Friday, February 4, 2011

Here's last weeks column...

What the Horses Taught the Horse Trainer

By Janet Huntington

I spent roughly 15 years training horses. For about 10 of those years horse training was the only occupation on my tax return.

I started out my years as a trainer thinking I knew how to train a horse. I ended my career with the understanding I would never know enough. I rode some nice horses and some rank ones and started more youngsters than I like to think about.

I met people who shouldn’t be allowed in a barn and people who were born to be on a horse. Most, including myself, came in somewhere in the middle.

Training horses trained me more than my entire education in the traditional school system. Sorry Mom. Sorry Dad. It’s true. Most of the lessons I learned apply directly to the rest of my life.
Here’s some of the biggest lessons I learned.

* If I can just shut up and wait, most problems will work themselves out.

* Sometimes a quick kick in the rear can solve a lot of arguments.

* Every year I get older it hurts a little more to hit the ground.

* When your horse bucks you off, you don’t have to get back on right away. The problem will be waiting for you the next time you ride.

* Sometimes you need to walk away and let a youngster sort things out on his own.

* If your mind isn’t on your horse, his won’t be on you.

* Some of the best riders I know shouldn’t be allowed near a horse.

* Some of the kindest intentions are the hardest on horses.

* A horse is your best friend until somebody else starts feeding them.

* If you yell at a horse for kicking his stall door, he’ll kick harder. If you ignore him and pass by without feeding him he’ll keep his feet where they belong in no time.

* When a horse has a vice like playing with her tongue, if you tie her mouth shut she’ll just find another vice.

* A horse knows exactly where her tail is all the time. There is no such thing as an accidental swat in the face.

* The more a person tells you how much he knows about horses, the less he actually does.

* The people who will argue the hardest about a horse’s stupidity are usually the ones who got scraped off on a tree.

* Training a horse without training the rider will not convince people you are any good.

* Finding holes in your training is the best thing that can happen to you. Once you go back and fill them in your program can only improve.

* When your horse gets stuck, go back to the last place he understood. The next step is where you confused him.

* Horses will forgive incredibly huge mistakes.

* If all you get done today is to catch your horse and lead him around the barn, it’s still more than leaving him standing in his stall.

* If a client’s horse is going down the tubes with a bad run, I would rather zero a maneuver and shoulder the blame than have the owner be angry with his horse.

* A horse will only rise to his rider’s level. He’ll sink to it too.

* Horse shows help you see where you stand.

* Trail riding teaches you and your horse to deal with the unexpected.

* Riding bareback shows how balanced you are.

* A horse who sniffs your coat sleeve is curious and friendly. A horse who sticks his nose in your back and pushes is dominant and rude.

* If the horse really, really screws up it always ends up being rider error.

* The definition of a gentle horse is a horse nobody has made mad yet.

* We need a horse to walk, trot, canter, stop, turn left, turn right and back. Everything that follows is a variation of the same theme.

* Teaching a horse lateral work before he can lope is like teaching a toddler to skateboard before he can walk.

* Horses have no guile. If he’s dishonest it’s because his trainer set the standard.

Learning these facts, most of them the hard way, has made me a kinder, more patient person in all of my dealings, with horses and the people I meet along the way. I think everybody can benefit from some time with a horse.

Of course horse training is really pretty simple. I mean, it’s not rocket science. The man who taught me to train reined cow horses summed it up in one neat phrase.

*If it sticks out, poke it.


DarcC said...

Excellent summation clearly gleaned from years of experience. My daily dose of learning :)

Juli said...

I love the training philosophy. I am going to have to use that, I hope no one minds.

Anyway, why is doing lateral work before teaching them to canter wrong? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, since they usually make a lot of sense.

My five year old is just starting his canter work. He was seriously butt high until about three months ago, and had no balance at all, so we didn't canter. And I'm a wimp, and didn't want to canter a horse that couldn't balance himself on a lungeline. But, he's going beautifuly walk/trot and does some basic lateral work such as leg yeilding and the beginning of a shoulder in and haunches in.

The rest of your learnings, I very much agree with.

manymisadventures said...

Great list...and I loved that one-sentence summary!

Minus Pride said...

well said, I may have to print these out and stick them to my forehead so I can look at them when my young horse dumps me next time.
I would be curious to learn why no lateral work before loping. Simply out of curiousity, not argument. Thanks Mugs, I'm really enjoying all the posts from you lately!!!

HorseOfCourse said...

Many wise words. Just loved that last sentence!

nagonmom said...

Nice. I bet you could write further on each point. And alot further on the last point!

FD said...

I love , "if it sticks out, poke it." Admirably succinct.

Juli, I don't know if mugs feels the same way, so take with a pinch of salt. But from a dressage pov, I never teach true lateral work until I have a consistent contact, the horse is working forwardly and freely through his back in all three gaits, and I have established a degree of control over stride length, without loss of impulsion. I don't like to teach lateral work before that because I find pushing for sideways before the horse has truly learned to go forwards creates problems with connection and impulsiveness and can even teach the horse to disconnect to evade. Different people's experiences may vary, but mostly in my experience, if the horse isn't established in his paces, the lateral work you get is not correct lateral work.

Breathe said...

This is the best post. I appreciate the sniffing distinction. My boy sniffs me often and I needed to hear that it's not some secret domination code I hadn't broke -(he doesn't bump me).

I'm sending some friends here to read what they need to read...

mugwump said...

Thanks FD- you were clearer than I could be.
WTC, I want my horse to feel safe carrying me at any speed.
In order to give them confidence I stay out of the way and let them figure out how to pack me around in all 3 gaits.
I think a horse needs to understand left, right and stop before I contain them.
I want them to guide with forward motion before I ask them to move laterally.
Learning to ride a butt high horse just makes you tough...

SillyPony said...

I'd like to hear you elaborate on:
"Some of the best riders I know shouldn’t be allowed near a horse."

And the sniffing/pushing difference is what you taught me long ago when you took my training question about Junior and his mouthiness. Our relationship has much improved, as well as his manners towards me. Thanks again!

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Wow! These are great! Can I share?

Good way to start the mid-day!


Heidi the Hick said...

Here is your warm fuzzy for the day:

I am going to print this out. Twice. One for my training binder and the other one laminated and hanging on the barn wall.

So true and so well worded! Thank you!!

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Thought of one while riding/training my new guy...

"Close enough does count with anything that could wear horseshoes!"


mommyrides said...

I'm going to print this one out as well and read it every time I go and work my horses!!!

Thanks Janet and FD for helping me understand why having a solid W/T/C is so very important.

EvenSong said...

A great synopsis of training, all in one page!
btw,I have an award for you guys over on my blog. You may take it or leave it as you please. Just wanted to send some new readers your way, and thank you for a great site.

mugwump said...

Evensong- You guys? It's just me on the Chronicles...but thanks!

Jen said...

We may not have attended the same "schools", but I'm pretty sure we're following the same lesson plans *grin*. I nodded and smiled pretty much the whole way down the list. Most excellent post.

half dozen farm said...

Boy, oh boy. What a gem this is! So glad I found it! Now to make it into a poster! :)

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