Phases of Horse Training

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Phases of Training

    2006 Cherry Hill

A training program is an individualized calendar of events that you have designed for your horse in order to accomplish various subjective and objective goals. It can span weeks, months, or years, depending on your goals.

Subjective goals in horse training are those qualities that cannot be "scientifically" measured and include such attributes as a willing attitude, cooperation, trust, and respect.

Objective goals usually involve performance of specific maneuvers such as cantering on the correct lead, clearing a 4 foot fence, or standing still when you mount. It is usually easy for you to see whether your horse has or has not met an objective goal. Eventually the matter of form or quality of performance of objective goals enters the picture and the quality of performance becomes your life-long goal as a horse trainer.

How you design a training program will depend on the horse's conformation, age, prior training and conditioning, and your (competition) goals and schedule. All training programs tend to go through three phases.

Phase 1: The Familiarization Phase

During early lessons, a young horse must become accustomed to training routines and sensations. These include a saddle on his back, the restriction of a girth, the presence of a bit in his mouth, the weight and sight of a person on his back, sweating during a session without being able to rub or roll, and following a daily work routine. In addition, a horse needs to develop the mental concentration required of him so that he can pay attention for progressively longer periods of time. In the early part of a training program, these are the most important goals and a horse should be relaxed and comfortable about all of these routines.

Phase 2: The Quantitative Phase

Once a horse is familiar with the idea of training for riding or driving, he will need to learn obedience to the aids. Willing and correct responses to a rider's aids must be cultivated early in a horse's training program. During the quantitative phase, there are many objective goals to accomplish. The horse must be taught to move forward in response to the signal from the pressure of the rider's legs on the horse's ribs. The simplest form of this lesson is halt to walk but includes all upward transitions and lengthenings (extensions) within the gaits.

A horse must learn to accept regulation of his forward movement by listening to the rider's seat and the action of the rider's hands through the reins to the bit. When the seat becomes still and the hands are closed on the reins and the rider no longer applies leg aids for forward movement, the horse should decrease or cease forward movement. The simplest form of this lesson is the walk to halt transition but includes all downward transitions as well as shortenings (collection) within the gaits.

Gradually a horse must learn to accept the connection made from the leg aids to the rein aids and will be asked to perform a variety of transitions and maneuvers. This is the process of getting a horse "on the bit".

A horse must also learn to move his hindquarters away from the leg when it is applied actively behind the girth. This is the precursor to all of the lateral movements.

During this "technical skills" phase of a horse's learning, he learns what to do and what not to do. He learns a battery of responses according to the trainer's desires and goals. The horse amasses a repertoire of basic skills and learns to differentiate between similar aids for different responses.

Phase 3: The Qualitative Phase

After a horse has learned the proper responses to a rider's aids, his lessons will focus on improving form. In the qualitative phase, the horse learns how to perform his newly learned skills in a smoother, more balanced manner. In other words, he improves the quality of his work. The horse first learned what to do, now he learns how to do it in better form. Of course, the quantitative phase and the qualitative phase are not separate phases. All along, the trainer shifts back and forth between teaching a horse what to do and helping him hone his performance. Throughout the horses qualitative training, there are subjective goals that one must keep in mind: forward energy, rhythm, suppleness and relaxation, mental and physical acceptance of contact, relative straightness, balance, and precision. It is important that these subjective goals are not forgotten as the horse learns more advanced movements.


  2004 Cherry Hill



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