Horse Training Mistakes
Learning how to effectively communicate and train your horse is a process; no one starts out knowing everything there is to know about working with horses. Being able to recognize common mistakes equestrians make when training can help you avoid the same mistakes with your horse. In this article, I’ll share mistakes I’ve recognized in my own experiences that hinder advancements in horse training.
So, what are these common horse training mistakes? While there are probably thousands of mistakes we can make when working with our horses, I’ve found that most of them tie into these 5 points:
- moving too fast with your horse’s training
- letting your emotions determine how you react when working with your horse
- having expectations that are too high for your horse’s level of training
- not rewarding every try from your horse in the right direction
- thinking that a one-size-fits-all approach works for every horse
Sometimes it can be difficult to realize you’re making these training mistakes with your horse, but once you realize you are, you can take the necessary steps to correct yourself and communicate more effectively with your horse. To get a more in-depth look at each point, keep reading!
Training Mistake #1: Moving Too Fast With Your Horse’s Training
For some reason, equestrians tend to glorify the horse trainer that can have their horses trained up the fastest. There’s a pressure that comes with working with horses that you’re supposed to be able to get on an unbroke horse’s back just 3 days into training and they should be completely trained to walk, trot, canter by day 30. While I believe this is possible with certain horses and with people who have years of experience training, we should not hold ourselves to this standard.
The first project pony I had was named Bella. She was smart and laid back, so I found that I could bring her along rather easily and quickly. A week under saddle I had her going over cross rails; two months under saddle I took her foxhunting. For a while, it was all fun and games, until one day we just seemed…stuck. Bella was fighting the bit, taking off 2 strides out from jumps, and running me over on the ground!
I realized that in my haste to have a good rideable horse, I missed some vital pieces of training. When I had noticed holes, I had ignored them instead of fixing them when I should have. Because of this, I ended up having to go back to the very basics with Bella and start all over again.
When we move too fast with our horse’s training, we’re actually hurting the horse’s ability to comprehend in the long run. A good foundation can help your horse think through processes, quickly accept new techniques and training, and be confident in responding to commands.
Training Mistake #2: Letting Your Emotions Get the Best of You When Working With Your Horse
Emotions are often the only thing holding us back from advancement. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about working with horses, it’s that you have to have patience. When you don’t have patience, frustration, anger, and even fear can make their way in. Your emotions can affect how you communicate with your horse; for example: if you’re starting to feel frustrated, you may ask something from your horse with more pressure than you need to. This, in turn, will make your horse respond more actively than they need to.
Horses also have a knack for picking up on our emotions. If we’re starting to display anger and frustration, the horse will quickly catch on and start to feel frustrated themselves. The key I’ve found to working with horses is that you can still feel your emotions, just don’t let them be shown.
When it comes to horse training, we should be objective observers, meaning that we should be able to respond to a situation in the way the horse needs us to versus how our emotions want us to. With objective observers, emotions are taken out of the picture with how it applies to the action.
A few things I’ve found to help me control my emotions when working with my horse is 1) having a clear small goal for the day. As soon as the goal is reached, we’re done. 2) If I start to get frustrated, I take a step back, chill out for a minute, then start again. 3) If I feel like I’ve hit a point where I’m going to respond out of my emotions, I end the session.
I share more about this in my Youtube video here:
Training Mistake #3: Having Expectations That Your Horse Can’t Currently Meet
We all dream of being world-class riders who can do impressive riding feats, but this isn’t always doable with the level of training your horse has. If you have expectations that are too high for your horse’s training level, both you and your horse are probably going to end up frustrated.
I’ll give you an example. I once brought along a nice Quarab mare named Dolly. At this time, I had my current horse Tucker, who had been under saddle for a few years at that point and was a dream to ride. When I started Dolly under saddle, she was the opposite of Tucker. She would constantly threaten me with bucks and rears and would easily get worked up over small things. After about a month, I hadn’t made much progress with her.
I later realized that the reason I was having these problems with Dolly was that I had expected her to be like Tucker, who was pretty well-trained. The first time I asked her to trot, I subconsciously thought she would trot at a perfect pace around the arena, going until I asked her to stop. Instead, she trotted a few steps, tried to buck, then refused to move after that. It made me frustrated.
Once I realized I was doing this, I immediately worked to lower my expectations to a level a newly-broke horse could meet. Instead of “let’s do everything perfectly the first time,” my expectation became, “let’s start small and have fun.” It’s crazy that as soon as I made that change, Dolly turned into a completely different horse. From then on, she was easy to work with.
Training Mistake #4: Not Rewarding Every Try From Your Horse
Another common mistake we make, especially if we are new to working with horses, is not rewarding every try from your horse. There are a few different ways this can look, but the main way is not releasing pressure once the horse has done what you asked. Horses learn by pressure and release; pressure is when you provide a command for your horse to do something (like pushing on your horse’s chest to make them back up) while release is when you remove all pressure once the horse has responded correctly (like moving your hand away from the horse’s chest as soon as the horse takes a step back.)
Oftentimes, we may want the horse to respond perfectly the first time we ask, so we’ll continue to hold the pressure even when they have tried to do the right thing. (i.e. continuing to press against the horse’s chest even though he has already taken a small step backward.) By not immediately rewarding the horse by releasing the pressure, the horse will become dull to the aid.
If you want your horse to respond to the lightest pressure possible, you should always provide a command with light pressure. If the horse doesn’t respond, gradually increase the pressure until the horse responds correctly, at which point, you’ll immediately release the pressure. This will also help your horse understand exactly what you want.
While this concept applies to every area of horse training, it is especially important when desensitizing your horse. To learn more, check out my article Bombproof and Desensitize a Horse: The Ultimate Guide.
Training Mistake #5: Thinking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach Works for Every Horse
Every horse is different; they are all built differently and have different personalities and experiences. This means that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for every horse. I’ve had horses that quickly grasped concepts and skills while others took more explaining, coaxing, and “hand-holding.”
Instead of thinking that a horse should cater to your training plan, think about catering your training plan to each specific horse. What are the training methods that seem to make the most sense to this particular horse? What do they tend to respond to more willingly and what do they seem more apprehensive about?
One thing that I think has helped me understand horses better and communicate more effectively with them is researching different training methods. When I do this, it gives me more avenues to help a horse understand something specific. Whether I’m teaching the horse a trick or desensitizing them to something new, being able to recognize what my horse needs and effectively provide it can make all the difference in your horse’s training.
I hope you found this article helpful! Maybe you’re not ready to train horses quite yet; instead, you’re still working on perfecting your riding. If that’s the case, check out my article Horseback Riding Mistakes: 11 Common Mistakes to Avoid.
P.S. Save this article to your “Horse Training” board!