Elements of Gentle Horse Training
The term “natural horsemanship” gets bandied about the horse world quite a bit these days, but what exactly does it mean? The principles of gentle horse training is actually nothing new, and you don’t need an expensive stick or training DVDs to reap the benefits.
Here are a few tips for how to practice gentle horse training with your equine best friend.
Use reward and positive reinforcement over punishment. The key to gentle horse training is rewarding good behavior to get what you want, rather than punishing the bad. Rewards can range from treats in an appropriate situation, to a simple, “Good boy.” Even a release of pressure can be a reward for a horse, as horses are very sensitive. Ceasing the cue lets them know they’ve done what you wanted.
However, this doesn’t mean there is no place for punishment. Any behavior that puts you in danger should be immediately corrected. Correction doesn’t have to be cruel, though. It can be as simple as a “shhhhhhh” sound or a growled “Quit.”
Practice groundwork. Most gentle horse training experts advise working from the ground first. For one thing, doing groundwork gives you an opportunity to earn your horse’s trust and respect, while establishing a relationship where the horse knows to look to you as the leader. Groundwork also ensures that your horse understands commands and what is expected of him before you get into the saddle.
Use subtle cues. Another hallmark of gentle horse training is using only as strong a cue as your horse needs. If you ever watch the dynamics between horses that are turned out together, you will see how subtle their communication is, often beneath our understanding and awareness. So much as a flick of an ear can mean something to the other horses.
Once you realize how sensitive horses are to nonverbal communication, you’ll realize that all too often, our communication with them must seem like shouting. Kicking a horse to ask for forward motion is a much stronger cue than a squeeze or just a subtle shift of the seat. By using too strong of a cue all the time, you may be teaching your horse to ignore more subtle cues.
Once you realize how subtle horse communication actually is, and how subtle of a cue is actually needed, you will realize how many mixed messages you have been sending your horse. If your horse can interpret a single shift in your seat, for example, what does he think every other time you shift your weight in the saddle? Realizing this will help you minimize your “noise” in the saddle, and ultimately help you become a better horse person.
Establish a relationship. Last but not least is your relationship with your horse. Taking the time to groom, do groundwork, and simply spending time with your horse sets you up for a closer and more instinctual connection between the two of you. This will help make training easier and gentler in the long run.
The Importance of Gentle Horse Training
Every time you work with your horse you are in either training or untraining him, even if he is fully broke. You may not choose to follow any specific method, but do your own research about the advice of well-known trainers such as Monty Roberts and Clinton Anderson. Gather the ideas you like into your own personal approach to gentle horse training.