You are your horse’s personal trainer. You become entitled to it as soon as you acquire a horse or become his rider. Maybe you have already a lot of experience in training horses. By this I mean that you are already acquainted with the basic training up to at least the medium level. Or maybe you are less experienced.
Training and succes
The training of a horse is a rather big responsibility. And of course, the training of a horse is not a linear process with steady improvement. It is (and that’s a pity) not going better every day. There are ups and downs. Sometimes everything seems to fall in place and it seems like you are really one with your horse. And sometimes it feels more like the WIFI connection between you and your horse is dropped.
It is a great honor and responsibility to train a horse
I consider the training of a horse as a great honor. It is awesome to teach such an impressive animal to use his body correctly and to become a happy athlete. And besides becoming athletic, the horse has also to be well educated, to have the right working attitude, and to be polite.
But how can you motivate those 600 kg to work happily together with you, and how can you, the personal trainer, learn the most efficient way to do it? It is your responsibility to deepen your knowledge about how a horse is learning.
A training is a conversation
Personally I consider every training and handling with my horse as a kind of conversation. On the phone, live, WhatsApp, it doesn’t matter, but well a real conversation. With senders and receivers, WIFI connection and connecting problems. You are asking a question (using aids) and your horse is expected to answer nicely. His reaction gives you information about how to continue the conversation (training). Then you can ask the next question and adjust if needed.
When you use an aid, you are asking a question to your horse. To do this, you are using your body position, weight-, leg-, and rein aids. Also your voice is an important part of it. As soon as you start a conversation with your horse, it is important to consider the way you are asking questions.
The 1, 2, 3 rule
Shouting or pushing immediately the Caps Lock (giving strong aids) is not a very charming way of beginning a conversation, I think.
I developed a rule for myself, a rule that I always apply: I give three different aids. The first aid is light, for example the light and short leg aid given when asking walk from halt. If the horse is not reacting to this whispered question, then you can ask it again a little bit louder (stronger). Because he didn’t react to the first light question, you need to adjust the way you are asking.
The second question is a clearer aid. Use your leg aid again, but somewhat stronger, and for example quickly twice, tick, tick, with your leg. Many horses would now understand that something has to happen and they would begin to walk.
If you have a horse that is not reacting to the second stronger aid, then use the third aid. This is your last aid, thus it has to be very clear and your horse must understand that something needs to happen. Use again the second aid (the double tick tick) and to make it even clearer, use for example your whip and tap your horse just behind your leg.
Don’t give twice exactly the same aid
Don’t give twice exactly the same aid. Don’t keep applying an aid if your horse is not answering. In that case you need to adjust the question in order to make your horse change his reaction. He won’t suddenly change his reaction to your constantly driving legs.
Action - reaction
Then your horse’s answer. First it is crucial that your horse is giving an answer. Maybe it is not the correct answer, but at least there should be an answer. No reaction means that there is no communication, and without communication there is no discussion or training possible. Communication is, for the sake of clarity, sending and receiving. Thus, it not only about the rider sending, but it is also about listening and staying open to your horse’s reaction.
In summary, there are three options: no answer (very wrong), an incorrect answer (wrong), and a correct answer (yes, a 10!). An almost correct answer is not exactly what you meant, but at least it is a good beginning, and that is also what you sometimes need during the training of your horse.
How is your horse learning?
And now the big answer to the main question: how is your horse learning? You need to teach your horse what the correct answer is. It is as simple as that. Nothing more and nothing less
But in practice … easier said than done.
You need to be very consistent. Always reward your horse when he is giving the correct answer, and make it clear to him when he is not. That is where sometimes things get mixed up, accidentally or because not correctly done.
Reward your horse when he answers correctly
Rewarding your horse is not something you do by giving him plenty of candies after the training. Also giving him a free day or a vacation is not something he will understand as being the reward for his fantastic performance one day earlier.
Your horse will understand what is “correct” only if you react within a fraction of a second to let him know that this is the correct answer. Your horse will translate the pressure release (for example the leg or hand pressure) as being the “correct answer”. The removal of the pressure is the reward. You can also emphasize the reward by using your voice (good boy!).
Thus you ask a question according to the 1, 2, 3 rule. As soon as your horse is answering correctly, you remove immediately the aid. This learning principle is called operant conditioning. Is your horse getting on the bit when you are asking him to do so with your reins? Then release immediately the pressure to let him know that he is exactly doing right. By the way, releasing the pressure is something different than loose reins ok? It would be a pity that when your horse is giving the correct answer you stop the conversation with him….
Don’t keep applying the aid
Small example: the canter aid.
As soon as your horse is answering correctly, and is cantering, stop the canter aid. He is already cantering and if you keep giving the canter aid, you are actually teaching him that his answer was incorrect. Thus: do not keep applying the canter aid to keep him cantering, but teach your horse to react to 1 aid and to keep cantering until you give a new aid.
Reaction to 1 aid
Teach your horse to react to 1 aid and stop applying the aid when your horse is doing what you are asking for. Only when you ask him a new question is your horse allowed to do something new.
Dare to let go
You can teach your horse only if you dare to fail. Let him fall back in trot a couple of times while you are sitting still and not giving any aid, let him move his head upwards after he got on the bit and you released the pressure on the reins. Because precisely at that moment you can tell your horse that this is not the correct answer. Ask him again gently to canter or to get on the bit, so that you can then again stop asking and remove the aid.
When you don’t stop applying an aid, but when you keep asking, for example by continuously driving with your legs in walk, trot or canter, then you don’t use the operant conditioning learning process but you are in fact establishing habituation.
Imagine the meadow lies along a railway line. You put your horse for the first time in this pasture. Your horse will most likely react when for the first time a train passes by. After some time the horse realizes that nothing changes, that he has no influence on the situation. The train makes noise and goes again. After a while, your horse will no longer react to the sound of the train, he will continue to graze.
This learning principle is called habituation. He has become accustomed to the sound.
Habituation also occurs if you keep repeating the aids, without stopping to ask. A horse that does not respond (anymore) to your leg aids has become accustomed to the continuous driving legs. He knows that the legs don’t stop driving, so he is not moving any faster.
Habituation can only cease if you apply the 1, 2, 3 principle that belongs to the operant conditioning learning process.
In short; Your horse will learn what the correct answer is if you remove the aid pressure when he is reacting correctly to that aid. The more accurately and more quickly this is done, the faster your horse will learn to respond to very light aids.
Please share your comments and experiences on this blog below! I’m looking forward to hear your feedback. Please share this article via social media!
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