As a trainer, I have the privilege to travel around and meet lots of interesting people and horses. Among the most fascinating things I notice about horse people are the differences in their approach to horses and the training techniques that they use. I also notice that horses reveal an impressive capacity to adapt to different training methods, presentations and challenging situations.
I am a horse trainer and a student of the horse, too, so my main goal in recent years has been to correctly assess the most effective components in the lessons I observe from watching others train, coach and ride, so I can integrate that new knowledge with the approach I was brought up with. In this way, I continue to improve what I can offer to horses and their owners.
I’ve found that many approaches work, and it seems that most ways that people train horses are more similar than not. One thing I have come to see, is that the techniques that work well and that result in a genuine interaction between the horse and the rider are all presented in a way that the horse understands and enjoys. Finally, I realized that the true partnership I develop in the horses I own, and also in the horses that I help others train, depends on a crucial, single element, called “feel”.
Feel is the language of the horse. Horses understand many kinds of feel, such as direct feel of a brush or your hand, your bridle rein or your leg against their side; they also understand indirect feel, which includes things like variations in tonality of the spoken word, and body language. Examples of this include things like the pace of your step, the speed and feel of your touch and spoken word and less obvious things, too. For example, your eye contact, and the position of your face and hands and feet in relations to a horse’s eye, elbow or hip when asking for a maneuver on the ground. This applies when the rider is in the saddle, too. I think the most important aspect of feel that exists, however, is the horse’s ability, in most cases, to understand your real intent.
This is fundamental to the way I work as a trainer. By understanding how your horse works and putting this knowledge into action, you build the foundation for a genuine partnership. The techniques people are usually trying to learn means little to the horse if they are not presented in a way that the horse can understand.
Unfortunately, many horses and their riders are confused or insecure. And the attempt to dominate and punish a horse will only increase the stress. The solution, I believe, always rests in a return to basics, and developing the skills necessary to relate to the horse, using his own way of communicating. You need a good plan, a large amount of patience and time to inspire your horse to improvement.
I want more people to discover what a fantastic partner a horse can be. A well-prepared horse will be there to do the job that is needed in the moment. It is going to want the same thing as you want and strive for your mutual success.