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False Perceptions Behind Horse Training

By Jeffrey Rolo

Too many people have convinced themselves that horse training lies beyond their ability without ever having tried it first. I have found that a majority of new horse owners have one of two perceptions concerning breaking a horse:

bulletThe mystical practice of horse whispering
bulletRough and rugged horse bronco busting

Both perceptions are likely fed by television or movie portrayals of horse training, and unfortunately both perceptions are also sadly lacking in accuracy. This article will expose the myths behind these two common perceptions and help you reevaluate whether training your own horse lies within your ability after all. (Hint: Chances are it will.)

The Mystical Horse Whisperer

Many of us have been exposed to the mysterious horse whisperer – an individual who inherently possesses an understanding of the horse's language that the rest of us could only sit back and envy. The inventor of the term "horse whisperer" was brilliant since the term does bring forth romantic images of gifted horsemen closely attuned to equines.

Luckily, as any legitimate horse whisperer will tell you, there is little mysterious about their skills. Anyone with a willingness to observe and learn about horses can certainly join the ranks of the horse whisperers. Substitute "horse whispering" with "natural horsemanship" and you'll quickly realize that all these whisperers are simply horsemen that took the time to hone their skills and expand their knowledge of horses.

I do think the horse whisperer craze that struck America was a wonderful thing – it helped the general public realize that training a horse need not be harsh or adversarial. As the media promoted the horse whisperers more and more after the blockbuster success of Nicholas Evans' novel (and the subsequent success of the movie adaptation featuring Robert Redford), thousands of people discovered the ways of natural horsemanship.

Try not to allow the mystical Hollywood and media depictions of horse whisperers fool you. Natural horsemanship is a skill that can be learned by anyone with a sincere passion for horses and a willingness to allow the horse to instruct you as you simultaneously instruct him.

The Bronco Buster

Perhaps you have seen one of those cowboy movies where Hollywood represents cowboys as a group of yahoos that snatch undomesticated horses from the wild, tie them to a stake and "break" them. Although some horsemen continue to use rough, confrontational styles of horse breaking (as opposed to training), luckily these Hollywood portrayals do not reflect the majority of cowboys and horsemen. Such a method is the worst technique you can use to train a horse, and in fact I do not consider breaking a horse to be in any way related to training a horse.

Jumping onto an untrained (and scared) horse to "ride out the storm" until either you are tossed off his back or the horse loses his spirit is not the way to create a solid relationship or reliable horse in the long run. Professional trainers realize that such harsh methods can do the following:

bulletCause harm to the horse
bulletCause harm to himself
bulletCause harm to a future owner who isn't as skilled a rider
bulletDeepen the horse's fear and mistrust of humans

Is even one of these potential outcomes caused by slapdash and confrontational breaking style worth the result? Most of your fellow horsemen would resoundingly agree… NO!

Before you even consider jumping on a horse's back you should develop a strong and trusting relationship via groundwork (ideally, round pen work). If you or your horse is uncomfortable with the other then you're not ready to begin saddle training. Just continue your groundwork until your horse looks upon you as his leader and you look upon your horse as your trusted partner. You'll instinctually know when you are both prepared for the next stages of training, so take it patiently and slow until you reach that point.

As with any skill, it is true that some have a higher degree of natural talent towards horse training, but anyone is capable of becoming a proficient handler and trainer as long as they possess knowledge, dedication, respect and a genuine concern for the horses you work with.

Horse whisperers are little more than horsemen that realize horse training is not a race for results, but rather a methodical series of exercises that help develop a bond between the handler and the horse.

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