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This is a continuation of a series of Articles. 

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve

Horse Training - Communication 101
Part Two
By Beverly Whittington

Horses are very sensitive to the insecurity or confidence in their riders or handlers.  Once again you can equate this to herd behavior. The boss mare has no reason to handle any situation tentatively. She is assertive in her leadership position. As you learn to apply what works FOR the horse (developing training communication skills that already make sense to HIM) you must have the correct attitude. When your communication with the horse lacks assurance, the horse cannot see you as a dominant. The horse will react to you as he would a subordinate or he will feel insecure and perform below his capability.

Effective training pivots around the ability of the trainer to understand the horse and how he learns, and to set up and maintain clear lines of communication. As you work with your horse you need to structure each exercise so it enables the horse to eliminate pressure when he responds correctly. If you set the horse up with steps he can accomplish, he will begin to understand what action the pressure was requesting from him. As training advances a horse must learn to suppress many of its natural instincts as well as learn to discriminate and respond to a wide variety of new stimuli.

The best way to teach your horse something is through automatic responses, or habits. Horses learn through repetition. You are ALWAYS training your horse. EVERYTIME you handle him! Most people don't realize that repeating bad habits is as strong a reinforcement as repeating good habits. 

For example time after time I have seen horses that have been “TAUGHT” not to stand for mounting.
Every time the owner of the horse rode, they got on and rode off immediately. Soon the horse starts going forward before they can get into the saddle. The horse is anticipating your decision. Horses generally want to please their handlers, so he is anticipating the command and starting off, just as YOU HAVE CONDITIONED him to do through habit!

This particular situation is simple enough to handle, CHANGE the habit! Each time you mount, sit quietly in the saddle for a few minutes before you allow your horse to move, he will begin to wait for you. Keep him guessing! Occasionally get right back off, and ask him to move a different direction each time you are ready to go, so he does not develop an association.

Horses usually are considered to have memories second only to elephants. A well-trained horse never forgets its training but neither does the poorly trained one. This is why it is essential that bad habits should be recognized and corrected before they become fixed behavior patterns. Don’t “let it go” today or it will become a pattern of behavior tomorrow! The boss mare would not accept the subordinate horse not moving off at her request, she would move through the Ask, Tell, Demand series until she got the proper response. You have to be JUST as consistent! Learning to communicate with your horse in his language - pressure / release - takes time and practice. We all have the ability to develop this form of communication with our horses. The results are well worth the effort, as you develop a relationship with your horse based on trust, respect, and most important - communication!

Whenever a horse deviates from previously good behavior, to an unacceptable response, you need to look for the reason. Have you TRAINED the horse to the new, unacceptable behavior? An example that is common is the horse that has become hard to bridle or halter. The handler causing discomfort in the bridling or haltering process often causes this. Before you correct the horse, make sure it is not YOU causing the behavior. 

  • Are you banging the bit into the horse’s teeth when bridling? 
  • Do you gently fold the ear forward to allow the crown piece of the halter or bridle to gently pass over the ears, or do you drag it across the horse’s ears as you put it in place?
  • Are you catching the cheek piece of the bridle/halter on the horse’s eye on the offside as you attempt to move it into place?
  • Where are you standing as you attempt to halter/bridle the horse? The width of forehead and how the eyes are set in the head affect the frontal vision of a horse. Most horses probably do not see objects nearer than three feet directly in front of their faces without moving their heads. If you are standing directly in front of the horse, you can be in it’s blind spot, causing the horse to reject you placing something on him that he cannot see!

You really cannot expect a horse to accept a bridle or halter when it is causing him pain or discomfort or coming at him from a blind spot! If you have been doing any of these things, correct them. It will take some time for the horse to believe that you are now doing it correctly, so be patient and work through his insecurity.  As you request that the horse allow himself to be bridled or haltered in the correct manner, he will soon begin to trust that he will not be hurt in the process and will revert back to his well-mannered response!

These are just some examples, as you continue to build on your training skills with horses you need to ask yourself  “Is it ME or HIM that is getting it wrong?” everytime you get a response that was not what you were after.

Part Three

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