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Welcome to the Equestrian Outreach Schooling PageHorse Training

Schooling or Training Horses and Instructing Riders Basic Goals
(For reasons of safety and education, Equestrian Outreach supports dressage principles as the basis of any beginning instruction and or training program.)
(Click here for a list of Trainers, Riding Instructors and Riding Facilities)

"Horses Come Pre-wired With Everything Humans Need To Interact With Them; Humans Simply Need To Learn How To Ask." Anonymous

Schooling or training is the physical and mental education of the horse. The purpose of schooling is to maintain and restore the inherent balance of the horse while under the weight and influence of the rider. Properly administered, schooling co-opts the horse’s innate responses, physicality and mental acuity to balance the horse’s performance with the needs of the rider. Schooling, while improving the horse's athletic development, teaches the horse communication, obedience and cooperation, resulting in a partnership and enhancing performance.

Schooling or Training Horses - Breaking Versus Training

In the US there are strong cultural perceptions about horses, some accurate some not. One perception is about cowboys capturing wild mustangs, placing them in corrals and ‘breaking’ them. The idea here is that the spirit of this wild horse must be broken before it can be trained. Two perspectives emerge from this ideology. One that is consistent with this method and is sometimes referred to as “the cowboy way”. The other is referred to as “classic training. For our purposes we have chosen to embrace the classic method.

The Cowboy Way*: In the 18 and 19th century Western United States catching and training feral mustang horses (Mustang: American Spanish mesteño, mestengo, stray animal) was a rapidly growing and profitable industry. The infant industrial, pre-automobile population growth spike, fueled the enormous demand for horses in this country. Supplying this massive demand required a radical modification of traditional equine schooling methods; which were too slow and time consuming. "Breaking horses and the cowboy way" became the catch phrases for this unfortunate training shorthand. This training method's emphasis is on quick fixes, force and pain and a mind set of quiet compliance or death. As a result if this inhuman practice, in much of the equestrian community “breaking horses and the cowboy way” are pejorative terms. This method should not be confused with western trainers who embrace and regularly employ classic training methods. We do make the distinction about a persistent mind set which embraces in whole or in part these inhumane training methods.

Classic Training: Also known as Classic Dressage (Etymology: Middle French, from dresser to train or drill) developed around the principles of classical dressage as outlined by Xenophon (Greek general 430 - 354 BCE) in his book “On Horsemanship”. Xenophon emphasized training the horse using it's natural reactive behaviors as riding aids and motivating it through kindness and reward. The basis of classical dressage and collection lie in the natural ability of the horse and its movements in the wild. In fact, most modern definitions of dressage state that the goal is to have the horse perform under saddle with the degree of athleticism and grace that it naturally shows when free. Horses naturally use the concept of collection; which is the ability to gather, shift balance toward hindquarters and maneuver the body with improved agility. Collection appears naturally when playing, fighting, competing and courting between horses. When trying to impress or intimidate, horses make themselves look bigger, just as other animals do. They achieve this by pumping up the chest, raising the neck and making it bigger by flexing the poll, while at the same time transforming their gaits to emphasize more upwards movement. When fighting, the horse will collect because in collection he can produce lightning speed reactions for kicking, rearing, spinning, striking with the front feet, bucking and jumping. In modern times dressage has two schools, the original classic dressage and competitive dressage. (Click here for more information about dressage)

This natural ability to collect is visible in every horse of any breed, and probably inspired early trainers to reproduce that kind of behavior in more controlled circumstances. This origin also points out why, according to most Classical dressage trainers, every healthy horse, regardless its breed, can perform classical dressage movements, including the Haute Ecole (Airs Above the Ground) jumps, even though it may perform them differently from the ideal performance; due to the build of its body.

*Note: On balance there is a rising concern among classic (English) equestrians about a growing trend for “quick fixes” within its community as well.

Basic Goals of Schooling a Horse
The primarily goals of schooling are to develop effective communication and harmony between horse and rider. With a wide diversity of basic forms of horse training or schooling this overview is not discipline specific. 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 humans

A few specific considerations and some basic knowledge of horse behavior helps a horse trainer be effective no matter what school or discipline is chosen:

  1. Safety is paramount: Horses are much larger and stronger than humans, so must be taught to behave in ways that will not injure people.
  2. Horses, like other animals, have a different brain structure from humans and thus do not have the same type of thinking and reasoning ability as human beings. Thus, the human has the responsibility to think about how to use the psychology of the horse to make the animal understand the goals of the human trainer.
  3. Horses are strongly social herd animals and, when properly handled, can learn to follow and respect both trainer and rider.
  4. Horses, as prey animals, have an inborn fight or flight instinct that has to be adapted to the needs of humans. Horses need to be taught to both trust and rely upon humans to determine when fear or flight is an appropriate response to new stimuli and not to react by instinct alone.
  5. 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. This is not to say that successful training of older horses is not possible.

Levels of Schooling (Horse and Student)

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There are three classifications of control to describe the stages or levels of training for the horse as well as the rider, they are:

Elementary Level (Level 1) - Intermediate Level (Level2) - Advanced Level (Level 3)

Elementary Level: The elementary level means authority over the horse through quick and efficient control. Emphasis is placed on teaching the horse obedience. The rider's goal is to ride on loose or semi-loose reins, teaching the horse to respond to the elementary control techniques described below. This schooling process will promote the elements of "stabilization" encouraging the horse to be responsive, move forward freely with even speeds of gait, while remaining mentally and physically relaxed. The elementary level is used by beginning riders while developing their positions and by intermediate and advanced riders when schooling or re-training horses. The elementary control techniques are characterized by:

  1. Hands: Loose or semi-loose reins used in a check-release fashion for control and direction of the horse.
  2. Legs: Tapping or kicking.
  3. Seat: Staying in the saddle.
  4. Voice: Used liberally.
  5. Gaits:  The horse should be working toward stabilization or when teaching beginners, the horse should already be stabilized.

Intermediate Level: Having worked through the "stabilization" process, the horse is mentally and physically ready to strengthen performance. The performance is strengthened by the rider's ability to create impulse and connect the horse's movement through use of contact. Emphasis is placed on a cooperative effort between horse and rider. At this level, the horse should move forward freely with impulse, accept contact softly, and respond to the rider's aids without resistance. The intermediate control techniques are characterized by:

  1. Hands: Use of rein contact with following hands, give and take; use of reins in cooperation with the horse's mechanics.
  2. Legs: Squeezing leg aids in timing with the horse's efforts.
  3. Seat: Stabilizing seat balance.
  4. Voice: Used as a schooling aid.
  5. Gaits:  The horse should be stabilized on contact, move forward with impulse and connection, work with cooperation and efficiency.

Advanced Level: The primary emphasis at this level of schooling is to achieve the highest quality performance on the flat and over fences. The advanced rider's goal is to assess the horse's mental and physical capabilities and to develop appropriate schooling techniques that will strengthen performance. At this stage of schooling, the rider allows the horse to become confident in his work, athletic, and willing to perform to the best of its ability. This level is characterized by:

  1. Hands: Use of the five rein aids with excellent timing and feel; knowledge and use of aids at all schooling levels.
  2. Legs: Use of the three leg aids with excellent timing; knowledge and use of aids at all schooling levels.
  3. Seat: Using seat balance and position as a schooling aid.
  4. Voice: Used as a schooling aid.
  5. Gaits:  The horse should demonstrate quality of movement, connection, semi-collection, collection; athletic jumping.