Training horses: the whole way!
The Philosophy of Training Horses
Horse riding is perhaps unique as a sport and an art because not only must we train ourselves, we also have a responsibility towards training the horse.
Horse training is a complex and fascinating subject. Its basic purpose is simply to give us better control of our horse. Whether your ultimate goal is dressage training, showjumping, endurance racing or going for a hack in the countryside, successful rider communication must be established. Successful meaning that we can take the position of leader, at least the majority of the time!
This is basic horsemanship. Sadly many riders rarely experience the other end of the scale: the subtlety and delicacy of a connection between horse and rider that goes beyond the physical into the realm of energetic, even spiritual connection with another being. A union that creates a whole new entity.
More about our energy connection with the horse here.
Some of the horses we work with are so unresponsive to conventional training methods that we have had to completely reconsider our approach and expectations - see Horse Control: A New Dimension for a description of some such encounters.
In analyzing our progress with our own horses over time, one of the realizations we made was the importance of intention. Your intention is like a seed that you plant between you and your horse. What then grows from your partnership depends on the nature of this seed.
Ask yourself: What is my intention?
Why do I want to teach my horse to be controlled by me?
Is it because you want recognition through competitive success and so on?
Or is it because you really want to reach your horse, to connect in a way that is not only gymnastically beautiful, but allows you to express your love and dedication to the horse?
Most motivation for training horses boils down to either one intention or the other. Assuming your intention is the second option, if you keep it in mind when you have a training choice to make, you will become aware of the right action to take - the truth will always seek you out. If your motivation is the first option, this website probably isn't for you!
Different Approaches to Training Horses
One of the keys to success and harmony in all things is balance. This applies in all areas of our lives - balance in our diet, our minds, an our activities. Both on the grand scale and the specific.
Personally, our quest has been to find the right balance in all respects for our horses' lives, in both management and training.
The approach to horse training in the horse world in general seems to divide itself into two main groups.
On one side there is what could be described as natural horse training, which stems from the ideals of natural horsemanship.
For example, one of the basic principles of natural horsemanship is that horses are 'into pressure'. This HHT page takes a look at this concept from a different perspective.
Of course there is great diversity within this field - Mark Rashid is an example of someone from this domain with a very intelligent and intuitive approach - but the basic philosophy focuses on the psychology of the horse. Reaching their bodies (physical responses) by manipulating their minds. These methods can neglect the whole question of equine biomechanics. No one would enter a marathon or dance in a ballet without training their body first.
There are some who attempt to combine dressage and natural horsemanship, but this often comes down to the same choice to condition the horse's mind in order to achieve certain physical responses. This is not the same as undergoing a gymnastic training process with the horse, even though it may seem to result in the performance of advanced dressage movements. This article discusses the differences between these approaches: Dressage and Natural Horsemanship, and this article explains what we believe the true meaning of natural dressage is.
Training young horses is exactly the same, they must be strengthened physically over a considerable period if time to prepare them to be able to support the weight of a rider without suffering negative physical consequences.
The second approach to training horses could be referred to as the traditional methods of horsemanship which tend to focus on the physiology of the horse. Direct physical manipulation of the horse in its most primitive form to achieve the desired results.
Unfortunately these methods are often a violent domination which traumatizes the horse to the point where they will no longer question the rider's will, sacrificing their minds in order to use their body, and pushing their personalities deep inside them. This is summed up by the phrase 'horse breaking', still used to denote the initial taming and backing of young horses.
Correct dressage training is a kind of physiotherapy for the horse, a unique gymnastic art which brings about a deep physical and conscious connection between horse and rider. To understand the origins of dressage training click here.
This approach to training is based on the principle of earning the horse's trust and relaxation by making them more comfortable, in many different ways. This article explains some of the ways we can create comfort with horses.
In fact we didn't originally set out to design a system of how to train horses which addressed both the mental and physical nature of the horse, finding the balance between the two. Our system of training horses developed gradually in this way because every time there was a choice to make we put the horse's well-being first.
Our method of training horses reaches the their mind through the suppling, straightening and strengthening of their body in a process of relaxation, formation and ultimately empowerment. Go to What is real dressage riding?
for more on this way of riding, and see also: Achieving Suppleness in Horse and Rider.
We use the same principles of physical contact that horses use with each other to form bonds, as opposed to their threatening language of dominance which creates tension. We have developed an understanding of when the horse's central nervous system receptive to change, and physiological development becomes inevitable, even to the point of re-forming conformation.
All of this knowledge will soon be available in our e-course Training horses: the whole way, giving you a clear step-by-step guide to the training stages and principles that you can adapt to any horse. The key responses and landmarks along the way, as well as some of the complexities and difficulties you may encounter.
Relevant pages on Happy Horse Training that may interest you:
How To Train A Horse Without Force
Lunging A Horse Well: The Best Foundation For Training
Achieving Suppleness in Horse and Rider
Rider Communication: Relating To Your Horse with Integrity
The Origins of Dressage Training
Training Young Horses: Attributes in Trainer
Horse Control: A New Dimension
How To Train Horses
The Double Bridle Delusion
Natural Horse Training
Mark Rashid: Principles in Common
Natural Dressage - A True Definition
Dressage And Natural Horsemanship - What's The Difference?
Loading A Horse The Right Way
What does 'on the bit' really mean
What is real dressage riding?
Training Philosophy: A tale of two boats
The Independent Seat
Holistic Horse Health
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