Horse Training Tips for Beginners
While owning a horse can be a great experience, those who have a limited history with horses can benefit from some horse training tips. Training a horse involves a great deal of time, dedication, and patience. Those who are not looking for a long term commitment with training and care and maintenance may find the experience to be less enjoyable than they may have originally hoped for. Before getting started with the training process, it is always a good idea to have access to or advice from someone who has experience with horses and how to train them. Horses are not robots--they are animals with feelings and thoughts--and some beginners find it shocking to realize that a horse isn't loyal, obedient, and completely trusting of their master from the start. In order to ease the process, consider the following horse training tips.
Think like a Horse
Horses are herd animals and they are initially untrusting of other animals, including humans. The only options that a horse has when approached by an unknown human is to run out of fear or to stick around and discover the intent of the stranger, which is done by carefully observing the body language, tone of voice, and general "air" of the human. It is important to understand that horses are pack animals and will ultimately only follow and obey the pack leader. In essence, a horse's master is the pack leader. If the master doesn't prove himself/herself to be worthy of their horse's trust and loyalty, then there will likely be issues with the horse insisting on following his own ideas. Horses instinctively want to be shown what to do. If one were to observe a herd of horses running together, they would notice that there is only one horse leading the way--one horse that decides where to go as the others follow close by. In a manner of speaking, a master should be the herd leader that the horse or horses respect and want to follow.
One of the biggest mistakes that a beginner makes while attempting to train a horse is that they try to apply human ideals and mentality to horses. The following statements serve as an example: "My horse knows I love him--he won't hurt me," and "I think he just doesn't like me." In reality, horses don't think in this way at all. Horse behavior that some might translate into "love" is actually obedience and loyalty. Refusal to cooperate during a training session is not dislike, it's lack of respect and desire to follow someone that the horse doesn't see as his "alpha" or leader. One should make it clear to the horse that he/she is the leader in all things. This is one of the best horse training tips to remember while training a horse.
Define Your Personal Space and Stick to It
The second item on this list of horse training tips is personal space. Regardless of how badly one wants to have an obedient and trusty horse, this kind of result will not occur quickly and in the early stages of training there is quite a lot of physical risk involved during a training session. When a horse is afraid, its initial instinct is to run and it doesn't necessarily pay attention to what/who is around when he decides to take off. That being said, a horse will never trample over his alpha. Ever. In the early stages of training there is significant risk of the horse simply running his trainer down. This may be done out of fear, as mentioned above, but this can also happen when the horse fails to sense the "leader" in his trainer. Until the horse recognizes his trainer as an alpha, he will try to assert his own dominance by invading his trainer's space or insisting on walking ahead of his trainer.
The first step in minimizing this kind of nasty situation is to declare one's personal space from the beginning. An activity that can help accomplish this is to imagine a bubble surrounding one's body. The bubble should be large enough that one feels safe with the amount of distance this would put between him/her and the horse. When interacting with the horse during a session, insist that this "bubble" be respected. The horse will initially try to violate this invisible line by swinging his head close to his trainer's body or outright pushing his body into the trainer's. A tool called a carrot stick would be invaluable here. The carrot stick can be used to guide the horse and keep him away from the trainer's personal space. The porcupine technique is also very useful for declaring and maintaining the trainer's personal space.
Stick to a Reasonable and Engaging Training Routine
Although it can be tempting to spend hours trying to make some headway when training a horse, especially when a training session is going particularly well, it is important that training sessions be kept relatively short. Not only will a horse begin to lose interest in the activity, but he will may also become stressed or overwhelmed with the onslaught of new tasks. This is especially true of younger horses. Serious training should not begin until the horse is at least two years old. Young horses should have no more than one 30-minute training session in a day. When the horse reaches about four years of age, the session time can be increased to about 45 minutes or until the horse begins to show signs of tiredness. Do not force the horse to carry on a session is he is visibly becoming tired.
Training sessions should be as engaging and enjoyable for the horse as possible. Try to steer clear of any training techniques that involve more than slight discomfort. Outright pain is never a good incentive for a horse, as he will eventually associate certain activities, such as being ridden, with pain. One should also try to avoid making the horse too comfortable immediately after a training session, as this can lead the horse to prefer his stall over a training session.
These basic horse training tips should be a good foundation to basic horse training, but there will be a lot of learning to do on the trainer's part. Listening to the horse's body language and learning how the horse communicates distress, fatigue, fear, and pleasure will be an important aspect of successfully training a horse.