Train the horse’s mind and you will succeed in training his body.
Horses want to win, they want to try for their rider, they want to know that they are successful and they want their effort to be rewarded. Train this, and you’ll bring the horse through the levels quickly.
When you’re training a young horse or bringing a horse up the levels, train them to be willing. Reward them for trying, make a correction, ask them to try again. Make a huge fuss when they get it right. Making a mistake is trivial– not trying is a much bigger, much deeper training problem that is harder to correct later on.
So many times, I see horses that won’t give something unless the rider asks for it with laser-point accuracy. While those type of horses make the rider good, it also means that somewhere along the way, the horse shut down and stopped being willing.
An indicator of a willing horse is that they will try, even when the rider doesn’t have things quite right. At the end of the day, the horse– out of the goodness and generosity of his heart– will make up the difference between what the rider has asked and the situation demanded of him.
While this can sometimes be difficult to picture in dressage, picture this: a horse that is headed to a jump he is not properly set up for. A willing horse will make up the difference and clear the jump; an unwilling horse will put the onus back on the rider and either refuse or run-out.
Experience has taught me those horses are a result of some combination of unfair riders or not understanding the demands put on them.
To tap into your horse’s willingness, incorporate these 3 things into your daily training:
- Break it down into the simplest components and build up from there
- Reward, reward, reward– and move on the instant the horse gives you what you ask for
- Make it a game– and they’ll try their heart out for you
A willing horse makes up for a multitude of rider’s sins. Willingness is the foundation of harmony and obedience.
Do you train your horse not to make mistakes– or do you train your horse to try?