Every single time you work with your horse you are training them. I would say that as soon as you step within their field of influence, the training begins. Without laying a finger on them the horse has already run a diagnostic on you, who you are, how you’re feeling right now, where your energy is at and how they intend to approach you. This is training.
Anyone who rides a horse is training them. I really dislike the word ‘trainer’ because it can be misleading, it puts the ‘trainer’ up on a pedestal and therefore we are supposed to view them as some kind of authority. I have always been someone who questions authority that does not sound, look, feel or seem to be 100% correct to me. That combined with what I know about horses; that they are a result of the environment they are living in, they mirror back and absorb that which surrounds them, I can comfortably say that the moment you are close to a horse, you are training them.
So what are you training your horse for?
Let me say it again…
What are you training your horse for?
I am asking myself this question today. After a winter of limited access to good footing, and working around rehabilitation of my horse’s diet, hooves and lifestyle… not to mention training activities, I reflected upon the question myself. What am I training him to do. And I remembered the intention I set for myself from the very beginning
‘I just want him to be the best version of himself’
Every time I leave the stable I face a 45m to 1 hour drive home. During that drive I put on whatever music I am feeling at the time and I do a body diagnostic. I check in with my feelings, and my emotions. Life with horses is mostly about controlling our own emotions, so that we can influence the emotions and then later the activities of our horses. I listen to my gut, and see what is sitting there. If I drive away from the stable with a mildly disturbed feeling in my stomach, then I need to listen to it, and find out why I feel that way. Maybe Sanson did everything I asked that day but his expression what not where I like to see it. Maybe he suddenly changed gaits or direction and I didn’t expect it. All those little things, which if left unignored, can build into larger problems.
The way I address these symptoms is by taking Sanson for long, long, walks in hand to the forest. If he cannot settle down at the end of my lead rope, and just walk along in the forest, how can I expect him to do it under saddle? That is something I hope to do a lot of once the weather improves, long trail rides!
I came to the conclusion that although the training I have been doing with him was good and necessary for his body it was only partially what he needed mentally. I have always said that Sanson has a talent to be Super Plod of the Universe. So why wasn’t I training him to just put one foot in front of the other for an indeterminate period of time and be ok with the world? It’s good to do all those advanced things with him, or at least work towards them. I will continue to do so, because I know that when asked to give them, he can and will. He is very talented and athletic. But actually, looking forward to a hopefully 20+ year relationship with this horse I find that mostly I just want to relax and explore the countryside from his back, at a calm walk with periods of chill, perky trot, and relaxed canter. 90% of the time, that is what I want to do. Of course, all the higher training stuff is absolutely essential for that to happen, especially when undertaking equine retraining. But sometimes you just gotta release all pressure and expectation and just go for a long trail ride.
Today I went for a long walk with him to the forest. And then came back and worked with him in the round pen. I compared the difference. I realised that a lot more pressure was coming off me than I realised during training. So I decided to back off, refine my signals, and focus on a summer ahead, of quality trail riding, with therapeutic arena sessions. I took the steady, simple relaxation I got from our walk and put it in the arena session. I liked the results. And felt better about myself too.
Next time you ride, ask yourself the question, ‘What overriding message about me is my horse going to take back to the paddock with him today?’ If you look at it honestly and objectively the answer may surprise you.