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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’

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TRAINING GUIDELINES

 



The training guidelines that I follow are as follows:

 

  1. Safety for the handler & Safety for the horse – This is number one prerequisite at all times to ensure safety for you and your horse on the ground and in the saddle!

2.     Have a program - The first rides of a horse’s life set the tone of the training program, one of the reasons I still start my own colts. I believe the first six to eight rides may be the most important rides of a young horse's life to send him down a path of least resistance - followed by a step-by-step training program, of course.

3.     Use the ladder approach - My training program is like a ladder. The first step is the easiest exercise, the first rung; the second a little harder and so on. If a step is too difficult and the horse exhibits a problem, “stepping back down” to a lower “rung” and spending more time on a basic maneuver will almost always fix the problem. For example, if the horse will not change leads, he will only get better at missing the lead if he “practices” not changing. If I spend more time on basic leg yielding and body control at a walk and jog, nine times out of ten the problem vanishes when he returns to loping and changing leads. By climbing that ladder slowly, and never missing steps, the horse’s training will be solid for life.

4.     Choose a positive approach – If we believe the best and it will probably happen. Why?  Because our horse takes its cue [signal] from us; if we choose positive over negative, we have a better chance of positive. If we believe the worst of our horse it will probably give us its worst. If it senses we are anticipating bad behavior it may oblige. 

5.     Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement methods encourage positive attitudes.  Negative reinforcement methods breed negative attitudes.  The idea of submission, like the idea of dominance is based on aggression, both lead to difficulty because it is not the way horses think  in terms of relation to friendship and relationships.  Obedience seems a better word, for the trainer then thinks of reward as well as punishment.  The disadvantage here is that the horse is left no space; it is unable to think for itself, it becomes confused or agitated when faced with new problems.  Horses think responsiveness therefore horse people who think in terms of responsiveness look at mistakes they may be making and are more able to make adjustments to correct undesirable behavior.  If we develop a horse that response willingly it  is more likely to lead to a more sensitive, more intelligent and more interested in life horse; rather than forcing it against its will to adopt to our training.

6.     Have a plan -  Each time you work with a horse it’s time better spent and more productive to spend 45 minutes thinking about what you are going to do and 15 minutes riding, than muddling around for an hour without a plan.   Have a progressive step by step training plan!

7.     Deliver the same message, the same way, every time - A horse learns by repetition, consistent repetition. If I repeat the same message, the same way every time I ask, the horse will learn the skill.

8.     Praise & Relaxation – If a horse has performed a difficult  exercise and especially if it was troubled with it praise and relaxation are enough to motivate it to repeat the performance next time.  There is a danger in endlessly practicing a maneuver, especially if it has been done for no reward, for after a while the horse grows to resent the pointless difficulty of it.  Many resistances in training are created this way.

9.     I teach your horse to accept and move off pressure – Horses do not learn from the pressure they learn from the release of the pressure.  If my horse gives to the pressure from my hands by giving to the lead rope and then to the bit, moves away from pressure from my legs, I can teach him almost anything. With combinations of bit and leg pressure at different speeds, I can teach him different maneuvers.

10.   I ask, anticipate, tell, correctIf we “ask” then anticipate that the horse will respond to our cue [signal] and it does not, we “tell” by applying a slightly stronger cue. If it still does not respond, we “correct” by applying a stronger cue still. For example, if we ask our horse to move laterally off of our leg, we first squeeze with our leg. If it does not respond, we turn our foot to use our heel. If it still does not respond, we bump it with our foot. If it still does not respond it does not understand what we are asking so that tells me it has not learned to accept and move away from pressure so it time to refresh its memory on the ground.  So, the next time we are in the saddle we can ask with the softest cue first, our leg. By repeating the request this way every time, the horse will always learn to respond to the softest cue and we can eliminate the “tell and the correct”.

11.  Allow the horse to make a mistake Just like humans horses learn from their mistakes we need to allow them to make mistakes then correct them so they can learn and progress.

12.  Give clear cues [signals] - Always strive to give clear signals to your horse. A confused horse will not learn, so the more consistent and concise our program is, the better it is for both of us. I am very strict with myself when it comes to my cues. It’s simple – when I am happy with what my horse is doing, when I want anything (correction, change of maneuver) I focus on my cues. If I am loping a circle and he is staying on the circle at a consistent speed, my hand is down. If he falls into the circle, I lift my hand to correct. If I stop and don’t want him to move, my hand is down; if I stop and want him to roll back, I pick up my hand. When he is trained, movement of my hand may be subtle, but it is always there and he knows. The reason he knows is because he has been trained that way from the beginning.

13.  Use cues slowly - When I apply pressure to my horse’s mouth, I am careful to apply the pressure slowly. There are two reasons for this. If I raise my hand and pull abruptly, my horse does not have a chance to respond before he feels the increased pressure; if he is not responding to the bit, abrupt pressure will probably cause it to stiffen and react by throwing up its head. My horse can accept pressure if applied slowly.

14.  I keep my signals soft - Tenseness and impatience have no place in horse training but, when I am frustrated it may be difficult to remember. It is amazing to me how much difference it can make if the muscles in my rein arm are soft – not surprising when I think of where that rein goes – into my horse’s mouth! I constantly remind myself to soften my forearms; when I do, I have much better results. 

15.  Accept what the horse is offering - If we really pay attention, it will tell us a story by what it is willing to offer.  I know most history of my own horses, of course, but when I first evaluate a new horse, especially one that is troubled or has not been handled a lot or ridden, I rely on what the horse tells me and is offering. For example, if I raise my hands using the lead rope or the reins and the horse raises its head and pulls against my hand, I know the horse has not learned to give to pressure so I will have to re-program it to give to pressure.


By keeping these simple rules in mind as we work (and play!) with our horses, training progresses at a steady pace with the end result a calm, soft, light, responsive and willing horse for any activity we choose.