Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Train or Ride Your Horse?

Shari wrote to me and said that she was riding with a small group of friends and someone in the group mentioned that is not always wise to train your horse, that sometimes it is better for the horse just to have an easy ride. Shari asked me if this is something I subscribe to and if so, do I have a schedule or recommended ratio of time of training to just riding time.

I don't differentiate riding and training,.....at least I don't think I do. I think that everytime we are with our horses it is some type of training, whether we are on the ground, leading them on a halter, or being on horseback. How can it not be?

Lets say you take your horse out for a short trail ride with no intent to do anything but just enjoy being horseback. Wouldn't you still correct your horse if need be? And if he doesn't need any correction, wouldn't you be reinforcing whatever he was doing right, be it stopping, or backing, or moving his hind or front end over, side passing, etc.

Maybe you don't have time to ride one day so you are just in your horse's pen asking him to move over while your pick manure,...asking him to back up as you throw feed, ....maybe you are askimg him to drop his head while you put on or remove a fly mask. This may all be things our horse does well but still has some element of training or reinforcing behavior.

I think that person you were riding with meant, more or less, that you have to be careful not to sour your horse, which I whole heartedly agree with.

Imagine a barrel racing horse that when out of his pen only does barrel patterns at full speed. Nobody could blame that horse for being a little sour and not be looking forward to coming out of the pen if all they did was run barrel patterns.

I knew a 20+ year old horse that was yanked out of his stall Friday and Saturdays nights to be trailed to local ropings where two young guys would get 8 or 10 runs each off the same horse. Then that horse would be trailer back to put in his stall for the next 5 days and the routine would start a over again. This was not a fair deal for this old horse. Pretty soon that horse associated getting in the trailer with the work that followed and became trailer resistant.

In fact, I would think that a change up of routine does a horse good. A trail ride for a hunter -jumper, team sorting for dressage horse, obstacle training for a roping horse, etc. Call it cross training, I think it all help those horses become better, safer horses.

Even when you do ride it doesn't mean that each and everytime you work that horse until he is all tired and sweated up. I think you can do good things for a horse's mind by stopping short as long as it's on a good note, even if it is a 10 minute ride, then put him up for the night. I think this gives that horse a release and keeps him fresh, both his body and mind. This can simply be pulling the horse from the stall and grooming him then putting him back.

There is nothing wrong with, and everything right with a easy trail ride, but it still offers many chances to re-inforce some aspect of training and behavior,....two tracking around obstacles, a turn on the forehand, walk to trot transitions, reacting to neck rein pressure......really about anything. You don't need to make it a big deal. I am not good enough to produce a finished horse in my lifetime, although I am sure as heck enjoying the journey (most of the time) as will continue to as long as I consider what's fair for my horses.

I hope this made some sense Shari. This was one of the harder things to articulate. I think you are thinking what's best for your horse so you'll do just fine. Safe journey to you.

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