How do I know that my horse wants to do what I want to do?
Thanks to my good friend Deb Harper for this wonderful and inspiring photograph! This is the way we all want to be with our horses. Thanks again for a wonderful question.
You know my first riding teacher was a lady named Pamela Goodwin who was from Ireland, and she always used to say “let the horse pick their job, because if they enjoy what they are doing, they will be good at it”. Very good advice and I have followed it all my life. Kind of like that quote about: “ if you do what you love, you will never work another day in your life”. Very true for us and also for our horses. You know that saying “time flies when you are having fun”.
The secret with horses is to watch their reaction to what you are doing. Some horses love to race, some love jumping and others love dressage, and some horses will do anything. So you have to learn to tune in and become observant of the animals reactions, and not just ignore what they are showing you as “attitude”. There is always a message there, so learn to observe, listen and act on it.
I believe in the basic training of the horse no matter what discipline and it starts with ground manners. They horse should be taught how to load, trailer, be clipped and bathed, stand for the farrier or vet and be safe leading and in their stall before anything else is done. With me SAFETY is always the number one priority. After that – basic training to me is a horse who will walk, trot and canter on both leads with ease, no sign of stiffness or balance issues. The gaits should be clean and cadenced. Any horse should be able to jump a small 2’course, cross rails and cavaletti with ease, and do basic dressage like leg yielding, backing up, haunches in and out, shoulder in and out. This to me is basic training of any riding horse and has nothing to do with discipline. They should also be safe on trails.
After you have got all of that in place you can then start to test the horse out with higher jumps or more difficult dressage and see what the reaction is. Or if you ride Western, do they like cow work or reining or barrels? It really doesn’t matter if you ride English or Western, but first of all the horse has to have the conformation to do the discipline – long legs don’t work too well on a working cow horse!! So you have to look at the horse’s athletic ability also to see if they can withstand the stresses physically of whatever you want them to do, and also do they have the brain for it? Trainability is huge no matter what you want to do.
Learn to read your horse’s expressions, are their ears pricked and do they have an enthusiastic look on their face when they go in the ring? Or are they dull, listless or wild? You can pretty much tell if a horse is enjoying what they are doing, as they are happy, and ready to work. IF you have more questions contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org