A horse only has so much energy in him before he wears out. Knowing this fact, determines how I approach every horse, and every ride. When I train horses, I assume nothing; I always start right from the beginning regardless of the age of the horse and the discipline. Being a Natural Horsemanship Trainer, I focus on a trusting relationship to build into a positive partnership between horse and rider.
I am always thinking about my end goal taking all the time necessary toward having a horse be a finished-bridle horse and use every ride to advance the horse closer to that goal and to focus on not wasting a single one of his steps.
Not only is this a challenge, but it’s so rewarding to make a finished-bridle horse, to take a horse to that level of educating him step by step and continue to have the horse perfectly sound, willing, supple and useable while you are taking the best care of him.
I can’t stress this next point enough. I make sure never to get to the point where the horse has reached this level of education and have him break down. I make sure to avoid this by thinking through each ride and using that time to progress. What I make sure I don’t do is ride my horse around off balance, carrying all of his weight on his front end, falling to the inside, because when that happens, all that is accomplishing is breaking him down more quickly.
What I am about to say is in no way condescending to anyone. Just an observation that I make when teaching. Most of the time when I watch people ride, I stop them and ask them what they are thinking about. Right at that moment, most of the time, they are just riding around. They are not focused about where they are going and giving the horse a job to do, they are not thinking if their horse is balanced, if they are using the arena to improve their horses, and working on transitions, etc. Most of the time, they are just riding around in circles. (I call these mindless circles). Another problem I see is people with young horses who get stuck in a colt starting pattern where they just ride their horses around on a lose reign and ride like that for an eternity.
But if you want to advance the horse in his education in a timely manner, it takes a commitment and patience and a willingness to make progress at a steady rate. When riding in the arena, you should be working on straightness otherwise there is no sense in using the arena. If you aren’t going to use the shape of the arena, you are not making use of its purpose. At this point, I would like to say (keep in mind that because your horse’s hips are wider than his shoulders, if you make your horse straight to the wall or fence of the arena, you have actually pushed his hips to the inside. For him to be truly straight there should be a wedge shape between him and the side of the arena). The purpose of using the arena is to give the rider four straight lines and four corners to work within to refine and focus your riding.
The arena is a place where you can actually work to get your horse between your reins and legs. The shape of the arena gives you a constant reference point when you are working on maneuvers. When riding you should be focusing on centering and balancing your horse the entire time you are riding in the arena or on the trail also.
Here I think would be a good time to mention that there are advantages and disadvantages to working in a training arena. The greatest advantage is that an enclosure imposes discipline on both horse and rider. The greatest disadvantage is the risk that the novice rider will “sour” the horse with intensive and tedious work. A horse must be accustomed to ring work gradually, and the rider must be ever alert for signs of boredom. A horse has a very brief attention span and needs frequent recesses if he is to be a happy and alert horse. An occasional brisk trot on a loose reign either in the arena or out on the trail will do much to keep him fresh.
Remember not to ask the horse constantly to learn, learn, learn. It’s best to give the horse a little learning at a time and let it soak in with practice.
In the next issue, we will continue Part 2 with the discussion on Have a Goal When you Ride.
Bob Burrelli Trainer/Clinician is dedicated to Excellence in Natural Horsemanship.