A Training Philosophy

I much prefer the description of playing with horses versus the training of horses.

In the process of convincing a horse to yield to your suggestion, it is fundamentally critical that there be something in it for the horse. A horses that offers you what you asked for with controlled energy and exuberance is truly a celebration - rather than an animal going through the motions looking for the first way out possible.

For many people this is difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately many people should be riding in cars and not on horses. Those who really do care for their equine friends have a responsibility to become educated. Most horses are not with us by choice. They would probably prefer to be out roaming in a herd in the mountains or plains, so to respect the horse we have to understand "The Way of the Horse". That is, what is natural to the horse as they understand it.

At the Training For Courage Center, we feel it is extremely important to teach the owners as well as the horse. This is why one of my preferred methods of stimulating people is by doing a hands-on clinic in a group setting. I don't mind working with a difficult horse to help set a foundation but sooner or later this horse will have to go home. There the owner will have to deal with this horse. It is for this reason that I think it is imperative that owners be involved in the process so that they are equipped to understand and develop a relationship with the horse.

As a clinician I act as a facilitator or guide. My role is to get the participants to execute certain exercises which help establish the handlers as the leader in the activity, and help people read the horse's body language so that they can tell when they are compliant or about to rebel. The key is to develop a balance in what is required to motivate a horse to comply to a suggestion. That is - to try.

Often owners have difficulty recognizing an animal's try because it may be minute. Horses guess at what we may want them to do. Generally they seek comfort. They will keep guessing until we leave them alone. When a horse starts to guess right about 100 times in succession, we can say that by then, they know it. We have to be simple, progressive, clear, concise, and quick to reward any step in the right direction.

Many horse owners experience difficulties because of the pet syndrome. That is they coddle the animal without having respect. Things may appear to be going fine till the horse says " no way " in fairly aggressive language - but again merely in horse language. This is when these owners can not only get scared, but sometimes they get hurt. The writing was on the wall in most cases, but the owners didn't understand the signals.

Horses relate to us by horse rules, and to ignore these rules can be very dangerous. Most horses can be quite forgiving and this is why a lot of people just get by. Unfortunately more dominant or emotionally fragile horses become fairly explosive when they feel threatened or challenged. We have to remember these are prey animals and that they function by this set of animal behaviors. They are designed to move around in a herd with an established hierarchy of leadership.

The stallion guards his mares against rivals or threats, usually a boss mare decides which way they will go to find water or pastures. When there is trouble horses will usually use their speed to outrun it. When they are in doubt or frightened, they blast off. They move, graze, drink, and socialize in this hierarchy of their pecking order.

So as a human being you want to be the herd boss and a leader. This is easy to say but to establish it in a respectful manner by their rules is not always so simple. To ask them to be brave in a situation where their impulse is to run or fight, requires skill and knowledge of their body language.

Horses can project themselves or their will, over considerable distance. A boss mare can project that, "don’t even look at that food it is mine" look from as far as 50-75 feet and sometimes further. To project yourself in this manner may not always be useful because it may intimidate your horse, and make it very hard for him to trust you because he may fear for his life.

The key is to be just notches above them in the pecking order unless they are being disrespectful. The price they have to pay has to be administered quickly and fairly. In most cases reaffirming your lead position consists of merely herding your horse ahead of you or turning back and forth. When this horse realizes that the path he chooses is not his but yours you start to take control. Geldings are usually the easiest to establish position over. Mares and then stallions usually follow in that order. Mares and stallions have the tendency to challenge your position more often - it is in their nature.

When humans are conscious of their behavior and how it is perceived by their horses, in other words, when they deal with a horse using horse rules, they stand a much better chance of controlling any situation.

In the last couple of years I have noticed that we, as trainers or leaders of horses, don't take enough of a proactive approach to helping our horses obtain the feel good - more importantly whether they want to or not. I have been finding that if I learn to capitalize on the natural relaxation reflexes with the horse and create a strong cue for it, it allows me to re-orient the horse to a good emotional state any time I feel the horse has the need.

This is very powerful stuff . When I can get a horse to release his own endorphins and get in a happy place, then everything I introduce after this will be seen in a more positive light. When applied correctly after having obtained respect in the yields, the confidence a horse gains in itself and in your lead is remarkable. At this point if we prove to the horse that we fear nothing and show them without out forcing them, to engage in a safe position, we discover where the name "Training for Courage" is rooted.

A creative friend and trainer, Allen Pogue, was the first to suggest that I was teaching courage for both horse and rider. It is about teaching people and horses to find their own courage and summon it whenever they want to.

When leaders do this ,we ride different, as we are not afraid for our safety. We trust our horse because we have earned their trust and respect and have taught them to be responsible in their try. The horse becomes a much better athlete when we don't compromise its emotional state. Fear or confusion inhibits their intelligence and athletic performance - in that order. The beauty of it is that if we can keep bringing the horse to a feel good state with a creative flavor, we offer something special to the horse that they often cannot do for themselves.

This will eventually help us develop an exceptional relationship where we not only understand the horse's needs but understand ourselves a bit better as well. What an exciting and worthy journey it is, to develop such a mutual balance!

This is my roll as a guide in this journey - softening the learning curve while people find their own way to becoming a good leader, as well as helping their horses to become confident followers. It is truly the dance of life.

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