Positive Training with your Dressage Partner

Over all the years I have been in the horse world I have experienced many types of horses. You have the young horses, the talented horses, the stubborn horses, the all around safe horses, and everything in between. I have had people ask me “How is it that you can connect with a horse and change their outlook on work?”. Well, I can’t with every horse but I certainly try.  
First, to really get a horse to want to work for you, you must understand common nature and instincts of a horse. You first need to realize that horses are prey animals. Since they are prey animals, in the wild they will form herds to protect themselves from predators. Despite popular belief, the lead horse in a wild heard is the dominant mare, not the stallion. She is the one who decides where the herd should travel, when to travel, when to rest, where to graze, etc. The stallion is merely there to reproduce and fight off other stallions. Knowing this little bit of information you can already determine why sometimes people ask “Is she mare-ish?”. That’s a mares instinct, to dominate.
Horses are fight or flight animals. When they feel threatened there first choice is to run away. If cornered, however, their only choice left is to fight, by any means possible. This is something I think a lot about in my training. There is three zones in training your horse. The first zone is when you are not asking or pushing your horse to much. The horse is fine because they are not threatened or bothered. The second zone is where you ask your horse to do more. Being patient and listening to your horse during the heavier training is key so you don’t end up pushing them into the last zone. Your last zone is your fight or flight zone. They don’t understand you anymore. They are merely going by their equine       instincts. They are confused and feel unsafe. Your horse has stopped learning from this point. You must always try to keep your horses in a place where they feel trusting and they want to learn without pushing them to a breaking point. If you find yourself in that third zone then you must find a way to get back to the other zones. Granted, at times you may have to push your horse into the third zone but never keep them there and get them back to a learning zone to keep the training positive.
Horses can always recognize predators immediately. There instincts tell them when they look at us, humans, that we have two eyes on the front of our head, a trait common to predators. While it is very important that our partners to view us as the leader we must also gain their respect, not force it. We want our horse to trust us, not fear us. We, as riders, have to appear as the dominant mare, guiding them where they should be in a positive way.
You must learn how a horse communicates to know where your training is headed. A good way to see what your horse is thinking is by watching the ears. Is the ears forward? Your horse may be more alert to what is ahead of them. Is there ears to the side or one back while one is forward? I prefer this in my horses while I’m training. It shows me that they are listening to what I’m asking. They are aware and working with the rider. Is your horses ear back? They could be unhappy, mad, or realize something is coming up behind them. Their ears are very sensitive and keep them aware of there surrounding. You can also determine a few things with their tails. Slight swishing could be a slight irritant or insect but if it is more aggressive it could indicate either irritation, pain, or anger. The horse does not use its mouth to communicate to the degree that it uses its ears and tail during training.
So while you are training your horses you must first understand the nature of a horse and their common instincts. If you begin to understand these things then you can get your horse to work harder for you because you know when you are pushing to hard or when your not pushing enough. You can judge what they are ready to learn and what they still don’t understand. This in turn will help you bond  closely with your horse and create a stronger bond because your horse will look up to you. You have built the trust with them and they will do and/or try anything for you.
Good training always starts with the basics for a reason. It’s to show and guide your horse in the direction they need to go one step at a time. Skipping steps will ultimately have negative results in your training and your horse will not perform at its best. Try to take time with your horse and really understand them more as a horse. You will be amazed at what you see. Happy Riding!


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