Can You Really Train a Horse in One Session?
photo from: Equine Positive Learning (on Facebook)
It has become popular in the horse industry to boast about training a horse in a day. These claims have fostered the expectation of horse owners that they can drop off their young colt in the morning, go to work, come back to the barn in the evening, and take home their fully trained horse. But is it actually training that is being achieved at these sessions? To examine the idea of 'one day' training let's first distinguish the difference between the words 'teach' and 'train'.
The word 'teach' means to introduce an idea, or impart (to another) an idea; as Miriam-Webster defines it: 'to cause to know something'. The word 'train' means to acquire a skill that can be demonstrated: or again as Miriam-Webster defines it: 'to make prepared for a test of skill'. In our first lesson,we define our intentions by speaking to the horse in a foreign language. After all, we don't speak 'horse' and he doesn't speak 'human'. In addition, it's up to him to grasp the meaning of both the riding equipment and the intimidating, strange weight upon his back. And then there is the threat of discipline if the mandate of total submission is ignored. So these are the details that must be met and mastered by the horse prior to even starting any official saddle experience. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that we can teach a horse (give him an idea of what will be expected of him) in this first session, but we don't yet really train him (give him a polished skill ). We can understand this better if we compare the first lesson for the horse with the first day of school for a kindergartener.
By the end of his first day it is very likely that our kindergartener has seen and held a crayon and a piece of paper. It is also likely that the teacher has shown him numbers on a board, and a reading book. Does this mean that now he can read and write? No, it does not. Does he leave school that first day fully trained for first grade? No. We can only expect that our kindergartener realizes that at school something will be expected of him and he is expected to respond and be obedient. We have imparted the idea of learning. This is teaching, not training. For instance, we can teach a youngster what a number is, but it takes repetition to train him how to count.
This is also the experience of our horse in the first lesson. If he is haltered, saddled, and maybe even sat on; does this mean that he is trained? No. One day exposure to the normal activities of horseback riding does not train the horse to be ridden any more than walking into an indoor riding ring makes us instant trainers. What we have done, however, is to teach the horse that during these sessions we expect something from him and that he should respond and be obedient.
I have had the privilege of watching truly gifted horse professionals simplify the entire process of saddling and mounting to such a degree that after just one introduction the horse feels completely comfortable to assume saddle training the next day. But even these specific trainers do not call the horse 'trained'. They actually prefer to use the word 'started'. The horse, according to them, has just started to learn the riding process.
John Lyons starting the young horse (photo from equisearch.com)
So can a horse be trained in one day? He is certainly taught what his job will be in the future. But it takes repetition over a period of time to train him. As in all endeavors the time you invest to train the horse and help him to excel in his work, the bigger your dividends will be in years to come.