by Terry Myers
How do you know when you have realistic expectations of your horse and yourself? If you have to ask yourself that question, you probably don’t have realistic expectations. Let me ask another question; do you think it is possible to improve a horse’s skills/knowledge by 1 percent per ride? If you say yes, are your absolutely sure? If you still answer yes, I want to hire you because that means you can have a horse 100 percent trained in 100 rides. It can’t be done. Neither horse nor rider is ever 100 percent trained. To be more specific, a horse is just getting started after 100 rides.
There are two basic types of horses when it comes to training; those with baggage (bad habits to unlearn before they can learn good habits) versus those who are blank slates (don’t know much of anything). The baggage horses have problems, usually made by people, to unlearn before they can be retrained. More specifically, the bad habits don’t go away, they are replaced with good habits. The bad habits are still in the horses’ memory, which is why it is easy to slip back into bad habits. With both people and horses it is harder to forget the bad habits than it is to learn new ones. It takes a lot longer to undo issues and retrain. Blank slate horses may learn faster, but may have a lot more things to learn. They may also have to learn to work and develop a work ethic, if they have never had to work.
Another huge unrealistic expectations issue is ‘green on green.’ There is the train of thought that the novice rider should get a young horse so they can ‘grow together.’ Let me say this one thing here… “Are you stupid?” In over 40 years of riding, I’ve only seen the green rider and young horse combination work well one time. A lady brought a 3 year old horse to me for one month of training. The horse, very smart and mild mannered, was easy to break to ride. I was able to accomplish a lot with the gelding in a month. The owner had low expectations and a confident personality. These two got along great and did very well together. This is the only time I’ve seen green on green really work. In considering that horses weight over 1,000 pounds, but yet can be lightening quick, bad things can happen in seconds. As the saying goes, green on green makes black and blue. Buy a horse with more skills than yourself, unless you have the skills to teach your horse and are willing to invest in resources (training/lessons/clinics) to help you develop yourself and your horse.
Having realistic riding goals is important with each ride. Horses, like people, have good days and bad days. If you start out a ride with the intention of accomplishing a specific goal and find that you are having issues, perhaps your goal is too rigid and not realistic. Or you need to figure out a different way of communicating. Or you need to back up to a smaller goal. If you get into a fight with your horse, back way up to basic things that they know how to do so you can end your ride on a positive note. In team athletics like football or basketball, the teams that are consistently most successful are those that excel at the basics. The same can be said for riding. If you and your horse do not have good basic riding skills, you have nothing to come back to. If your horse does not have basic training, you don’t have anything to come back to either. For example: when I am at a horse expo and my horse sees something which scares him, something that he may never have seen before such as a six horse hitch that comes thundering out of an arena. I ask my horse to do basic maneuvers that he knows how to do. This helps him focus on me and do something he is confident doing, rather than the object that he thinks is about to kill him. I step back to basics with my horse.
Don’t forget your own skills. We have talked a lot in this article about the horse’s skills, but don’t forget your own. You can’t expect your horse to have skills if you don’t have the riding skills which allows your horse to perform. Be sure to invest in developing your skills and knowledge, so you can make the most of your horse’s skills and knowledge.
Most importantly, be patient with yourself and your horse. When you are working with your horse, you are on his timeframe, not yours. Your training progresses only as your horse learns and is ready to progress. Patience will help you to develop realistic expectations. When you are struggling with something, step back to the basics, then take a break and go do something fun with your horse.
One last comment to remember when you and your horse are having trouble…lower your expectations to lower your frustrations!
Terry Myers is a national clinician and champion horse trainer with a depth of knowledge developed from over 45 years in the horse industry. Myers has been a popular clinician at multiple expos in the U.S. and Canada. To learn more about Myers’ Ride-In-Sync Horsemanship methods as well as clinic and training services available, visit Myers at www.tmtrainingcenter.com and on Facebook.