Not so very long ago when a woman turned fifty years old, attempting to learn how to train a horse would have been considered a foolish endeavor. Today, this is something which barely even raises an eyebrow. As a woman slightly over fifty, and not new to horses in general; I had never actually trained one. I entered into the world of horse training with eager anticipation. My teacher was not a well-known trainer who conducts clinics and produces DVD’s on his methods. My trainer was simply an old time cowboy who learned how to train horses from an elderly Native American man. He willingly passed on his knowledge to me.
The Basics of Horse Training
There are numerous well known horse trainers and they have their own style and horse training methods. However, all of the trainers will say the first thing a trainer needs is patience. The mantra of many trainers seems to be “when you feel like things are going too slow; go slower.” Unlike the old days of breaking horses, before thinking about riding a horse, ground work needs to be accomplished.
The first thing a horse must get acquainted with is the halter. If the opportunity is there to train a horse immediately after its birth, this will be a bit easier simply due to the physics of the situation—a smaller horse is easier to handle. However, even foals can get quite frisky when they feel a halter on their heads for the first time. Once the foal becomes accustomed to the halter, you can start to teach it to lead. This is also a good time to get them used to being groomed and having a blanket on their backs. Women who are not strong will find it easier to handle a foal than a yearling or an older horse.
Round Pen Work in Horse Training
After a horse is weaned from its mother, round pen work begins. A round pen is a small circular pen used by horse trainers to teach basic maneuvers. There are numerous exercises that utilize the round pen when training a young horse. The basic exercise is to teach them to trot around the pen on command and stop on command; then turning on command. When they have accomplished this task, you can start them cantering around the pen, and again, starting, stoCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonpping, and turning on command. You will also teach them to back up.
The next step is putting a lunge line on the halter. This is a longer rope, usually about 25 feet long, the trainer holds as the horse makes its way around the round pen. As I learned the hard way, it is helpful to wear gloves to protect your hands from rope burns. Using the lunge line will aid you in teaching the horse to comply with nonverbal commands. With slight pressure on the line the horse will learn to turn without stopping and to stop when commanded by a slight tug on the line.
After the horse follows commands on the lunge line, it is time to take the line off and teach the horse to “join.” Joining is having the horse follow commands without any physical contact with the horse. The trainer walks ahead of the horse expecting theCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldon horse to follow; when the trainer stops, the horse stops; if the trainer jogs or runs, the horse trots to keep up. When the horse is stopped, the trainer should be able to walk away from the horse without the horse following until the “go” command is given. When done properly, you will be able to walk all around the horse without it moving a muscle. Teaching this piece of joining entails reading the body language of the horse to ensure that you step in before the horse moves.
At this point in the training, the horse and the trainer have developed a bond of trust. It is now time to begin the driving stage of training. In driving a horse, two ropes, about 25 feet in length are attached to the halter, one on each side. The trainer takes the ends of the ropes and drives the horse as if the horse is attached to a plow or a wagon. This is teaching the horse tCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldono follow directions from behind its head, thus preparing for when the trainer is in the saddle. Once the horse is compliant with driving commands, this is the time the horse is ready to go out into the big corral. Driving the horse in figure eights, circles, squares, up and down and across a big arena fine tunes the turning, stopping, go, and back commands. When the horse is doing well in a big arena, it can be driven around the homestead; this is a good way to get the horse used to all sorts of objects.
Putting the saddle on a young horse is a slow process. It is best to attempt this in the round pen. This is another new experience for the young horse and many do nCredit: photo by Cheryl Weldonot take to it well. You need to be prepared for the horse to try to buck the saddle from its back. By this time the young horse weighs close to 500-700 pounds and can be a handful to control. Some will take a few steps before they realize the saddle is coming with them. They may try to run away from it. Once they learn it will not hurt them, they will accept the saddle. Continue with the driving exercises by threading the line through the stirrup on each side of the saddle. You can also lunge the youngster in the round pen to get them comfortable wearing the saddle.
Horses need to be trained to enter and exit a horse trailer. Because horses cannot see depth when entering a trailer, they are often frightened by the prospect. Here is another instance where patience is Credit: photo by Cheryl Weldonneeded. A balking horse may actually try to lie down rather than enter the trailer. Trainers need to be cautious that the horse does not get its legs caught underneath the trailer. Tips for getting a horse to enter a trailer include using a bucket of grain to encourage the horse, or having another horse already in the trailer. The goal is to be able to lead the horse to the trailer, throw the lead rope over its neck and have the horse enter the trailer on its own with no hesitations.
Riding the Young Horse
Good and complete ground work helps ensure an easier time of mounting the horse when its time to ride. Theoretically the horse has one or two years of solid ground work before being ridden. When this stage arrives, it may be wiser for the inexperienced fifty year old to have a professional Credit: photo by Cheryl Weldonor experienced trainer take over the work for the initial “under saddle” training of the horse. An inexperienced rider is not a good match for an untrained horse. There is a saying “green plus green equals black and blue.” I can attest to the validity of this saying as I am sure many others can as well.
Horses are similar to kids in a couple of ways; they need you to set limits and they will test those limits. Horses are prey animals and have the mentality of prey which is usually to flee at the first hint of trouble. While you may be experienced riding a trained horse; riding an untrained horse is another matter. It is not something to take on without support. An experienced trainer usually requires a three month commitment to train your horse depending on what kind of training you desire. Specialties such as reining or cutting may take more time.
A fifty year old woman learning how to train a young horse is nothing out of the ordinary in today’s world. There are many horse trainers and horse training methods; the method briefly discribed here is but one. Regardless of which method you choose to learn, you need to take safety measures and learn from someone who is well experienced with horse training. I can assure you, success is exhilarating and the bond you forge with your horse is one you will cherish forever.
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