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Horse Training Overview
(Training horses is both complicated and risky and should not be attempted by people who are not qualified)
"Horses Come Pre-wired With Everything Humans Need To Interact With Them; Humans Simply Need To Learn How To Ask." Anonymous
(Click here for a list of Florida Trainers, Riding Instructors and Riding Facilities)
Horse training refers to a variety of practices that teach horses to perform certain behaviors when asked to do so by humans. Horses are trained to be manageable by humans for everyday care as well as for equestrian activities from horse racing to therapeutic horseback riding for people with disabilities. Like most animals, a young horse will more easily adapt to human expectations than an older one, so human handling of the horse from a very early age is generally advised.
Historically, horses were trained for warfare, farm work, sport and transport. Today, most horse training is geared toward making horses useful for a variety of recreational and sporting equestrian pursuits. Horses are also trained for specialized jobs from movie stunt work to police and crowd control activities, circus entertainment, and equine-assisted psychotherapy.
Consistent with other equine issues controversy exists over various methods of horse training and even some of the words used to describe these methods. Some techniques are considered cruel, other methods are considered gentler and more humane. Some training techniques may appear violent to people unused to horse behavior, but in practice may not be as harsh as they appear. However, it is beyond the scope of this article to go into the details of various training methodology, so general, basic principles are described below.
Basic Goals of Horse Training: While the number of training techniques is large, and the goals of training too numerous to count, basic animal training concepts apply to all forms of horse training. The initial goal of most types of training is to create a horse that is safe for humans to handle (under most circumstances) and able to perform a useful task for the benefit of its owner.
A few specific considerations and some basic knowledge of horse behavior helps improve the trainer’s effectiveness no matter what school or discipline is chosen:
After a young horse is taught to lead and other basic skills, various tasks can be introduced to the horse as it matures while it is still too young to be ridden. Some schools of training do a great deal of work with young horses during their yearling and two-year-old years to prepare them for riding, others merely reinforce the basic lessons taught to the horse as a foal and simply keep the horse accustomed to the presence of humans. Many times, a young horse did not have all necessary basic skills described above taught to it as a foal and its "adolescent" years are spent learning or re-learning basic lessons.
Several ground training techniques are commonly introduced to a young horse some time after it is a year old, but prior to being ridden. All horses usually have some or all of this ground work done prior to being ridden, though the time spent can range from hours to months. While a foal or yearling can be introduced to a small amount of ground work, a young horse's bones and joints are quite soft and fragile. So, to prevent joint and cartilage injury, intense work, particularly intense work in a confined circle (such as advanced round penning or longeing), should wait until the horse is at least two years old. Common ground training techniques include:
Liberty Work: Liberty work or free longeing, round pen work or round penning, but regardless of terminology, is the process of working a loose horse in a small area (usually a round pen 40-60 feet/15-20 meters in diameter) with the handler holding only a long whip or a rope lariat, teaching the horse to respond to the voice and body language of the handler as he or she asks the horse to move faster or slower, to change direction, and to stop.
Longeing (Lungeing- UK): Longeing is the training of a young horse to move in circles at the end of a long rope or lead line usually 15 to 30 feet (4.7 to 9.4 meters) in length.
Desensitization or Sacking Out: Desensitization is the process of introducing a horse to flapping objects such as blankets, teaching the horse to allow itself to be touched by an object and not to fear things that people move about a horse.
Introduction to a saddle and bridle or harness, without actually getting on the horse or hooking up a cart.
Ground Driving: Ground driving, also called long-lining, teaching a young horse to move forward with a person walking behind it, a precursor to both harness driving and having reins used by a mounted rider.
Bitting: Bitting, the process of accustoming a horse to a bit and bridle, sometimes with the addition of side reins that attach to a saddle, harness, or surcingle (a wide leather or nylon band that goes around the horse's barrel) and accustom the horse to the feel of pressure on the bit.
A horse is not ready to be ridden until it is accustomed to all the equipment that it needs to wear and is responsive to basic voice, and usually rein, commands to start, stop, turn and change gaits.
For some disciplines, ground work is also used to develop specific types of muscling as well as to instill certain behaviors. When ground work incorporates both mental and muscular development, it may take considerably longer for the horse to be ready to be ridden, but advocates of these methods maintain that the additional time on the ground allows the horse to advance more quickly or with better manners once under saddle.
Backing or Riding A Young Horse
The act of getting on a horse for the first time goes by many names, including backing, breaking, green braking, mounting, and simply riding. There are many techniques for introducing the young horse to a rider or to a harness and cart for driving, but the end goal of all methods is to have the horse calmly and quietly allow a rider on its back or behind it in a cart and to respond to basic commands to go forward, change gaits and speed, stop, turn and back up.
What Age To Back: The age that horses are first ridden or "backed" (UK) varies considerably by breed and discipline. Many Thoroughbred race horses have small, light riders on their backs as early in the fall of their yearling year. Most stock horse breeds, such as the American Quarter Horse, are ridden at the age of two. Most horses used in harness have a cart first put behind them at age two and even some horses not ridden until age three will be trained to pull a light cart at two, in order to learn better discipline and to help develop stronger muscles with less stress. The vast majority of horses across disciplines and throughout the world are first put under saddle at the age of three. However, some slower-maturing breeds, such as the Lipizzan, are not ridden until the age of four.
Proper Backing Methods: Ideally, a young horse will have no fear of humans and view being ridden as simply one more new lesson. A properly handled young horse that had adequate ground work will seldom buck, rear, or run away when it is ridden, even for the very first time.
Horses that have never been taught to be ridden can learn at any age, though it may take somewhat longer to teach an older horse. An older horse that is used to humans is easier to put under saddle than a completely wild horse caught off the open range. Once basic skills under saddle are mastered, the horse is usually ready to go on to more specialized training for a particular disciplines or set of disciplines. However discipline-specific training can take years to perfect.