Look at how far you've come.  You just learned how to canter and now
you're about to train horses.  Not bad, huh?  What you may not realize,
however, is that you've actually been training horses since that very first
lesson, when you rode Sprite.  In fact, every time you sit on a horse you
train him.  The training may be good, bad, or indifferent, but that's what you
Now you need to learn more about the basics of training, including more
about how the horse thinks.  After this lesson, you'll be ready to advance
your riding proficiency by leaps and bounds.  (Nope, that's not a cliche:
Lesson 11 introduces jumping).
Your horse for this lesson is a warmblood named Max.  Max isn't for rank
beginners, but guess what?  You're no longer a beginner.  If you've
mastered all the skills in the previous lessons, riding Max should be a real
treat.  Don't ever forget your basics, however, including safe leading
procedures and checking that girth before you mount.
Max has multiple personalities.  He's either very, very good or very, very
bad.  I really do think he has a split personality.  One moment, he's very
sensitive to the leg, and the next minute, he's not.
In his stall, he's the biggest slob in the world.  We have to pay stall muckers
extra just to go in there.  He also scatters his hay around and overturns his
water buckets at every chance.
Amazingly, this slob has good ground manners.  He's one of the more
advanced, highly trained horses in the barn, and he's usually kind to riders,
when he's in the mood.
A Horse's Mentality
Horses are intelligent, but only to a degree.  To them, 2 plus 2 might be 22,
riding, however, they're smarter than you.  They'll amaze you with their
ability to learn, as well as with their clever evasions.  That's why training
horses is rewarding, but challenging.
To train a horse successfully, you need to appreciate these governed
principles of equine behavior:
Horses are creatures of habit.  Routines make them comfortable.  That
explains their tendency to head for the barn, where everything is familiar
and routine.
Survival is predicated upon flight.  Horses run first and ask questions later.
Horses are herbivores and instinctually eat almost continuously.  Don't
neglect their stomachs if you want to win their hearts.
Because horse are gregarious, herd animals, expect them to respond as
a herd.

Using Their Instincts
The easiest way to see how these principles, these instincts, come into play
in training is to apply them to a training exercise.  Suppose you want to
teach a horse how to leg yield, that is, move laterally away from the
pressure applied by a rider's leg.

To train a horse to leg yield, should you ask him to move toward or away
from the barn?  Obviously, you use his instincts by moving him toward the
Should you ask him to leg yield in the same spot or at various places
around the ring?  In the same spot, of course, because horses are
creatures of habit.  Eventually you'll have to move to other places, but take
advantage of his instincts when starting out.

On which side of a horse should you hold a crop?  Because a horse's
principal defense mechanism involves flight, he tends to move away from
pressure.  So if the horse is moving away from your left leg, hold the crop in
your left hand.

Training an animal, whether a dog, a chimpanzee, or a horse, requires
punishments (irritation, pressure, pain) and rewards.  What's the greatest
reward for a horse, other than your getting off his back?  Food!  You could
literally train him to move away from your active leg every time a feed can
rattled.  Of course, that would be impractical, but now and then you can
bend over from the saddle and give him a piece of carrot or maybe a
peppermint (perhaps a little raw meat if you're riding Nemesis).  Food can
be a viable and valuable training aid.

Herding Instinct
As you teach a horse to leg yield, should you move him away from or toward
a group of other horses?  If possible, capitalize on his desire to be with the
herd, and move him in that direction.

Adding Logical Sequences and Repetition
You train a horse not only by using his basic instincts, offering rewards and
meting out punishments, but through repeating logical sequences that the
horse can understand.  This last factor is very important.  Studies suggest
that a horse may have the mentality of a two- or three-year-old child, but
with a child you can communicate verbally, show by example, and even use
pictures and videotapes.  Imagine, however, trying to teach a three-year-old
to tie his shoelaces only by manipulating his limbs.  You might be able to do
it, but it would take a long time and much hard work.

That's about what it takes to become a horse trainer -- time and hard work.  
The only way you'll succeed is by using a horse's instincts, rewards and
punishments, a logical sequence, and repetition, repetition, repetition.


Boost your confidence
Acquire knowledge
Build your skills
Enhance your lessons    

Mike Smith's
40 years of
experience        work for

You'll love it!
Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156          fax: 301-421-9049