by Joe Pallas
Instant gratification just does not have a place in the world of horses if you actually love them. There is no way to build a strong foundation of respect and affection with your horse if you resort to pain as a training method. Make no mistake, what’s commonly referred to as “training equipment” are simply different means of applying greater force, or restricting the horse’s movements, to make a point.
Using martingales, gag bits, tie-downs, side reins, draw reins or any other variation of training equipment is admitting that you either don’t have enough time or experience to train your horse properly. As a trainer for twenty years, I made martingales from K-mart clothesline, owned a bit for every occassion, and had stuff that didn’t even have a name. How many of you know what a Running W is?
Could a concert pianist become proficient in 30 days? In 90 days? Would their instructor be able to speed up their learning curve by making the piano student wear special gloves that either poked or shocked their fingers when they weren’t curved correctly? Barbaric, you say. It takes time…it takes practice… it takes years to become an accomplished pianist. Well the same is true when training a horse.
Horses can learn the basics in 60-90 days; it all depends on the level of communication and relationship between the horse and trainer. It takes years for a horse and rider to develop performance proficiency equivalent to the concert pianist. In some disciplines a trainer can get a horse ready to show in less than a year. However, even the best reining trainer needs nearly two years to prepare a futurity prospect. Dressage trainers don’t talk about training time in terms of months, as do most trainers. Dressage horses spend years in pursuit of excellence.
Can there be a place for training equipment? Sure. Just as there is a time and place for surgical instruments. The circumstances must be appropriate and the hands using them must be skillful. But, even so, using this equipment is still just taking a shortcut. Experienced trainers understand the trade-off and accept the outcome.
I’ve been training a three-year old reining bred filly, off-and-on for the past year, mostly off. She started out as a serious contender for the bronc-riding circuit, but over time we’ve come to have a great fondness, even love, for each other. Lately I’ve been working on getting her to stay soft in her face. If the face and neck are soft, the whole body will be compliant and easy to frame.
Well, when she decides to resist, her habit is to stick her nose up and out and brace her neck. Being a stout little filly, there’s no human muscle that can pull her around if she’s not in the mood. I was tempted to grab a martingale and maybe even a twisted wire snaffle. Until I remembered that our lessons have been sporadic, at best. She really wants to get along; I just hadn’t given her the opportunity to really understand what I was asking. The failure was mine. After adjusting my attitude, I kept at it for just three days in a row, using a show legal snaffle and good old split reins. And… she got it. I could have made her give in about five minutes. But what would she really have learned? To give in to pain, and that I was not trustworthy as her leader.
If your goal is to build an amazing relationship with the horse that nickers to you each morning when you go out to feed, take the time to learn the right way to train your partner. Enjoy the journey. Savor each ride. Keep learning. Be the person your horse hopes you are.
Lynn Baber is a business coach, speaker, writer and retired equine professional. She shares the lessons learned in thirty-five years at the business table and round pen with her clients and readers. Highly credentialed in issues of leadership, customer relations and most things equine, Lynn has a unique perspective not found elsewhere. Whether the topic is customer service or training stallions, Lynn brings years of experience to presentations and articles. Visit Lynn at http://baberresearch.com or http://AmazingGrays.us