Horse Trainers And Reasonable Timeline ExpectationsBy Jeffrey Rolo
I saved the timelines one should expect from a horse trainer for last because I didn't want the timelines to take the spotlight away from the importance of direct observation and/or personal instruction from a horse trainer. Nothing beats direct observation; trust, but verify. (Oh, and if you didn't already read the article Horse Trainers: Trust, But Verify then I recommend doing so first.)
When people ask me how long it usually takes to train a horse, here's what I'll tell them:
I always start a horse with groundwork so that we can develop a bond of trust. The length of the groundwork can vary depending on a horse's age (obviously if a colt is one year old, he'll be doing groundwork for a couple years before starting saddle work, whereas if a horse is four years old, he may do groundwork for a few days before starting under saddle) and aptitude. If I'm taking my time, which I generally am when working with my own horses, I would probably do groundwork for a week before transitioning to saddle work. So we're up to seven days.
Part of the groundwork also includes desensitization, but if I didn't already focus on it during the first week, I would certainly start it by the second. I would also gear the horse up and get him accustomed to the feeling of a girth, saddle, bit, reins, etc. I would then get him used to taking weight on the saddle and accepting a rider.
How long does this stage take? Technically it can take a single day, but if I'm taking my sweet time I may allow a couple days before I'm fully riding him within a riding arena. By the end of the second week, unless a horse is severely spooky or uncooperative, he should be performing basic riding well enough within a round pen and/or arena. So now we're up to 14 days.
From this point on, timelines will vary depending on the expectations of the owner. If my end goal is for a horse to be perfectly polished, well-mannered, responsive, and familiar with various types of terrains and obstacles (such as cars, pools of water, etc.), training could take around two months. If my end goal is for a horse to simply accept a saddle and rider, it could take as little as a week.
This is why it's important for both you and a horse trainer to agree to a specific set of expectations. Providing a horse with the riding basics can be a relatively quick and easy process (less than a month). Training a horse well enough to be bomb-proof will take a larger time investment. If you're looking for a bomb-proof horse, you need to give your trainer enough time to desensitize and polish your equine partner.
So keeping the caveat in mind that training will differ for every horse since some are quicker to desensitize than others, I would say that two months for a fairly well-polished horse is a reasonable expectation. By the first month your horse should almost certainly be under saddle and responsive to riding cues while in the arena. By the second month the horse should be familiar with road and trail work, and be comfortable both following and leading while on train rides. Give or take a month depending on the aptitude of a given horse as well as exactly how polished you want your horse to be before taking him back home.
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