How horses learn...

Sparky as a yearlingMany riders interested in western riding are faced with a bit of a dilemma.  Typically they've ridden in more traditional "english" disciplines before they come to western. By the same token, their horses are likely to have spent their ridden careers taking part in non-western activities.  So, both horse and rider have to learn new skills at the same time.  But, as they say... "nil desperandum".  By understanding how horses learn you can make life a lot easier for yourself - and your horse! Here are some tips that will help you both.

  For any learning to take place the horse must be calm and relaxed.
The horse must trust the rider/handler and feel confident with the riders/handlers requests.
You must stay utterly patient - even when things are not going quite how you would like!
You must have clear goals in place, these can range from small, short term goals (standing still) to larger goals (performing the flying lead change).
Each goal must be divided up into the smallest steps and each step thoroughly taught until they all fit together to become the finished goal.
Remember with pressure and release, the release is the most important part.  However, the timing of the release is vital, think..... pressure, response, release.
Once the horse starts to ‘get it’ move on to some other work, rest or stop for the day.  This avoids confusion.
Most of the horse’s learning takes place when you've put the horse back in it’s stable or field.  It can take days, weeks or months for the horse to really ‘learn’ what you teach.  But it's always worth remembering that they do tend to learn the ‘wrong’ things much quicker than the ‘right’ things!
Each horse is an individual!  Not only do they learn at different rates, they often need different techniques tailored to their needs.  As a trainer you need many ‘tools’ in your tool box – this is often why you'll hear what seems to be conflicting advice from trainers.
Observe your horse constantly, tune in to where they are at the moment – each day will be different.
You'll often hear in western training of ‘rewarding the smallest try’.  This develops the willingness of the horse to please and produces a horse that enjoys its work.
Always aim to make it easy for the horse to do what you want.  Prepare and plan your lessons, but remain flexible as well.

And finally....

Remember that when you have developed your horse’s confidence, trust, mental and physical abilities you will have a truly rewarding partnership!

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