The Whole Horse method
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.
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.
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.
The 3 C’s
When I train a horse, I take the whole horse – mind and body – into consideration.
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.