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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Training should not feel like a battle

I regularly meet people who have been having lessons for years with their horse and are still struggling to get where they want to be. They often struggle with basic things like keeping the horse in a trot, stopping them falling in on turns or leaning on the bit. They’ve usually been told that their horse is lazy/stubborn/opinionated and they just have to ride with strong aids all the time to keep on top of them. There is no reason why any physically healthy horse cannot be trained to softly walk, trot and canter in a balanced fashion from light, quiet cues.

We can make life so much more difficult for horses than we mean to without realising it. A lot of training seems to focus on stopping the horse from being “resistant” to the contact instead of addressing why the horse is resistant in the first place. Most of the time the horse is not physically capable of what is being asked without it causing them discomfort, they are not being rude when they come against your hand, they are telling you they are struggling.

When we try to push through and make the horse comply, we start to create negative associations with training for the horse. We need to train within the horse’s physical limitations and show them how to find healthier movement patterns. If your horse is unbalanced, on the forehand and struggles to trot in a straight line, no amount of trotting 20m circles, pushing with the legs and fiddling with the mouth until they’re “soft” is going to improve that. If a horse is tired and we continue to push, the danger is that he will start to compensate and strengthen the wrong muscles. This is what we mean by dysfunctional movement patterns. Healthy posture and movement cannot be forced.

Focussing on creating healthier postures and training in a kind, sympathetic manner produces relaxed horses who are lovely to ride. The brain is just as important as the body. While a warmblood might find movement easier than a heavyweight cob, this doesn’t mean the cob cannot be trained to respond to the lightest cues and move in a way that is healthy for them.

We are taught to expect far too much from our horses far too quickly and this is where the wheels fall off. It’s not going to be perfect overnight but with the right guidance we can recognise the slow, gradual improvement to create a strong, amicable riding horse who is a pleasure to ride and capable of the work we are asking them to do.

It can be hard to recognise when you’re trusting a professional who is telling you this is the right way, but if you feel stuck in a rut with your horse I encourage you to explore a different way of training.

Before and after photo of young part Clydesdale Teddy starting to find some balance under saddle.

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