Building a bond with a horse and helping unlock its true potential spans beyond training.
Training is about the two of you embarking on a journey together, laying the foundations of mutual respect and clear communication. Training a horse requires patience, dedication, and commitment to ensure a long-term, productive and trusting relationship.
Join me as we explore the fundamental principles and practical steps of training your horse to help you make the most of this challenging but rewarding experience.
The Foundations Of Horse Training
Before we get to the specific techniques, we need to discuss the basic principles of horse training, including building trust, cultivating patience, and being consistent.
Leadership lies at the basis of these three principles. It’s your responsibility to let your horse understand that you are the leader in the relationship. Horses live according to a natural hierarchy and need a leader for their band – this is the role you play in the training relationship.
Therefore, set boundaries for the young horse to ensure that they will respect your personal space, directions and guidance in the long term.
Next, let’s look at the most important principles of horse training:
The bedrock of any productive and beneficial horse-and-human relationship is trust.
Horses are naturally intelligent, sensitive animals and keenly tuned to human emotions. Therefore, to help build trust, always approach the animal with calmness, confidence, and genuine interest.
Spend time talking to and grooming your horse to build a relationship. Engaging in low-pressure activities like hand-grazing also helps boost trust between you and the animal.
As with your relationships with human beings, building trust with a young horse also takes time and patience. Remember to prioritise your mutual understanding above training results.
Learning new skills or desired actions takes time.
Horses are complex animals, so be patient as your horse gradually grasps new commands and cues. Give the horse time to adjust to the training and celebrate every small victory along the training journey.
Getting frustrated will only hinder learning or progress and erode your mutual trust. Maintain your positive attitude and use every misstep as an opportunity for learning and refining your approach.
Consistency is key
As can be expected from these curious and intelligent animals, they thrive on routine and predictability.
Therefore, always use consistent cues and training aids with your young horse. Use positive reinforcement and regularly reward the animal to encourage and solidify their understanding of commands.
Avoid adjusting your training routine or trainers or introducing unpredictable changes that can cause confusion and hamper progress.
Horse Training: Essential Communication And Learning Styles
Every horse has its unique personality and individual learning style. Therefore, recognise and use the horse’s personality and learning attributes to your advantage.
Importantly, use the following basics to enhance your training:
Horses readily interpret human body language, so use it as a tool to improve communication. Always maintain a calm and confident posture and avoid sudden movements to prevent spooking the animal.
Use gentle pressure when touching your horse’s body to help foster your bond.
Also, use clear cues to guide the animal’s understanding.
Embrace different learning styles
Young horses learn differently – some excel at visual cues, while others respond better to physical or auditory signals.
Note which cues your horse finds easy to understand. Experiment with different training techniques to see which one, or a combination of techniques, works better for your horse.
Identify the horse’s preferred learning style and adapt your training methods to the animal’s strengths and weaknesses.
Respect the horse’s instincts
Horses have an inherent flight instinct. Therefore, to get the maximum progress from your training, respect the animal’s fears and sensitivities.
Handling horses takes skill and patience – avoid forcing your horse into a situation that triggers panic or overwhelms it. Patiently work towards desensitising the animal, helping build confidence and trust.
Training Your Horse: Technicalities
Horse training is a multi-faceted process and builds from the initial groundwork to the final stages of mounting and riding.
Each of these steps is crucial in building a strong training foundation.
Training begins with the groundwork. This helps lay the foundation of your horse’s training and establishes the basis of communication, trust and respect.
When doing your groundwork, focus on the basics like leading, haltering, tying, and standing when grooming. At this initial stage, introduce verbal cues and commands such as “whoa”, “yield”, and “back up” to direct the animal.
Use gentle pressure and reward your horse for following your directions.
Groundwork also plays a vital role in desensitising the animal to everyday situations and objects, helping reduce anxiety and building confidence. Therefore, use touch – your hands, a soft cloth, or pieces of tack – to make the horse comfortable and familiar with physical contact.
Once the animal is comfortable with regular physical touch, lay a blanket on its back to help it get familiar with the blanket’s weight and feel.
We use lungeing to strengthen the animal’s muscles and improve balance and coordination. Lungeing also helps you refine your communication with the animal – without the pressure of being mounted.
Properly use your lunge line, allowing it to act as a soft connection between your hand and the horse’s mouth. Use the lead rope and halter to direct your animal in the desired direction.
Train your horse in a round pen and focus on creating easy-flowing, rhythmic circles and clear transitions between gaits to help the horse maintain a calm and responsive demeanour. Use this circle work to guide the animal using vocal commands to help prepare it to listen to your commands.
Horse training’s ultimate goal is to ensure a safe, trusting and harmonious ride with the animal.
Ensure that your horse is relaxed and prepared before saddling and mounting. At this stage, the animal must be used to and comfortable with the various training and riding equipment, including lead ropes, halters, saddle pads, and the saddle.
Ask a fellow trainer to help you introduce the saddle to the animal to avoid spooking them. Gently place the saddle on the animal’s back, allowing it one to two minutes to get used to its feel and weight. If the animal is comfortable, gently fasten the saddle strap.
Tighten the saddle girth in intervals to allow the horse to get used to the increased pressure. Next, allow the animal to walk or jog with the saddle on its back to get used to the equipment.
Mounting and dismounting
Always approach the animal from the left and mount and dismount with care.
Use a mounting block to ease the process for you and the horse. Remember to reinforce positive behaviour with praise and rewards to help the animal relax.
This last step in the training journey is more than just carrying a rider.
Start with simple in-saddle exercises like leg yields and walk-trot transitions. Use clear cues and commands and reward your horse for its positive progress.
Riding should be a joyful and fun experience for you and your horse, so remember to prioritise the animal’s comfort and safety.
Avoid resorting to harsh aids or forcing the horse to deliver.
Tailoring Your Approach and Seeking Support
There is no one right, cookie-cutter approach to training a young horse.
Therefore, adapt and adjust your training approach according to your experience level and the horse’s age, temperament, and breed.
Remember to address any issues promptly to help maintain a positive training experience. If the animal exhibits behavioural issues, identify the root cause promptly to avoid long-term challenges.
Also, consult with experienced trainers for their guidance and input to help you along the journey. This is especially important when you tackle advanced manoeuvres or behavioural challenges.
Collaborating with others can significantly boost your horse’s progress and your training capabilities.
At what age should horses start their training?
Many equine experts recommend you begin training when your horse is at least two years old.
Horses in the two-year age range are physically strong and mature enough to start under the saddle. The training teaches them discipline and helps develop their joints and muscles.
Younger horses of two and under should not be trained as they are still maturing. Postpone training to avoid joint pain and bone spurs from developing.
Can I train a horse that is much older than two?
Yes, many horses are eager to learn and, therefore, can still be trained even if they are older than two years.
According to equine experts, horses older than four can still be trained while some horses over 10 are also trainable. Consult with your veterinarian to ensure the animal is healthy and strong enough before embarking on a training and riding regime.
Training a horse is a challenging but rewarding endeavour. Horse training is not just about teaching the animal a “new trick” but also fostering a deep understanding and respect between two beings.
It is an art that requires trust, patience, and consistency and helps forge a partnership built on communication and shared goals.
Remember, every horse is unique and your training process should be tailored to their individual needs, using praise and positive reinforcement to help bring out their best during training.
Understanding your horse will benefit both of you and lead to many future memories on horseback.