Question: My horse was doing really well with her training for the first 4 months, but seems to have lost it. We have come to a roadblock in our training and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. What should I be looking for? Is my horse maybe not able to learn any more?
Answer from April Reeves: Often when people are training their horses, there is a tendency to speed through the ‘boring’ stuff and get into the fun stuff. Unfortunately, it is the boring work that allows the horse to take in the fun stuff easily. Again, it’s about foundation work, and I harp on this subject a lot, but it’s important enough to keep repeating. I can guesstimate (from experience) that 90% of all horses are missing this (sure would like to know what other trainers think about this).
Another reason for roadblocks in your training regime is the rider not fully understanding how to move from kindergarten to grade 12. There is a flow in training; in other words, there are levels to when a horse is ready to accept the next thing you want to teach him. If you move too fast, or miss a level, the horse will begin to have difficulty ‘getting’ what you are trying to teach them. I think this is what may be happening with you.
Consistency is another problem with riders. Horses learn through consistent aid application, consistent timing of release, and their riders being consistent within themselves and keeping their cool when things don’t go as planned.
Groundwork is also missing from the schooling of many horses. The horse you lead is the horse you ride. Groundwork is missing from, again, 90% of all the horses out there (care to comment again?).
The rider’s ability to actually ride a horse can play a part in training blocks. How much does the rider work on him/herself? So you can walk and trot but when it comes time to canter, your position falls apart. Or maybe your hands are too fast or not sensitive enough? Do you lean when you should be straight? Do you look down all the time?
As far as your horse not being able to ‘learn’ any more, that is what I call ‘Form to Function’, where the horse simply is not built to perform the tasks you are asking. I have a brilliant Welsh Cob mare in training that is picking up everything with remarkable speed, but she will never have a really great canter. She simply is not built for it; her body is too long, her legs are too short and viewed from the side she is set very low.
I believe almost all horses can learn an incredible amount of information, so I hesitate to say your horse may not be smart enough. It is up to the trainer to bring out the ‘bloom’ in a horse. All horses learn at different speeds, like humans. All horses possess an inherent ability to do one thing really well, like humans. But it takes a human to bring out the horse’s best side.
There is more than one way to teach a single lesson to a horse. I have 5 styles of teaching flying changes, only one seems to work better than the other 4. I don’t always know exactly which method I will use until I have a better understanding of the horse first. All 5 styles do have distinct similarities. It is up to a trainer to be able to judge which way he is going to work with a horse. Trainers who teach specific disciplines like reining tend to use one method consistently with all horses, while other trainers who change breeds and disciplines daily will need to learn multiple methods.
What matters is what the horse knows at the end of the day, and how well he knows it. Make it worth your while.