Classic horse training principles, worth repeating

Classic training principles, described with a warm and witty turn of phrase that they’re worth repeating.  From renowned horsewoman Sandy Collier.

Here are my highlights:

• Maximize every moment. Whenever you’re with your horse, you’re either training or untraining him. … If you’re riding him through a gate and he won’t move laterally off your leg, school him until he does. If you’re going down the trail on a pleasant morning and he’s pulling on the bit, don’t think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter now.” It does. All these random moments add up to a lot of good training; don’t waste them.

• Be precise. A horse’s brain is like a computer, so the old “garbage in, garbage out” admonition applies. With a computer, if you enter a command that’s just one letter off, the computer won’t recognize and perform the command. Similarly, if you want optimal performance from your horse, you must ask for a movement exactly the same way each time. 

Sometimes we get frustrated with a horse that’s not responding correctly. We think, “You dummy—you did it fine yesterday.” But our horse is thinking, “Yes, but you cued it differently today, so now I’m confused.” A fully trained horse is often able to fill in for a miscue, but while he’s still learning, the more precise and correct you can be, the faster and more reliably he’ll learn

• Be systematic. Don’t try to teach your horse something you haven’t laid the foundation for. Also, don’t get into an argument you don’t have the tools to win. 
Before you ask your horse to move laterally, for example, first be sure he understands the concepts of giving to bit pressure and moving away from pressure on his sides.

• Go back to get ahead. Start every schooling session by asking your horse for something he already knows well and is comfortable with. Then, after he’s shown you a few times how good he is, sneak another little bit of learning in there.

• Be creative. I usually try to teach my horses something a certain way, but if I’m not getting through by the third attempt, I take a different approach….Some trainers have a “my way or the highway” mentality. When a horse fails to respond, they say, “This horse doesn’t ‘fit’ me.” What they’re really saying is, “I’m not very creative.”

• Get outside input. Ask a knowledgeable friend to watch what you’re doing and provide feedback. I’ve had friends say, “Why are you doing that?,” when I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Take lessons, go to clinics, and write down the feedback so you can work on it at home. 

• Know when to get help. Use the various forms of feedback you have to help you know when to turn to professional help. … if what you’ve diligently tried is just not working, hire a trainer. You may need only a few corrective sessions to get back on track. 

People tend to wait until problems have escalated, when they could have paid $30 or $40 and been straightened out in 45 minutes. As with your car, it’s better to get a tune-up regularly than to wait for the darn thing to break down before taking it to the shop.

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