Believing in Your Horse: Turn Training into Knowledge

by Robert M. Liner

Bucking, rearing, bolting, barn sour, kicking, biting, fidgeting! How do you solve these crazy horse issues?

These questions are very common and there is a vast amount of information on these subjects, people want answers to their questions and they want them quick.

While the answers may come quick, the solutions do not. And you know what? That’s okay. Let me clear that up for you. If there is a horse issue and it has become a nuisance, or even worse a matter of personal safety, that issue can be your greatest teacher. And your horse is the greatest teacher you will ever have. We can begin by listing two categories of horse owners and the solutions that follow.

First, you have the beginner and the green horse. For both participants in this relationship everything is new, exciting and sometimes fun. There is lots of wide-eyed amusement, intrigue, and curiosity. There is also frustration, hurt feelings and even bruised body parts.

This is where attempts to train the new horse often turn to anger and borderline abuse. Lots of well meaning advice givers are factored in and while the horse may respond, no real learning is taking place and a trip to the local horse expert is usually the next stop, and often that turns into either a financial disaster or a recommendation to get another horse. Not always, but many of us have experienced the above scenario either directly or indirectly.

The next case scenario involves the already been down that road or previously described, except this time both horse and owner know what’s coming. The owner is bitter and suspicious of being taken advantage of and the horse is pretty sure he’s not going to respond to my well meaning attempts, because humans with trainer attitudes mean little or nothing to his way of doing things. Now of course this isn’t always the case, but it’s two of the most common examples. So what do we do when we’ve reached this conclusion? The first thing to do is don’t panic, get frustrated or lose hope, it’s all going to work out.

Why do humans want to train horses and maybe we should examine further why would a horse let themselves be trained? The answer may surprise you. Obviously, we want to enjoy our horse investment and do it in a safe methodical manner that ensures our well being, as well as the horses. But what motivates us to even believe that’s possible?

Many horse owners ultimately suffer so much from doubt that it can actually be done that they don’t understand that, that is the main reason it never works out. Yes, it sounds unbelievably strange that someone would buy a horse, invest in training, and not really trust that it will work, but it happens frequently. People with this frame of mind suffer from the looking for something or someone to blame syndrome. I’ll admit that I have been a part of that process many times in my life, and you know what? I didn’t get very far, but it didn’t take a frying pan over the head to come to that realization. I just started over and got to asking a better quality of questions.

The answer to why we want to train our horses is simple. We want to enjoy what we perceive as a perfect past time. Maybe that includes the blood, sweat and tears of round pen work, halter breaking (versus breaking halters), first time saddling, ground driving and bravely taking the first ride. The money we spend on feed, tack, trailers, not to mention clinics, books and videos all seem worth it. We learn about farriers, veterinarians, trailers, hitches, hay sources, the best trails to ride and even groups to ride with. But what it all comes down to, is it’s more about us than the horse or anything else.

Sure we like to see ourselves sacrificing our time and lifestyles to care, clean, and manage our four legged friends, and while it feels noble to do these things even when the weather, our health or even our personal relationships with friends and family members are strained, it’s not about our horses, it’s about us and that’s okay.

Many times I’ve been asked have I ever met a horse that could not be trained? My answer for the past fifteen to twenty years has always been the same, No. I’ve never met a horse that couldn’t be trained, but I’ve sure met my share that had no use for what they’ve been taught. It takes a lot of desire on both sides of the class room to stay committed to an educational experience. Teaching and learning involves huge amounts of time, information, feedback and details for it to be safe and long lasting.

Some horses like riders will easily adapt to training and within a short time, from just a few days to a couple of weeks or months, show great aptitude for a competent riding future. Others can resist and avoid all efforts over many grueling and intense months of methodical, persistent attempts at training with no sign of potential. Then one day they’ll just click with the program and act like it was you they were waiting on instead of the other way around, those moments can be rewarding but they can test your soul. That test is what the ego despises because that’s where many trainers reach for methods that only cause disturbance in the horse training universe. Hobbling horses for restraint, putting them on the ground with force, covering them entirely with a tarp on a hot day is not teaching a horse anything. If a horse is not learning then the teacher is not teaching, but that’s where the real growth and knowledge begins.

Everything I do with horses could be described as serving my needs, being selfish is putting it in more honest terms. When I turn a horse from what was previously described as an “untrainable idiot” into a gentle well started school horse kids could ride that’s fun, the praise and admiration feel good. Helping a horse grow from being fearful of life, people, places, himself, trailer, stalls, farriers and me, to a partner, is one of the best feelings in the world but I do it because that feeling helps me. My self-esteem, self worth and confidence get a payoff. I believe that why many of us do what we do whether it’s with horses or anything. We do it for what it does for us. Is that bad or wrong? I trust it’s not, and if I never compromise a horse or student for my own personal greed, the journey of learning and teaching with horses is richer and free of egotistical obstacles.

Horses picked me to teach. My path was to follow what they could show me in life. My direction is chosen by those lessons. Do horses need us, do they improve from our interaction and contributions to their lives? I feel strongly they do. Do they need to be ridden, shown, raced, displayed and paraded? Who can honestly say for sure. But I do believe that if we can allow ourselves real appraisals of what our true intentions are for them and with them, we will honor horses everywhere without fear, greed, guilt or danger. The years of hard work, joy and success with horses are helping me gain experience.

That experience is turning into knowledge that has lead to wisdom, wiser choices that have made me realize that horses were put here on the planet to help us and ultimately heal us. After many centuries of trying to do everything to them, from eliminating them to improving them, from trying to make them obsolete; the horse is and always will be, the best work partner and environmentally sound form of transportation. My challenge is always present from remembering to stay safe, to not ever feeling dominant or superior – no matter what moment yields – luck or so called mastery. I’m not the gifted human that makes horses reliable or successful in the show ring. The horse has the gift and it takes my responsible hands to protect it.

There is no technique, method, style, discipline or person that is more effective than another. Horses will only respond to purposeful kind souls, gentle hearts, aware minds and healthy bodies. You don’t have to be able bodied, a certain gender, race or ranch raised to teach them. It’s alright to ask any question until you get the answer you are searching for, but more than anything, don’t be attached to outcomes, your ego or one philosophy.

Sometimes when it doesn’t seem to be working out or coming together the way you thought it should or ought to, ultimately, that may be the best outcome. From that you’ll learn volumes, if you are willing not to give up on your horse. Avoid dumb risks, dangerous situations and unhealthy stress, but the best advice I could give you in closing is this, pleasure over excitement makes for the best ride.