Training the Joyful Horse
There are as many horse training methods as there are horse trainers, and many can even achieve quick results. The question remains though, what happens when the horse goes home again?
When a horse is rushed through training, it’s like cramming for a test. All you end up with is a stressed out pupil who does not retain half of what they were “taught”. Real learning takes time and patience. Most doctors spend more than 60 days getting their PH.D!
At the Balance Point Equestrian Learning Center, the focus is on teaching horse and human to work together in harmony through the understanding of balance. The founder and head trainer of the Balance Point Equestrian Learning Center is Rachel Steen, a lifelong horsewoman with a wide range of equestrian experiences. Rachel teaches students to make learning easy for their horse, and to utilize a horse’s natural desire to find “the right answer”.
By enabling horses to realize they are capable of all tasks asked and that there is a reward of appreciation at the end of each task, they will become willing partners rather than prisoners of their rider’s will.
Rachel integrates natural horsemanship techniques into the framework of classical dressage to achieve positive results that can be easily replicated by the owner of the horse at their own home.
The Balance Point offers training and instruction for horses and riders (or drivers) of all ages and disciplines. With a well-laid foundation, both horse and rider can easily move from the trails to the show ring. Our goal is life-long learning and a lasting partnership between horse and rider.
Photo of Rachel Steen and Major Sport Twist. 1992
Training: a Personal Journey
People expect automatic answers. Get in the car, turn on the engine and go. If the car doesn’t start, call someone to fix it. We want someone to fix it for us. Fix everything for us. The bottom line is that we are the beginning and end to any problem that arises. The buck stops here.
Some problems are so large that we need help to get through them. We may receive support and guidance to help us navigate through the tangle, but it is up to us to be the driving force of change. We will find answers to our problems after we have given up making excuses. Things are the way they are. Accept that you are at the beginning of your road and go from there. If you spend all your time lamenting that you are where you are, it will only mean that you stay there longer. And if you deny that you are where you are, then how can you choose the right road to get where you want to be?
So, you are here now. Where shall we go from here?
The Rules of Relationships
The foundation of a harmonious relationship is
Trust & Respect
Communication & Understanding
Joy & Appreciation
How do we apply these concepts in the real world?
Let’s look at what I call, the “Basic Tools” for working with horses. Just as in solving mathematical problems we need to understand the basics tools of addition, subtraction and multiplication, in training horses we need some basic tools as well.
As you work with the tools, keep in mind:
Consistent boundaries builds Trust & Respect
Create Joy & Appreciation by releasing pressure at the slightest correct response
Working in a tension-free manner allows for Communication & Understanding.
One of the biggest factors in establishing communication and understanding is the ability to break apart your end goal into manageable smaller goals that are more easily attained. These Basic Tools are meant to give you very small pieces that you can use to build a much greater whole.
The Basic Tools EVERY horse needs to know
Each tool is taught on the ground, and then can be refined under saddle. VERY IMPORTANT: the correct response is rewarded with quiet, relaxation. The pressure is not released until the horse gives either the correct response or the slightest beginning of a correct response.
1.) Your horse must move forward freely when asked and maintain rhythm
In a round pen, put a wall of energy behind the horse and the horse will go forward. While leading, the horse should step forward willingly when you begin walking. If not, put a wall of energy behind the horse until the horse moves forward. Sometimes the horse will back up when you do this, but you stay with them and continue asking until they do move forward. Release the pressure behind the moment they start forward. Under saddle, you ask with your seat and leg to go forward, if the horse does not listen you help by tapping the whip behind your leg until the moment the horse moves forward.
2.) The horse must stop with you
In a round pen when you lower your energy level (exhale, relax shoulders, step back) the horse should turn towards you and stop. If the horse ignores you after given a sufficient opportunity, then you change the horse’s direction as quietly as possible until the horse turns towards you, and you let them rest when they do turn towards you. While leading the horse, he must stop moving his feet when you stop moving your feet. If he continues moving forward you must immediately build a wall of energy in front of him and back him up a couple steps (looking for him to back freely, not how far he backs.) Upon his successful correction, you need to help him take a deep breath and relax for a moment so he understands the right answer. (Ask him to stretch down with a slight downward pressure to his halter, bit or pressure on top of the poll). Under saddle, ask your horse to stop by exhaling your breath, solidifying your stomach to strengthen your back, lift your ribcage as you stretch your legs down under your hips. Tilt your pelvis under you as you flatten your seat in the saddle. This in effect dampens the horse’s moment. If the horse does not listen then you close your hands upon the reins and build a wall in front of the horse with the reins.
3.)The horse must soften and “give” to pressure
He must be willing to stretch downward and soften when asked with pressure to his bit, halter or pressure behind the poll. The horse must willing to relax into that stretched position. The horse must also be willing to move his hindquarters away from pressure and also move his shoulders away from pressure. If the horse tries to kick you when moving his hindquarters you need to hit him hard on the rear with a rope or whip and send him forward away from you as you step out of his kicking area. Bring the horse in and ask him to stretch down and relax. If the horse leans into your pressure, increase the pressure slowly until he moves away. Release the pressure immediately upon his “give”. Under saddle, start asking the horse to soften to the bit as soon as you have mounted. Do not let the horse move forward, keep the horse’s spine straight from ears to tail. As soon as the horse stretches down, release pressure. If the horse’s head pops back up, ask again. Release again until he gives and continue the process until the horse keeps his head in a horizontal relaxed position. To get the horse to move away from your leg, you can practice turns on the forehand, leg-yielding and other lateral work.
4.) The horse must back with you
While leading the horse, he must stop move his feet backwards when you move your feet backward. If he does not move, you must immediately build a wall of energy in front of him and back him up a couple steps (releasing when he backs freely) Upon his successful correction, you need to help him take a deep breath and relax for a moment so he understands the right answer. (Ask him to stretch down with a slight downward pressure to his halter, bit or pressure on top of the poll).
These tools seem quite simple, but they can help you accomplish just about anything with your horse.