Training for Success on the Trail

Training your horses around other trained horses is much more effective than training them alone. By creating a positive learning environment that is harmonious, your horse will begin his first lessons in a way that will support his state of mind. This will put him at ease, and he will not feel the need to be defensive.

This is a vital component to the well-started trail horse. There are so many factors that are incorporated into the vocabulary of a trail horse’s total language. The challenges, skills, hazards and demands required to be a safe, reliable mount dictate that they be very well prepared.

The first place thing to be addressed, is your horses nervous system. Having a few well-started and experienced horses around can help put your horse’s mind and body in neutral. His reactions will not be as panicked if he is being worked with horses that can help him adjust to the mental overload. Put him in your round pen with one or two saddled horses that won’t make a huge fuss when asked to lunge.

If he does blow up, it won’t be long until he notices the other horses being calm, and if they’re all seasoned horses, he should soon begin to imitate their behavior. Keep a long whip, with a small plastic shopping bag or a bandanna attached, with you to flag him if he gets edgy or grouchy and tries to kick out or avoid moving. Get them moving at a walk and a comfortable jog/trot before asking for the canter. Be sure to include turning them without being afraid of making the request.

Like the more seasoned horses he will need to learn to make his transitions smoothly. Give him a few opportunities to learn what you want. Moving your flag behind your back instead of out front will remove any chance of threatening gestures.

Observe each move your horse makes. Avoid any chance of overload to assure success in the long run. Take your time now and it will pay huge dividends when you need it in the future. Slow, systematic and thorough approaches to your goals will be collected by your horses mind, body and nervous system. Remember what he learns in these early stages he’ll keep and use for his entire life.

By setting up conditioning for his support system you will reinforces your class time, (round pen exercise, leading, saddling, bitting and ground work). Be as consistent as you can when feeding, cleaning their stalls, turn-out, grooming and training. This will help your horse understand your intentions to make them your trusted partners.

The horses already on this routine will transmit a signal of security to your new horse in training. Horses do better on a regular schedule and rhythm. While some people argue this can make your horses rely on you too much, make them spoiled or not know how to handle the unexpected, it has been my experience that a regular schedule will put them at ease.

Besides, aren’t our horses supposed to trust us as much as we want them to be trustworthy? How could we expect it by offering them anything less than our best effort. Ninety-nine percent is not good enough. Include them in everything you do.

If they’re not ready to ride or are in the early stages of carrying a saddle, lead them around the barn or stables when you do your chores. This way they get time to build a very important rapport with you that will eventually transfer to your advancing them to riding lessons. This is called the adapting phase of their education and it is a cumulative effort they will keep for future reference.

Horses started like this are more responsive and calm instead of nervous and reactive. Let your horse in on the secret by not making it vague or mysterious. Show him where you plan to take him. This is the horses culture. Their time is important and he needs all the help he can get to understand what his day to day life will be. Physical work is part of it but mental discipline must also be incorporated. It is perfectly okay to saddle him and tie him to a hitch rail and let him soak up what that means, too.

Horses need to learn to wait and be patient and calm. Don’t worry if he paws the ground repeatedly. Some horses need to fidget as a way to find out what waiting actually means. When he stops and is quiet, go over and stroke him with your hand and use a slow calm tone in your voice to reassure him that when he is still and good, he gets your reward of kindness and support. In time you horse will realize this is easier than being upset or anxious.

trail-tree-pathThere are volumes of information on how horses have been trained throughout history. Many horse cultures shared similar ways of achieving success with their horses and they studied horses long before videos and clinics showed us how it could be done.

Imagine yourself to be one of these ancient horsemen. The Apache Indians, the Mongolians, the Greeks and Romans were all accomplished riders because they needed to be. They used horses for survival and conquest.

Take the same approach, but use compassion and time instead of conquest and survival. Use your intuition and imagination. This will eliminate taking dangerous risks. During this whole process, be prepared to be humbled. Horses that frustrate, challenge and confuse us, very often are the same horses that have the most to teach us in the long run. Avoid short cuts no matter how tempting it may be. While getting bucked-off can level your cockiness, it can also have tragic results.

Research and study all you can to expand your horsemanship. Then take that knowledge and build on your skills with your riding experience. Expose your horse to all kinds of challenges before you hit the trail and you’ll both be ready for riding in real conditions; crossing obstacles, water, fallen trees, climbing steep hills, down hills, tricky paths and uneven terrain. It’s at this point that you’ll both be more confident because you’ve trained together through proper preparation. You never know when you’ll come across the dangerous horse or situation.

Real riding is intense and requires mutual fitness. You’ll both need conditioning and strength to achieve success and harmony on the trail. Having ‘coach’ horses around when you step up your training program can be great support for the horse in training. Some horses can be brutal and rather tough to get along with. There will be on occasion some ugly moments to try and get past. Having good back-up from friends and calm horses can help at these times. Face it, horses can hurt you and even themselves when the lessons get forced on them. Give them structure with a system of reward, release and relaxation.

Have rules that make sense to the both of you. Training without rules is much too demanding. Don’t push your authority, keep your purpose clear. Help him experience his fears and yours without going into a panic. Create a ride that strengthens your horses attitude. Be strategic, know what you intend to accomplish and where you want to stop the lesson. Show them the life they are going to lead by holding them and yourself accountable with responsible care, handling and training. Be a friend at all times … never an enemy. Bring temperance not temper to their education.

Do the best you can in all you do, from feeding and watering to grooming, leading, turnout, lunging, tacking-up and exercising under saddle. Have a moral sensibility to your horsemanship. Conduct yourself with calm expectations and sensible interactions with all horses even when they frustrate your last nerve.

Develop a code of ethics you would be proud of anyone adopting by having observed you. Avoid brutal people and methods, devices or gimmicks. If you have doubt, go inside yourself and ask what feels right. Meet challenges with understanding not quick fixes. Learn how to make decisions that serve both of you. Always do the right thing at all times when riding alone or in a group. Focus on success by shaping yourself and your horse. Ride with people seeking higher knowledge versus people who claim to have all the answers.

By giving strength to your horse and those around you, you’ll reap positive moments for life. And who knows, you may be asked to use your horse to help start a student or colt one day. Group work, a calm herd, positive environments make for fun and safe riding. No video can capture the concept of real horse training. Get out of the television and go tell your horse your vision. It can really be done, if you believe it.