The Whole Horse

The importance of training the “whole horse”

Horses are beautiful, graceful and powerful beings, and sometimes people (be we admirers, riders, breeders or owners) become so enamoured with the appealing physical aspects and capabilities of the horse and what we want to get out of him on the trail or in the arena, that we overlook the importance of the mental and psychological sides of these magnificent beasts.

At the end of the day we want a willing and reliable partner in our horse, otherwise the joy and rewards of ownership are lost to both horse and rider.

Where the mind goes the body follows

What most people don’t realise is that only working on the physical level with your horse is like trying to use a vacuum cleaner without plugging it in. The importance of fostering a healthy emotional and psychological connection with your horse’s mind simply cannot be emphasised enough.

Where the mind goes the body follows, so wouldn’t it be logical to make sure we have things in good order in the mind first?

If the mind of the horse is calm, soft and consistent, then this is what we will experience in his body and behaviour when riding him. Of course, in order to achieve this, our own minds need to embody these qualities too.

All too often the greatest amount of time, effort and money is spent on getting the horse’s body prepared to be good in dressage, jumping or trail riding, with an emphasis on co-ordination, discipline, strength and fitness.

It may take many lessons of disciplined halter training, hacking and dressage training to get our horses to listen and respond physically to our aids, cues and instructions. But because the importance of mental side of the animal is being ignored or underplayed, we often find major holes or behavioural quirks in even the most well-schooled horses.

Slapping on a band-aid

These guys may be able to do amazing physical feats, but their riders complain that “he’s suddenly prone to a bout of bucking or spooking” or “she just can’t focus” or is “easily distracted”.

There are real, valid and solvable reasons behind why these problems are occurring, and what most people don’t realise is that these behaviours aren’t something that needs to be just “put up with”, or that rushing out and buying a bigger bit or the latest gadget will solve the issue. That is simply slapping on a band-aid – treating the symptoms and not the cause.

Getting to the source

These problems can be fixed, and permanently, but in order to do so, you need to get to the root of the problem and identify and work on the source of the distress causing the erratic or unmanageable behaviour. This is the basis of a lot of my work – identifying the source of erratic and unmanageable behaviour, and gently correcting it by using various techniques I will expand on in later blogs. Training the owners and explaining what I have done, so that bad behaviours are not reintroduced, is also an important part of what I do.

Exercising the mind

One thing many horse (and all pet) owners often overlook is the importance of mental stimulation to animals. Many people mistakenly believe they need to lunge their horses for long periods of time before they ride them.

I will be going into techniques I have developed, known as “Power Lunging”, which gives the horse both a mental and physical workout.

What owners don’t realise is that a good mental workout such as power-lunging, would do just as much good in a shorter amount of time and would have huge psychological benefits than pure exercise would never provide.



My philosophy

The 3 C’s

Horses are not naughty or nasty animals – let’s get that clear upfront.
When they “act out” or “cause problems” or “misbehave” it’s because of a lack of either CLARITY, CONSISTENCY or COMMUNICATION or a combination of the three.
When I train a horse, I take the whole horse – mind and body – into consideration.
If physical pain or discomfort have been ruled out as sources of behavioural disturbance, then I look and see where the horse’s mind is at and what it is doing. This gives me clues as to what he is thinking, reacting to or triggered by. Once I have established that, I can then plan how I need to proceed with the horse – each horse is different and therefore each plan and training regime is different. If necessary, I will play out scenarios that challenge a horse under my care, so I can find the issue, which we can then begin working on.

Here I’m working with a very talented dressage horse who was terrified of the fence he’s walking past (due partly to separation axienty, but mainly because a very aggressive dog would always bark and lunge at him behind the fence). You can see that after about half an hour of work, he’s relaxed. head down, and has no issues with it whatever).

It’s a find and conquer approach, where I ensure that the horse is always feeling massively better at the end of the session than at the beginning.
I believe in using as little pressure as is needed to get the job done but at the same time being prepared to use as much as is necessary to get the job done. The keys are patience and consistency.
Effecting an initial behaviour change in a horse (especially in horses with long-standing behavioural issues) will initially be uncomfortable for the horse, and they will experience some stress (just as a human would when learning a new workout routine, or quitting smoking, for example).
With most horses, if you are consistent, you won’t need to use more pressure than necessary (causing more and prolonged distress) after teaching them a lesson two or three times. By being consistent in my methodology and responses to each animal, I make sure that the horse experiences the minimum amount of short-term discomfort for long term happiness and freedom from distress. This in turn results in a happier and less stressed owner, which benefits the horse even more.
This opens the door for you to have a deeper, happier and more functional relationship with your horse. Once you have developed this relationship with what you may once have considered a “problem horse”, you’ll see that there is really no comparison!
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