Official training begins when the horse is mentally ready, somewhere after 3 years of age. We start in the round pen 5-6 days a week where establishing trust, respect, understanding and confidence is paramount. In teaching the horses our expectations, we give them choices – clearly, consistently and repetitiously making the correct “answer” easy for them and the wrong “answer” difficult.
Horses don’t want to work any harder than they have to. We make the wrong answer difficult by applying pressure, making them move their feet and exert energy. By letting the horse commit to making mistakes in this manner, but rewarding even the slightest attempt towards the right decision by release of pressure, they quickly learn our expectations and cues often require very little of them and swiftly become very receptive pupils.
It has been said before by many brilliant horse trainers, and it also stands true here when we are working with the horses, “be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary” – much like raising children. Boundaries and expectations must be clearly defined and delivered in a consistent, repetitious way and praise must be given wholeheartedly and sincerely where praise is due. This pressure-release technique and acknowledging even the slightest of tries by the horse is utilized throughout the training process – from ground manners and desensitizing, to saddling and bridling, from riding, sensitizing and gait training to trail work and obstacles.
The goal is always the same: to first create mutual trust and respect by facilitating understanding in a fair and consistent manner in which the horse recognizes, and then using this trust and respect to continually build on the horses confidence, rewarding them kindly and thoroughly when they get it right every step of the way. When a horse exudes trust, respect, understanding and confidence, we create in them an increased desire and willingness to learn, and actually want to please their handler. With this method we produce gentle, soft, even minded, enthusiastic partners and companions.