How to train a horse

Training a horse has several aspects. You want to make his already beautiful natural way of moving even more beautiful. You want to make him stronger and more flexible in the right places. But what you mainly want is for him to do something on a command from you. So obedience. That means practice. Tuning into each other. Learn to understand what you mean.

I sometimes mockingly say that training a horse is not that difficult at all. You do the opposite of what he wants and you will be fine. If a horse wants to go faster by himself, you don’t allow it. Get him back to the pace you want and then release the pressure of the rein. You repeat this until the penny drops and he stays in that tempo, without you having to take him back again and again. Depending on the type of horse, it can take quite some time. And if something happens, something other than normal, he quickly falls back into his old mistake. An important point here is that you release, so the pressure decreases if he does what you want. Because that is a reward for him.

One aid, not twenty

It is the other way around for horses that are slowing down all the time. At that moment you encourage them to engage more. Don’t keep repeating your aid endlessly, he has to answer if you ask. So first a light aid, with no response a stronger one and if he still does not go, then you really should be bold. Do not give leg aids all the time as a precaution. Only give it if you want something from him and make sure he responds. One aid, not twenty. Mean it and he also needs to know that you mean it. And this should always be the same. Do not wait with your correction until the tempo is completely gone. As soon as something changes without you having asked for it, you have to act against it. If you correct it on time, before things get completely out of hand, the aid can be small.

What applies to faster and slower applies equally to left and right. Every horse is crooked by nature. In other words, it has one side that bends more easily and another side that is stiffer. I will come back to that in detail, because this is a key point in riding. We call that straightening, but I actually find that a difficult expression. It reminds me of something stiff, like a lamp post. While straightness means that you make a horse equally flexible on both sides, train the weak hind leg more and make the strong hind leg more flexible, so that it can move under the body more. To make it simple, if a horse tends to bend easily to the left, don’t do that. Keep straight or even bend slightly the other way. Stiff to the right? Then keep that side a little flexed, also on the straight line.

A flexible garden hose

There is a catch in this simplification. A horse’s neck is like a flexible garden hose, which can go in any direction. Find a picture of a skeleton. There are no protrusions on the cervical vertebrae, which is why the construction bends more easily. If a horse is tight to the right and you only bend the neck, it does not help. He is supposed to stretch his body. You should move the shoulders between two reins, not just pull the head to the side. As promised, I will further elaborate on straightening later, this is about the principle of training: do the opposite of what happens under you. If a horse naturally likes to walk with its head up, try riding its neck forward-down in training. He prefers to move like a vacuum cleaner, with his nose on the ground on the forehand, then ride him with his head higher and neck shorter.

Whatever you do, no muscle will benefit if it is constantly contracted. A bodybuilder does not gain strength by holding a weight in the air for half an hour, but by lifting and putting it down alternately. The alternation between tension and relaxation trains the muscles and that is what you have to do. Ask something and let your horse relax again. Vary the posture. Vary in tempo.

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