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Basic Training 101

PATIENCE... Patience is the key to any training program at any age or level. A horse has built in motion sensors in their eyes and e-motion sensors in their makeup. Horses can detect negative thinking patterns of predators (humans) or "threatening movements" if you become anxious or in a hurry or frustrated. When they sense a lack of patience and confidence from you (their protector), you create a horse that will not cooperate when you want them to because they get nervous about what might happen to them. Being in a hurry to confront and catch them, or in a hurry to load creates a fear of being "after" them, which instills resistance. A clear mind with a lot of patience and caring about the animal with time to wait if need be is of greatest necessity in accomplishing your training from a willing equine partner. THEY DO KNOW WHAT YOU ARE THINKING, WHAT YOUR MOTIVES ARE, AND WILL ACT ACCORDINGLY! Let them see and feel your patience and this will calm their spirit.

BEING IN CONTROL... You must become the dominant herd member of your horse without abuse or aggression. You must be assertive and exude confidence in yourself. Don't attempt a training technique if you can't accomplish or don't understand it. To become the "head" of their pecking order and gain their respect and willingness to cooperate now and in the future, you must see that they always say "yes" to whatever you ask of them. Each time they respond with a "yes", you have put yourself at the head of their order and they become submissive to you. If they ever say "no" and get away with it, they become the head and you are the submissive one because your were intimidated. If all you can do is ask them to go forward and stop, stand still to be brushed, or longe in a circle until you say stop, you have accomplished a "yes" response and can build on that as you begin to ask them for other responses from the ground or in the saddle more clearly. Try only one thing at a time until they say "yes" more willingly, then you will have taken the leaders position and they take the role of the willing student trying to please you. Start small and build slowly as you achieve each request successfully.

ANGER CREATES CONFLICT... The worst thing you can do with your horse is to get angry at him because you were accidentally hurt or he didn't do what you wanted when you wanted it. The horse's survival instinct of fight or flight is invoked the moment your anger appears. You have just told him that "you better get your defenses up, because I'm attacking you", therefore, he does. He no longer sees you as a patient, trusted leader, due his respect, but as an attacker (predator). You invoked his "fight" response and it will undo all that you accomplished up to that moment once you've lost his teachable, approachable, willing to please state of mind. He is left remembering that you hurt him and scared him for a reason that doesn't make any sense. You should discipline a horse for "purposeful" bad behavior that he knows he is not to do. Discipline is not an emotion but a training response. Anger brings fear that tells him to fight or flee to save himself. A guideline for discipline and reward is the 3 second rule. In order for a horse to understand why he is being disciplined or rewarded, it must be done within 3 seconds. If you are brushing his rear and drop your brush and leave for 5-10 seconds to retrieve it and come back to start at the same place, he won't know that you are still there. Unless you give him notice or keep a hand on him, he may startle or even kick when you return. If more than 3 seconds elapse, go back around to his shoulder speaking to him as you approach to let him know that you have returned.

An inappropriate but very typical response from a rider who was just bucked off, is that he gets up, dusts himself off, goes back to catch his hors and proceeds to curse and beat him in anger for what he just did. When the rider beat his horse after 3 seconds passed, the poor horse says, "What did I do? And why is he beating me for no reason? I guess he is just a mean person who hates me! Well, I don't like him either and I will get as far away from him as I can!" Anger destroys relationships and clear understandable communications between the horse and rider.

KEEP LESSONS SHORT... 15 - 20 minutes or until you get a desired response, then release pressure or reward with a "GOOD BOY!" or stroke his forehead. Then go on to something else or stop for the day. They will seek their reward in release of pressure each time more quickly. Don't make him do the right thing over and over as there is no incentive for the horse in that. He will become weary of it and may resent the training lesson. Make the right response rewarding. Learning and remembering will take place and they will do it quicker next time.

As an example, if your teacher worked with you patiently to help you understand how to successfully set up a computer program and then she said you could go to recess now, you would enjoy the accomplishment of learning and doing. However, if the teacher said, "Now set up 10 more programs exactly the same so I can be sure you have it." You know that you will miss recess because history class is next - - - I think we all know which teacher we would prefer! The mind of a horse is like that of a 2 year old child, their attention span is short and winning your approval can be their reward.

CLEAR YOUR MIND BEFORE STARTING YOUR TRAINING DAY... Clear your mind of any thoughts except how much you really care about your horse and want to communicate with him on his level of understanding. Try not to be critical or have an inflexible agenda. Building trust and respect between you is your goal and having fun doing it should be the method. Allow your horse to be a horse by not disciplining for responding in a way that would be his nature, like kicking at a biting fly when you want him to stand still for the farrier. Instead, spray him for flies first then start shoeing to avoid setting up a conflict situation. If you were beaten every time you were close to your car door, you probably wouldn't like the car. Your horse won't like the trailer much either if he gets beaten whenever you want him to get into it.

DON'T OVERDO TRAINING... You can do too much imprinting and too much bonding with young, untrained horses. They can become spoiled and lose respect for you as a person. They may even begin to take advantage of your dominant herd member position by literally pushing you aside, acting stubborn, ignoring whatever you say, and/or challenging everything you ask them to do. They aren't dogs to be coddled and played with so much that they forget your status as dominant herd member. It is hard to retrain a horse that has been handled too much in the wrong way. Horses are like kids and both need rules and guidelines to know their place under you supervision and develop respect for your authority, When they get away with intimidating you and taking advantage of you - then all is lost and your horse (like a child) can become a "delinquent". REMEMBER AND MAINTAIN YOUR LEADERSHIP ROLE AT ALL TIMES!

THINK LIKE YOUR HORSE... Horses have three "survival" instincts and if you understand them, you will be more charitable in your training. When you think like a horse instead of like a human, your progress will be achieved more easily, safely, and will be much more enjoyable for you both.

1. Herd Bound... Horses find their safety in the herd (two or more). The weak are picked off and killed by predators in the wild, but by staying in a herd, they can fight off their enemy. Humans are seen as predators, so, you need to change that perception by not going after your horse or confronting them face to face. Understand that they have a great fear of leaving the herd (their place of safety) to go out and face any predator alone.

2. Pecking Order... All herds have a dominant order of who is first to eat etc., because aggression is rewarded in the wild (survival being the reward there). You must become their dominant herd member or they will dominate you. Again, any time you get a horse to say "yes" to whatever you ask him to do, no matter how small, they are being submissive to you. Understand that feeding time is NOT the time to play with them or train, as aggression is rewarded. At that time, they will see you as another herd member competing for their hay or grain, so design a way to feed them so you are in a safe place while they are waiting for their food. By making them stand back and wait for you to feed them, you are also teaching them that you are the dominant herd member. EVERY TIME YOU ARE AROUND YOUR HORSE, TRAINING TAKES PLACE... GOOD OR BAD! Maintain your control of the pecking order. Horses, like kids, really do like knowing the boundaries and where they fit into the herd's pecking order. Consistent discipline and reward should always go together for effective training. There are no short cuts or quick fixes, so don't even try any!

3. Fight or Flight... Survival is their most important goal in life, so when you ask for a hoof to clean or shoe, remember that you are asking them to let you take away their only means of survival from predators, because without all four feet on the ground ready to go, their flight mode has been disabled. Help them learn that you are not going to put them in danger by patiently starting small and rewarding them when they lift it even a little.

EFFECTIVE REWARDS... Voice, scratching, sometimes grain. They love kind words of praise! (Don't we all)! If you ever speak or act in anger against them, you will provoke their fight or flight response. Physically, you will lose in the area of progress! Understand what frightens them making them want to run away to save themselves and slowly introduce the outside stimulus in small ways until they accept it as safe and non threatening.

POSITION AND TIMING... Position and timing are where you start any time you are around your horse to pet, feed or train (riding, loading, longeing, etc.) Because of the way a horse sees, (with his eyes on each side of his face working independently from each other and/or together according to the position of obstacles), we can control his every step and movement according to where we stand or move or use our body language in a stance or with a look or an arm or hand movement.

POSITION. Depending upon where you stand , move, or how you approach your horse, you can cause him to move, stop or turn the direction you want when loading, free longeing, teaching to lead, backing up or doing lateral work with touching and position, placing his feet and body into a desired position or just for you to be in a safe place when you are around your horse. Use the five following general rules to begin understanding this very important training tool.

1. If your body is in front of your horse's shoulder, he will tend to move backward or away from you.

2. If your body is behind his shoulder, he will tend to move forward and away from you.

3. If your stand directly behind your horse's tail, he will tend to move straight forward away from you.

4. If you stand at the side of your horse's belly (flank), he will tend to swing his hip sideways, away from you and turn his neck and head into (facing) you.

5. If you stand directly in front of your horse's head and are facing him, looking him in the face and eyes, he will tend to move straight back away from you.

TIMING is either good or bad and we have to make that decision on whether it is the right moment to act or to wait. You must learn to read your own horse's eyes, body language and surrounding circumstances each time you are handling your horse. If you don't have your horse's willing attention as you begin training or riding for various reasons, then the timing isn't right...SO...Take a few minutes and create a good atmosphere where he is calm and listening, so you will both have a good experience...NOT a bad one!