KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

What Me Worry?

Where's the Airbag???


I enjoy it when newer handlers see a great clinician at work for the first time. They say, "It was like magic! He didn't make a single mistake!" Wrong!

Horse handling is full of mistakes. Even the pros make them. Each horse responds a little bit differently from another when first handled. An aid given just a little bit too strongly can cause the horse to "over respond," (e.g., roll away rather than just slow down). The handler being slightly out of position can cause the horse to "see" a different message than the one intended. So why does the professional clinician look so "perfect?"

First of all, the professional is constantly reading the horse. When he senses the horse responding incorrectly, he will make adjustments to his cues to correct things. If he blows it and can't make the correction, he simply goes with whatever response the horse gives him. A professional musician doesn't stop playing when he hits a bad note and neither does the professional trainer.

Let's pull this all into perspective for the less experienced handler working an inexperienced horse.

You are going to make mistakes. You have to in order to learn the relationship of your body language, position, energy, cues, etc.; to how the horse the horse is going to respond to them. Inexperienced horses are great teachers for new handlers because they haven't developed "filters" and tend to respond literally to the handlers' motions and cues. Thus they give the handler the opportunity to experience "cause and effect" and tune him/herself up as well as the horse.

"Isn't this going to confuse the horse???"

Not if you take the right approach. Let's say you are in the round corral or on a longe line and your intention was to slow a trotting horse to a walk. You apply pressure or energy in front of the horse, but instead of slowing down, he ducks and reverses. Your intention was to slow him down. Your message said roll-away. The horse was doing fine. What happened was a breakdown between your intention and your actual message.

Now, if you got upset because the horse couldn't somehow grasp your intention, you will break down the training process. The horse saw you ask him to yield, which he did, and it's not appropriate for you to get upset about it. The difference between the amateur and the pro is that the amateur "stops playing" on the bad note (or worse, punishes the horse) while the pro quickly realizes, "Ooops!," goes with the mistake and supports the horse in his new direction. Thus the horse (or anyone watching) never suspects that a mistake occurred and the handler can make an adjustment the next time he/she attempts the cue.

Filly's First Ride
(Bareback and in a Halter)

Learning to Cross a Bridge

In this analogy, the horse saw a request to roll away. Had the handler punished him for doing so, the next time he's going to become suspicious of the cue. Eventually, when the handler wants the horse to roll away, the horse is going to be desensitized and ignore the cue unless the handler "cranks up the volume." If you want your horses to remain responsive and light on the aids and cues, you need to accept that oftentimes you need to touch things up a bit and don't worry too much about it when the horse misreads you. This is how you learn.

With the exception of safety issues and troublesome horses who are intentionally "trying you out," don't worry too much about making mistakes. That's the only way you'll develop good timing and "feel." When the horse responds to what you are actually communicating instead of what you are intending, go with it, reinforce the correct response to your errant cue, briefly analyze and learn from what just happened and try it again. Remember, you are not just letting the horse refuse or disobey you. In this instance, you are clarifying your communications skills, making yourself more clearly understood and learning to read the horse.

Later when you are confident in your cues and the horse is really trying to avoid the task, you can worry about discipline.

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