the language of the aids.
Unfortunately, many people learn how to use the aids while horses need to know what they mean. The aids are not the horse’s native tongue. He learns to communicate with us only by training. His understanding of the language is complicated because every rider speaks it differently, which can be confusing for horses. You can help your horse understand your aids by explaining them to him.
Training is the foundation
You don’t need to be a professional trainer in order to be effective. You do need to be capable of riding with your legs, feet, and hands independently in order to effectively train horses. These are essential for communication with horses. If you don’t use your aids consistently, such as if you accidentally use your legs to stop you from falling over, your messages to him will be confused and he won’t understand what you’re trying to communicate.
There are many books that have been written about horse training. Anyone who wants to improve their skills in this area will find it helpful to read the works of grandmasters. The basic idea behind training horses is that your horse is motivated by relieving the pressure on your aids. Your job is to tell your horse what you want. You can reward him if he agrees or starts to comply.
First, determine what your “ideal aid” should be. If I want to teach my horse to stop, then my ideal aid would be to sit back and lift my hands slightly. Although this motion is subtle, once my horse has been trained, I want him react to it.
I gradually increase the strength of my aid until the horse responds to it. If the horse doesn’t respond to my slight lifting of his hands, I gradually increase the strength until he does. My horse will eventually stop if my hands reach the right height. The act of raising a horse’s head forces him to stop. If you want to increase your horse’s strength, it is a good idea.
Once the horse is compliant, I stop using the aids and praise him. This is the only way he will be able to understand what I am asking. I don’t wait for him to do something perfect before I reward him. Instead, I reward him for little steps in the right direction. This will allow him to learn more quickly and will motivate him to achieve my goals. Millimeter by millimeter you still reach a meter.
It is important to gradually increase the strength of your aids. Let’s assume that your ideal aid strength is 1. The full-on version of the aid is 10. Your horse will feel helpless if you start at level 1 and then immediately jump to 10 because, regardless of how he reacts initially, he always receives all the aid’s force.
Start at level 1 and work your way up to 10. You might need to go up to level 10 at first, but this is not necessary. The horse’s response to your aids will decrease until he responds correctly to your level.
It is important to work together quickly and release aids as fast as possible. Your horse will be more likely to understand what you are asking for if there is a shorter delay between the horse’s actions, and the reward.
What great trainers do
Horses are complex creatures, so rewards alone are not sufficient to motivate them. Great trainers are able to engage with horses and motivate them to do well. What do great trainers do?
Philippe Karl, and Bea Borelle are two of the horsemen I was privileged to see first-hand. Karl was a Cadre Noir member, an equestrian performance team of France’s military riding school. He then left to teach others his non-coercive riding philosophy “Ecole de Legerete”. Borelle, a skilled circus trainer and licensed practitioner of Tellington TTouch for horses, is Karl’s highest-ranking instructor.
As I watched Karl and Borelle train, I saw that they had common methods for working with horses. Although we will never be able to master the techniques of these two skilled trainers, the following guidelines can help us work more effectively with horses.
1. Your aids should be delivered with precision and consistency. Your horse won’t be able to understand what you are trying to say if your aids change from one application to the next. You can help your horse perform better by improving your riding technique.
2. You can change up your workout routines. Horses become bored when they are asked to do the same exercise over and over again. For example, longeing can become monotonous. Your horse and you will have more fun if there are transitions or changes in direction between each turn. A good rule of thumb to keep your horse engaged and alert under saddle is not to ask him to repeat the same task three times.
Your horse will be stimulated by new activities. For example, if you’re a dressage rider or teach your horse to jump or perform circus tricks, it might be worth trying new activities. Your horse will be more focused if you do something different than your normal training once or twice per week.
3. Vary the rewards. Negative reinforcement–reducing pressure as soon as your horse responds correctly–is one way to reward behavior, but there are others. You can also motivate your horse by stopping and taking a rest. He will soon learn that the quicker he does things correctly, the more he will be able to get a break. If he does well, you can praise him with your voice. While positive reinforcement like food rewards is effective from the ground, they are not practical from the saddle. You may still find treats helpful in teaching a horse to learn faster or when he does something well.
4. Know when to stop. There are many things your horse can do wrong when learning a new skill. But there is only one thing he can do right. If he does not succeed, don’t punish him. Instead, you should stop him and let him know that he isn’t being rewarded. Give him a huge reward if he succeeds. If he fails to get it right, you can go back to the previous step of his training and ask him for something he is good at. Try the new exercise again if he does the previous step correctly. Your horse may not be ready for this step if he is still having difficulty.
Remember: Your horse will not obey you if he doesn’t do what you ask. He may not be able to understand what you are asking or he might not be physically capable. If your horse is not performing the desired behavior after several attempts, it is best to stop the exercise and concentrate on other tasks.
5. Your horse’s fear should be addressed. Punish your horse if he behaves badly because he is afraid. He will be more afraid if he associates the punishment with the fear. You can give your horse a treat. This will make your horse chew which will help him relax.
You can also ask your horse to do a physical task that is challenging, such as a shoulder-in, or a rein back. This will distract him from his fear and keep him busy. Although this isn’t a permanent solution, it can be used to distract your horse from a specific incident.
6. You must set your horse up for success. Do not expect too much. Start slow and focus on exercises that your horse is familiar with. Then, build on his knowledge in a logical manner. Only when your horse is ready, move on to the next exercise.
Remember to know when to stop. When you teach your horse something new, make sure you repeat it enough times so that he knows the correct direction. But don’t go too far. Although it may seem tempting to continue, it is important to not exhaust your horse. He will not be able to focus on new tasks if he is too tired. Each session should be kept short to ensure your horse is motivated and alert. A minimum of 10 to 15 minutes longeing and 30 to 45 minutes riding are enough. You can reward your horse for a good job by giving him small breaks. End each session with a positive note.
7. Show your love. Although I believe everyone begins riding because they love horses, I have come across people who think that being too kind is a sign that you are soft and a bad trainer. Horse training is not a place for punishment or aloofness. Great trainers show their horses how much they love them.
How can you do this? Spend quality time with him, even if it doesn’t involve work. For example, read a book in the horse’s stall or sit down on a chair on the lawn and watch him play. You can brush him for some fun. You can play with him before and after your ride. Every time you pass him, give him a carrot. Your personality and your horse’s will determine which gestures work best. You want your horse to look forward to you seeing him and enjoy the time with you. Remember that horses are our passion and we must play with them.