Sunday, October 3, 2010

Training Horses like learning a Language?

I've been trying to articulate how my methods of training horses have changed over the last couple of years, thanks to a number of books and in particular Clinton Anderson. It's about teach that when a give a certain aid, this is what I want the horse to do. But isn't that what I've always done? Take for example teach a rein back. I would apply some pressure on the reins and a bit of leg and keep increasing the pressure until the horse would step back, then I would reward him. Over time I would hope to reduce the amount of pressure I'd require to get the rein back.

The new method is only subtly different. First I will teach the reinback from the ground, light pressure on the chest means go back, then when I'm on board apply gentle pressure with the reins at the same time a pulling a rope around the horses neck. The instant the horse makes any attempt to go back, I drop the reins to indicate that was the right thing to do. After a bit I'll stop using the rope and include moving my weight back and finally add use of the legs. This way I've broken down the problem into steps and never had to apply a lot of pressure to show what I want. This second approach has meant my horses have become much lighter and stop and reinback with much less resistance because they have learnt the language of the aids.

So I would say my old method was like arriving in a new country where nobody speaks my language and beyond speaking a bit slower and louder, I don't get any help in learning this language. It is a slow and painful process! The second method is like having a teacher coming with you a helping gain fluency step by step at a pace that suits you. So as a horse trainer, I am focusing more on my skills as a teacher than my skills as a rider.