Natural Horse World

How do you approach your horse training?

I have just read a book by notable dog trainer, Harrison Forbes called ‘Dog Talk‘, and I liked his perspective on training methods so much I wanted to share it.

In quoting Harrison – I’ve put ‘horse’ in brackets to help you visualise better.

“Instead of watching their dogs (horses), I find people are watching a particular training method or watching the results a trainer gets with one particular dog (horse). They don’t think about how that might apply it to their own dog (horse), and they end up setting the bar too high and setting themselves up for failure.
When that failure comes they don’t say, “lets wipe the slate clean and start over with a different approach”. They say, “Well, that training stuff obviously doesn’t work,” and they give up.

It’s like somebody saying, “I’m going to buy a bunch of clothes for my husband, but I’m not going to take into account how big he is, or whether he likes to wear suits or shorts and T-shirts or a tuxedo. I’m going to just go buy some clothes and hope they fit him and that he likes them.”

You always start by assessing your dog (horse), and the more detailed your observations, the better you are going to be able to match the training to your pet (horse).
There are a lot of trainers out there who have developed a training method and now say, ‘This is ‘the’ method, and if it doesn’t work on your dog (horse) it’s because you are doing it wrong. That’s something I’ve been battling against my whole career, because I believe there’s no one method that’s right for every dog (horse).

If I limit my training to one set of techniques, then I’m saying one size fits all and you are obligated to do everything that one way. But the truth is that approach just doesn’t work. Any single method may be great for a couple of dogs (horses), or even most of them, but there’s always going to be a big percentage for whom that approach doesn’t work.

My training method is the anti-training method. You need to be open to every method and throw your preconceived notions out the window. Understanding dogs (horses) and their behaviour is a never-ending process. It’s like building a library: If you want to teach a dog to sit, there are twenty different ways to to get there and each way will work on at least one dog (horse) you’re likely to meet. And when somebody shows you the twenty-first way, you’ve got to be open-minded and stick it on your library shelf, because you may need to pull it out one day. To me, that’s what a good dog (horse) trainer does.”


Teaching young horses at liberty is easier if you understand learning theory.
Teaching young horses at liberty is easier if you understand learning theory.

Training systems can be a useful guide, but many have a ‘cookie-cutter approach which turns out horses that look like robots, not really enjoying their ‘play’ because it wasn’t really a game for them – but more for their human. Some systems, such as Parelli, offer a good general road map (from foundation to finesse) for the human to learn, with hopefully their mind and eyes open to how their horse feels. Combined with positive reinforcement, understanding and respect fro the horse, its a system that teaches people solid techniques for horse handling and riding, whatever their chosen discipline.

So when looking for a system to follow, go with what feels right for you and your horse at the time, but don’t be afraid to question anything that doesn’t sit well with you. Be brave enough to explore other ideas and be sure to learn the horse’s ethogram (how they operate in nature) along with understanding Learning Theory and the principles of training before you embark on an equine educational journey.

Above all, put yourself in your horse’s hooves and keep it fun.

If you want to know how to learn better horsemanship read this page which has my current recommendations for online study programs.

1 thought on “How do you approach your horse training?”

  1. Jan Barratt

    I love this article – so much sense. Horses are all different and our approach with them should be what is best for each individual horse. So many trainers have a set approach rather than understanding the individual they are working with and allowing the horse input too. Good read – thanks Cynthia

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