How Well Must I Ride to Train My Horse?

How Well Must I Ride to Train My Horse?

How Well Must I Ride to Train My Horse?

It’s a big question, and it’s a question that so many riders wonder about.  “Can I train my horse, alone?”.  For many riders, they will answer this question with another one; “An I a ‘good enough’ rider?”.   There are millions of riders all over the world, all with different combinations of skills and talents; being a ‘good’ rider is relative!

However, if you want to begin truly working with and training your horse, I feel that there are a few simple questions that you can ask yourself to see if you are truly ready or not.

How Much Do You Know?

I have already said that ‘good’ is relative, but so too is training.  I love the idea that it doesn’t take a black belt to train a white belt in karate.  Meaning you don’t have to be a complete expert or master at something in order to teach someone who knows very little to nothing about that thing. “So I can train my horse then?”. Well, that depends…

What is important is that you know more than your horse on the topic you want to improve.

Let’s focus for a moment on rhythm.  If you begin working on improving your horse’s natural rhythm, it stands to reason that you at least have a good understanding of what that improvement would look like.   An even better situation would be to have achieved this previously with another horse.  However, depending on each unique situation, I don’t always feel this is essential. What is key is your understanding of the movement, principle, or topic.

Hoping to train a horse on a topic that you have little knowledge, understanding, experience, or training on yourself is simply wishful thinking

Having spent a number of years riding alone in an open field, I can definitely say that having resources is important.  Now, I am not saying that you need a perfectly manicured arena to make progress with your horse.  But there are certain things that, if you have them, will definitely make the training journey a more smooth one!

Do You Have the Resources?

Time is the number one resource you will need if you are going to ever hope to correctly improve your horse’s way of going.

Lack of time is why most riders never really get going when they are working with their horse.  They will go ‘hell for leather’ for a week, maybe two.  And then, something happens and all horse-related activities are put on pause for another week or two.  This stop and start method will only serve to ensure that you keep reliving the same few weeks, over and over.  With little to no visible progress.

Taking a break, intentional or otherwise, every now and again is not bad; in fact, sometimes it can be really helpful.  However constant stopping and starting with your training program is a recipe to remain stuck. 

“I have the time, does this mean I can train my horse?”.  Again, it depends…!  Another important resource to take stock of is your riding area, especially if your climate is less than favorable a lot of the time.  Muddy, slippery, or baked hard footing is neither good for the horse or the rider (we tend to fall every now and again!).  If you are really serious about training your horse, make sure that you have somewhere to work, especially when the weather becomes a little otherwise!

Remember to take stock and connect with the people in your life who can help you achieve your goals. 

From a trainer for occasional advice, to an online course and community, to a babysitter or driver for children. You will need support if you are to successfully train your horse over the long term. Finally, resources can also include different tack and equipment, floodlights, poles and uprights, a lunging arena, suitable trails and hacking areas, and so much more.

Are You Consistent with Consistency?

At this point, many riders get a little excited!  “Yes, I have all of the above, so I must be ready to train my horse”… Well, not quite!  When training your horse, you will have to do different things in order to achieve different results.  Repeating the same thing over and over again will not take your horse from here to there (wherever you’ve decided there is).

As a trainer, it is your responsibility to make strategic changes to what you are doing, and remaining consistent with those changes in order to track the result or outcome. 

One of the biggest mistakes I used to make when riding in the fields when younger was trying things once. You see, I was usually open to giving things a go.  However, if I didn’t see immediate success, I was also quick to drop said thing and either revert to the old way or try something totally new again. Not the approach to take if you want to see success!

Be willing to find out what you think may be the next thing to try, change, introduce to your horse’s training. Then track how your horse responds to this over a period of time.

Being consistent means that you are intentional about every aspect of your approach to training.  From your schedule to the way you communicate, to your aids, to your rewards, to your corrections, and your attitude in general.

How Supple Are You?

“Okay, this has nothing to do with how I train my horse, surly?”  Oh, but it does!  You see, it’s easy to think of suppleness as just being something for your horse.  Ride a few bends and circles every now and then, and Bob’s your uncle, Sally’s your aunt!   However, I believe that suppleness is just as important for riders; and it’s not just about your physical aids.  It also concerns your emotional and mental development as a rider.

I see many riders, who ride pretty well, become mentally ‘stuck’ on something in their horse’s training

Usually, it is something they don’t want or desire.  And whatever the thing is, they fixate on it.  They have this all-or-nothing approach to it, and this means they cannot see past it.  For example, the horse that throws a buck in the first 10 or so strides of canter. An independent rider doesn’t even notice the buck; they are busy assessing the quality of the transition, and the quality of the canter they find themselves in.  The buck is just a distraction that they easily ignore.  And this generally means it will soon go away!

The unsupple rider rides the transition into the canter, and the canter itself completely waiting for the buck.  Their only focus is what they ‘know’ is coming.  And, inevitably, it does!

Training your horse will require you to look past any distractions that show up. It will require you to remain focused on the desired outcome, and to try keep your horses focus there as well. 

How Independent Are You?

Finally, if you have checked all of the above boxes, the last question I would ask in this situation is regarding my level of independence.  This is for both in the saddle and out of the saddle.  If you struggle to stay on in the trot, you need to be honest with yourself in that you are not the person to improve your horse’s trot!  Similarly, if you are struggling to stay on board in canter, or over a jump, you’re not the person to help your horse with these things!

I suggest assessing your independence by asking yourself “Am I responsible for my own balance and support? Or am I using my horse to support and balance me?”

“Oh, so I probably can’t train my horse then…”  Not exactly, I am a great believer that if there is a will, there’s a way…  If the answer to the previous question was the latter, I suggest getting help in developing more support and independence first; and probably on a different, more experienced, or schooled horse).  However, keep in mind that there are lots of ways you can begin to train and school your horse that don’t require you to be the world’s greatest rider.

Lunging and groundwork do not require skill in the saddle, and, if done right, they both help to develop your skills as a rider – and your horse’s skills as a riding horse. 

“Okay, so I can use lunging to train my horse! This is great, except I don’t know how to get started…”. I’ve got you covered; I have a free guided audio training ‘3 Days to Successful Lunging’ that you can get HERE
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Confidence is Key…

For many riders, training their own horse is essential due to a lack of resources.  There are no trainers close by, not enough of a budget to afford a trainer, or a lack of time to commit to a trainer.  If you find yourself in this situation, notice how the thoughts of training your own horse make you feel…

Often we talk ourselves out of training our own horses because it will require us to do something we have never done before – and that is uncomfortable!

If you are feeling uncomfortable about training your horse, yet you have ‘ticked all the boxes’ with the questions above, you’re probably ready!  It is simply the fear of failing that is holding you back.

Growth requires us to get uncomfortable.  And as adults, because many of us are out of the habit of learning new things – and failing the first 10 or 20 times, training your horse can feel really uncomfortable!

Start with what you know.  Go deep in your knowledge and understanding of something.  Think about the best way to explain this to your horse.  And then go do it. Remember to be intentional about changes, actions, aids, etc. Record it all… And see where the journey takes you

So, to answer the question “Can I train my horse?”… The answer is clearly that it depends on a couple of different things, but if you are keen, there are lots of resources listed below to help.

Happy Riding
Lorna

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