There is an abundance of horse training information on the market and through social media. The rise of Natural Horsemanship and the improved understanding of general horse and rider psychology during the 1990’s and early in the 21st Century produced trainers who took their work nationally, offering packages of information in home-study courses, VHS videos or DVDs and, later, building communities using websites and social media to provide guidance and support.
Currently, there is a trend toward integrating Natural Horsemanship with European classical training and dressage. This integration blends and enhances the art and science of riding to prepare a calm, balanced, responsive trail horse.
The Art of Training for Trail Riding:
- Basic Ground Work
- Leading skills on line; basic responses of walk forward, halt, back, turn
- Walk the Box; Copyright 2020
- Mirror Me; Copyright 2020
- Concentric Circles Out and Around; Copyright 2020
- Sideways with Me; Copyright 2020
- Transitions Out and around; Copyright 2020
- Longe Education
- Working In Hand with Halter or Cavesson
- Working In Hand with Bridle and Bits
- Basic Arena Work
- Balance Rein
Manolo Mandez Dressage
Patrick King Horsemanship
Davies, Neil (2018) Fear-free Horse Training Every Step of the Way, Kipcorp Publishing.
Hamilton, Allan J. (2016) Lead with your Heart: Lessons from a Life with Horses, Storey Publishing, MA
Jones, Janet L. (2020) Horse Brain Human Brain: the Neuroscience of Horsemanship. TrafalgarSquare Books, VT.
Peters, Stephen & Black, Martin (2012) Evidence-Based Horsemanship. Wasteland Press, KY.
Russell, Mark (2019) Lessons in Lightness, Expanded Edition. Xenophon Press.
The Science for Riding:
Clinicians are constantly learning as new information about horse biology, physiology, and behavior becomes available in the 21st Century. A rider and trainer needs the best and most accurate scientific information to guide training and riding. Peters and Black (2012) assert in their book, Evidence-Based Horsemanship, that an “evidence-based horsemanship approach would be based on outcomes and rely on observations informed by the most scientific knowledge...this approach would help disprove myths as well as help confirm and validate findings of people with deep understanding and expertise.” With continual learning, all clinicians, riders, and trainers have the opportunity to use the best information to guide their work with horses.
Horses do not have much of a ‘thinking-part of the brain;’ they do not have a large frontal lobe for higher functioning that we humans do. Horses do not have ‘two brains.’ They have one brain with two hemisphere, with a connective structure called the corpus callosum, same as humans. A horse's brain, with a smaller cerebral cortex compared to humans, is small in proportion to their body size compared to a human brain. It is designed with a large cerebellum for balance and smooth movement, however. This part of the brain is mostly dedicated to motor and sensory functions and storing all learning about physical movement. A horse’s brain is wired specifically for learning movement routines (Peters & Black, 2012).
Horses do not reason or contemplate what they should do. Due to their brain development, horses cannot understand abstract concepts like respect, embarrassment, control, pride, regret, or partnership. When a horse does not do as the trainer or rider expects, the horses does not know the answer in that situation. The horse just doesn’t know. Period. So, through our training techniques, we should help or encourage the horse to find the right answer. Our focus should be on what the horse is learning in every situation on the ground and in the saddle (Peters & Black, 2012).
We think of working with horses in human terms: we teach, the horse learns. Unfortunately for the horse, their brains and nervous system are set up somewhat differently than human brains and nervous systems so we need to make adjustments when training to best work and communicate with our horse. Horses do not discriminate between good and bad learning; they learn both equally well, so it is up to the trainer to set up the experience to encourage good learning (Peters & Black, 2012).
First to remember is that horses need to have good perceptual learning, which is the ability to recognize what they see, hear, smell, and feel, such as a stick and string, a saddle, a tree, a bicycle, the wind before a storm, or a creek at the bottom of a hill. So a horse with broader exposure and more experiences is better prepared to recognize what they see, hear, smell, and feel (Peters & Black, 2012).
Stimulus-response learning is what we think of when training dogs or horses. This is the ability of the horse to perform or do a specific behavior, such as to move off your leg, or halt on cue with a change in your seat, or slow based on a slight change in how the rider holds the reins. This type of learning involves both perceptual learning and motor learning. Stimulus-response learning can also include a defensive response such as being resistant to bits that are used too harshly or spooking at the sound of two trees rubbing together in the wind (Peters & Black, 2012).
Motor learning is the development of motor responses to a stimulus. Peters and Black explain that if the trainer presents something, like a saddle, to a horse. the horse must recognize the saddle (perceptual learning), make a response such as standing still (motor learning), while establishing the connection between these two new memories (stimulus-response learning). If the behavior of standing still is reinforced, that will then strengthen the connection between the sight of the saddle and the motor response of standing still and the horse will more likely repeat the behavior in the future (Peters & Black, 2012).
Horse behavior is a product of genetic make-up and environment. Any behavior we observe in the horse is a result of combining the horse’s predisposition, temperament, and learned behavior with the types of horse learning just discussed above (Peters & Black, 2012).
Most horse behavior can be modified by experience. Two things are important to remember. First is that once a horse has learned a behavior, it is important to not drill the same behavior as a horse can quickly become dull, or habituated, to the drill. An example of this is feeling a rider’s leg cues on his side that are too strong or nagging. Second, we should not overestimate the horse’s mental abilities. A horse cannot simply understand a human gesturing randomly in the center of a round pen. If the horse receives inconsistent cues or persistent pain during training, unwanted behaviors will develop. Horses will learn what to do based on how we explain what we want with effective cuing, body posture, intention, and calmness (Peters & Black, 2012).
Researchers have found that the same brain areas used in performing a task were still being used when the subject was resting. Using this information, the techniques of wait, pause, and hold make sense for horse training and for human learning (Peters & Black, 2012).
When initially using positive reinforcement with horses to teach a new behavior, it is important to pause lasting a minute or two after the behavior is reinforced to let the horse's brain connect between his perceptions, the learned behavior just done, and the motor response parts of the brain. It takes a while for a horse to process all this in their brain. Once the cues, the behavior with the reinforcement, and the pause are done a few times, the horse will show that he's learned by responding quicker and more consistently to the cues (Peters & Black, 2012).
For more information regarding the horse's brain and how the horse processes new learning, Peters and Black's book mentioned above is recommended reading. Also recommended is Finding the Missed Path: The Art of Restarting Horses by Mark Rashid (2016) and Natural Horsemanship Explained, From Hearts to Hands by Robert M. Miller, D.V.M (2007).