Question: I board my horse and I see her and ride one to three days a week. My horse was professionally trained when I got her 2 years ago, but I’m noticing she is forgetting everything.
I have tried various training methods but nothing is really working. I try something different each day, hoping that she will catch onto something. Is she just not that smart?
What can I do to bring her back? What are the secrets to keeping a horse remembering?
Answer from April Reeves: Ah yes, the magic ‘secrets’ that no one knows about. However, if you look deep within you will find that you already know those secrets.
There are 3 of them, and they are not very secret at all.
Secret #1 – Time In
Riding one day a week will eventually erode the work done in the past, especially if your horse is boarded out and other people feed and handle him/her. Good training will always be in there somewhere, but they get ‘rusty’ and they swap those good habits you liked for habits you don’t like.
How many days does your horse need to see and be with you? Three? That will be a good start, but not really good enough to ‘cement’ that relationship you need for a strong bond. Four? Better, especially if secret 2 and 3 are followed, but still not enough for true success. Five? You’re getting closer but… Six? Now you are getting the point. Seven? Absolutely idea. You don’t have to ride 7 days, but you need to connect with your horse in some manner every day to obtain the bond and abilities you are looking for.
I look after my personal horse, Max. I do everything: I clean his paddock and stall; I free feed his hay and give him his supplements/concentrates every day. No one else touches him unless it is an emergency. I put him out and bring him in. And I am responsible for his good behavior and his not-so-good behavior.
The horses in training are not ‘managed’ by me, in the sense that someone else cleans their paddocks and feeds them, but I see, handle and do something with them every day. They neigh and come racing to the gate when I show up. They want to work. I rarely give them treats, and when I do it’s on the ground after their work is done. I am the only one who handles them for the first few months and then gradually the owners build on the foundation and learn along with them. It’s harmony.
Nothing can take the place of you showing up. The more you do, the better the horse.
Secret #2 – Knowledge
There are no trainers who ‘whisper’ magic to a horse that you can’t learn. It’s not magic; it’s a skill set that you can learn if you are willing to dedicate the time to learn it. Those who have gone on to be great trainers had one thing in common – they all dedicated their lives to it. People like Clinton Anderson, Jane Savoie and Josh and John Lyons get out there every day and perfect their craft.
You don’t have to be such a fanatic, but you do have to promise yourself that you will dedicate a set amount of time, patience and energy into gaining more knowledge than you have. I say this to you because I got a ‘red flag’ from your comment, “I have tried various training methods but nothing is really working. I try something different each day, hoping that she will catch onto something.”
Seek out top professionals and learn from them. They will show you methods that work, but you must follow through with them to find the results. Most people quit too early before their horse has the chance to show them the results. Training can be done quickly; horses can ‘catch on’ to a new training request within minutes, but you need to know exactly what you are doing, and why. Why is so important. You will never understand the ‘how’ without the ‘why’.
Follow trainers with a track record. They need to have history, show records, and quality horses. Do they travel around for clinics? Does their website reflect quality? Are they professional in every way; dress, manners, class, speaking ability and approachable? Trainers who really have something to offer are proficient in everything they do. It shows up everywhere because everything communicates.
Go to clinics; buy DVD’s and learn. Take each lesson, singularly, and try it for no less than 3 times before you try something else. Having started hundreds of horses, I know for sure, that there are methods that work with all horses, and some that work with most. Horses are consistent in the way they respond to pressure, but some may not respond to specific techniques for flying changes. Learn the basic foundation, and as you progress into more advanced work you will find that you may have to learn several techniques before you find one that your horse responds to best.
Secret #3 – Consistency
This is the most important one of all, and can work for you or against you, depending upon how seriously you take secret #2.
Don’t show up one day and let your horse invade your space, then the next time punish him for it. Watch your actions. Make them the same every time, in your groundwork and your riding.
I have to get nasty habits out of horses all the time, from kicking, biting and rearing to bolting, bucking and refusing to move. These habits are not formed by the horse because he refuses to learn; they are formed by you in the work you do with your horse. No horse wants to be bad. The word ‘bad’ is not in their psyche. While they do protect themselves against abuse and violence from a human, they will not go out of their way to hurt you without provocation or training. That’s right – training. The horse that rears learned the behavior from a human. While the horse knew how to rear as part of his nature (as all horses can and do), this horse was shown that rearing led to reward. Training can work both ways; to your advantage or disadvantage.
While there are no secrets really, consistency is the key to your horse’s learning. Good and bad habits are formed through consistency. It is the foundation to training a horse. When you apply good knowledge to that consistency, you begin to win the battle. If you can do that every day, you too can become a Clinton Anderson.
The Real Secret
It begins with you. And it takes commitment. Without commitment to learn, grow, try, fail and succeed, you may as well try another sport.
We all know these 3 secrets. The real secret lies within you.