Emotional Soundness is mirrored in physical soundness. While genetics and training are influencing factors in the success or failure of a performance horse’s career, it is the mind of the horse that is in complete control of the willingness and, thus performance.
Mental soundness, aptitude, behavioral patterns, trainability, breeding including ancestral behavioral tendencies all blend together to form an individual’s emotional conformation or soundness.
Start with the selection of a really great horse as any artist would begin with the raw materials required to produce a masterpiece. No matter what type or breed you are drawn to, look for an individual that is willing, confident, friendly, affable and people-oriented and physically correct. Take your time…your good selection is important to your long term happiness and safety.
The thing that sets horses apart from other domestic animals is his incredible capacity to learn. Dr. Robert M. Miller, one of the best known horsemen and authors of our time, calls the horse the most intelligent of all domestic species. It is the extent and kind of learning that makes each horse into an individual being. What he’s learned and how he’s learned it reveals itself in all of his behavior. His learning capacity combined with ability to communicate and be communicated with – which is itself extended by learning – he acquires habits, customs and develops his ability. Since everything he does derives from what he has learned, this is the key to understanding how an individual horse behaves.
While horses can easily learn to meet our expectations they are not capable of judging behavior as good or bad, they only react to the experiences they have had. Often their actions and evasions are due to fearful or painful past experiences, drama or trauma. It is much simpler to instill the responses we desire in the first place. Teaching a horse the responses you expect makes him feel safe and contributes to his emotional soundness.
While performing all around the country at fairs and expos with our horses for over ten years, the comment we heard most was “your horses seem so happy to perform”. That was the best compliment we could ever be paid. Had our horses ceased to enjoy their work, it would have indicated a failure to understand their needs.
Here’s some horse training tips to preserve a horse’s individuality and result in a willingly obedient equine partner:
- Train with a plan. This is about managing our own expectations. If we have a clear mental picture of what we would like from our horse, it will be much easier to achieve.
- Have the horse’s attention. You can create a longer attention span, it doesn’t just happen without our help.
- Minimize the horse’s distractions. Control your training environment.
- Never assume a horse knows a lesson you have not taught him.
- Set the horse up for success. Help your horse understand what you are asking and make the request obvious to the horse.
- Explain requests in a way that he can understand and in incremental steps.
- Recognize even the smallest try.
- Avoid confrontation. Confrontation usually is a result of not understanding a request.
Most horses understand a move in two or three repetitions. Too many repetitions will discourage him and short sessions will help keep him attentive and interested.
- Sensitize him to your requests. Teach him to respond to you rather than responding to other stimuli.
- Maintain always a position of trust with the horse.
- Give dwell time between requests or sessions. It solidifies the lesson in the horse’s mind.
- Don’t be in a hurry.
With trust and a little imagination, the sky is the limit for you and your horse.
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