Thursday, May 20, 2010

So you want to be a horse trainer

I'm sure we've all heard the saying that everyone who interacts with a horse is a horse trainer because every interaction we have with a horse teaches them something, good or bad. I'm reminded of this every time I go to put Gwen's halter on after my barn owner has handled her. Instead of eagerly pushing her muzzle into the halter she hesitates for a moment, double checking that it's me. My barn owner unwittingly teaches Gwen to avoid being haltered just a little bit every time she interacts with her. This is why I do my own horse handling as much as possible (For clarification my barn owner is not mean or aggressive but she uses a chain on my girl and Gwen doesn't like that one bit.).

Knowing that, how do we become good horse trainers? To paraphrase Alexandra Kurland, "be creative." Think you are creatively challenged? Guess what, there's help for that.

Epstein's Four Competencies to Improve Creativity
  1. Capturing = When you get an idea write it down immediately. There are no stupid ideas that don't merit being written down. The point is to capture the idea as it comes to you and evaluate it later.
  2. Challenging = Put yourself in situations where you may fail. Failure forces you to change tactics and you need to be creative to do that. (If only the American school system would embrace that, anyway...)
  3. Broadening = Expand your knowledge base. Don't be afraid to look for helpful information in a place that may seem completely unrelated to what you are trying to accomplish. (My husband found out how to fix his knees by watching a Deb Bennett horse conformation video with me, true story.)
  4. Surrounding = Let your environment influence your creativity. Ever feel like you can't do this, that or the other because you don't have the perfect indoor or the world's most beautiful stalls? Take it as an opportunity to "think outside of the box." 
 Think in terms of puzzles and riddles. Start as simple as possible, easier for your horse- easier for you, and gradually increase the difficulty as both of you get "smarter." And you will literally get smarter. That's the cool thing about brains: the more you challenge them, the better they get.

PS- I realize that the orange is kind of hard to read, Blogger won't let me change the color for some reason. Grrrrr...


  1. All good points to consider. We've all got to keep learning and figuring things out with our horses. I believe that even though there are basics to be taught and learned there is always room for improvement. And since each horse is different and each rider is different the right combination has to be found that lets us form a good and lasting relationship with each other. Because of the nature of horses and interacting with them we must find ways to be creative so we have less of a chance to fail. It's a never ending process of give and take on both our parts.

    I wonder why your barn owner feels the need to put a chain on Gwen. I'm sure it's not necessary and perhaps your BO might be making it worse for herself by doing this as she may be forfeiting your horses trust in dealing with her. If Gwen is difficult to handle on her way to turnout there are many training options available to the BO to make her behave. I think it's a good idea that you try and handle Gwen as much as possible so she knows she's not being a bad girl or not trusted enough to think for herself and behave accordingly.

  2. Ugh, that G-D chain! I've glossed over it because it PISSES ME OFF and no one wants to read a rant. I've asked her not to use it but she responds that it's okay because Gwen just "respects" it. No she doesn't respect it, she fears it, BIG difference.

    I'm guessing that so far in my BO's life when she's been handed a horse that tends to dance around while being led the go-to method was to slap a chain on them. Scary horse + chain = manageable. I assume there is a horse out there that you can use a chain on without them learning to fear you (as in an aggressive horse), but my mare isn't one of them. If BO was paying attention she would realize that, but she lacks the creativity and inquisitiveness to do so (see how I brought it back to the topic there?).

    This is why I started turning my horses out again myself as soon as physically possible. BO has only handled Gwen twice this month, and never will again if I can help it.

    In short, I agree with you 100%.