Thoughts on Training

An interesting session during a Herbermann clinic dealt with handling horses from the ground. Erik helped me with a particularly difficult (previously mucked up) horse and it was touch and go as to who was going to be first to back down - the horse or Erik. It provoked an interesting discussion as to how much one should confront a horse that is going to be handed back to someone with less experience and confidence. Personally, I would not have liked to have got into as much confrontation with a horse because I am not sure that I would have been able to handle the situation effectively. I have my own ways of achieving my aims and while they may not be perfect, I have confidence in them. To challenge a horse and "lose" merely shows the horse how weak we are and a strong minded or "lead horse" is likely to take advantage of that situation. However, in the hands of an experienced person like Erik, a great deal of ground was covered in a short period and the horse has greatly improved as a result.

So here is the question: As a rider/owner, should we ask (allow?) a trainer to go beyond what we are prepared to do ourselves? If we have doubts about our own ability to work on the same lines, should we voice those doubts or just have faith in the trainer. Furthermore, as trainers should we take the horse to a higher level than the rider/owner is prepared to work towards themselves? Should we sacrifice the horse's progress for the rider's lack of ability or should we push ahead with what we know the horse needs and hope that the rider will catch on to the idea? Like any relationship, a horse and rider can exist in total harmony without any confrontations provided that both horse and rider agree to the same things. (We don't jump if it's more than 2 foot; we have only 2 speeds, dead slow and stop; we always gallop in this field; we never bend to the right). Of course, when another rider tries to change the status quo, all hell can break loose and an apparently amenable horse can turn very belligerent in deed! This is a strong case for letting "sleeping dogs lie".

However, if the owner/rider wants to progress, he or she must be prepared to work with the trainer to improve his or her skills to the same level as the horse. If they have strong doubts about being willing or able to continue along the same lines as the trainer, it is very unlikely that any permanent progress will be made by either horse or rider. No matter how hard the trainer works with the horse or how successful he or she is, the work will always be undermined by the negative attitude of the owner/rider. Where this is most common is when an inexperienced rider takes on a young horse. At this stage of development, the horse needs positive leadership and if the rider has not the skills or confidence to provide it, both horse and rider will suffer. The trainer is also frustrated because he or she knows what the horse needs and would have no difficulty in providing the necessary leadership to enable the horse to progress with confidence. Without that leadership is likely that neither horse nor rider will progress as quickly as they would if they had different more experienced partners. It does not imply that either the horse or the rider is "bad", just that they are not helping each other to progress.

This doesn't just happen to novice riders. Any rider or trainer can meet a horse that is beyond their capabilities and it takes as much guts to admit one's own deficiencies as it does to rise above them. Sometimes it is just a simple matter of not being able to "click" with a particular horse. Other times it is outside influences such as the horse needs working every day and a stressful full time job may make that impossible. Either way it is important to be honest with yourself/your trainer/your pupil, to give you and your horse the best possible chance of success

So next time you, as a rider, hit a problem, ask yourself:

  • "What am I prepared to do to overcome these problems?"

    Next time you, as a trainer, hit a problem, ask yourself:

    • "Has this rider got the will to overcome these problems herself?"

      If you hesitate to answer these questions, perhaps now is not the time to push ahead "Let sleeping dogs lie" for a bit longer until the rider is "hungry" for that next step up the ladder of horsemanship!

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