If you've ever taken riding lessons, you can relate to your horse
when it comes to being corrected for something you didn't do quite
right. Maybe the instructor just got a little sarcastic. Or maybe
she raised things to the level of a good scold. Maybe you messed
up big time and got yelled at big time. Or maybe to prove her point
about what you did wrong, the instructor got really stern and made
you do whatever it was over and over and over to drill into your
Whatever happened, as the instructor got louder or pushier or stricter
you probably didn't feel very good about what you were doing. Your
first reaction was probably a knot in your stomach. Or you got nervous
or afraid or grumpy or mad or resentful. Even if you knew you earned
the dressing down you got, going through it didn't make you feel
very good about riding that day.
Worst of all, you probably didn't learn much of anything except
that going back into the arena with that instructor wasn't something
you were looking forward to.
That's why we teach our students that there are three times you
punish a horse for doing something wrong--never, never and never.
The first goal in every training session is to make the horse feel
positive about himself and the whole experience he has when he's
with you. Heeding teaches handlers to concentrate on their horse,
to methodically apply horse logical pressures only to the point
where they shape the horse's behavior, then to consistently apply
and release and reapply those pressures to shape and direct every
stride the horse takes. When everything is horse logical and no
more than one step away from something he already knows, the horse
learns to trust that nothing bad is going to happen when he's around
you. That trust leads to relaxation. And relaxation and rhythm are
the foundations for anything you're going to teach a horse.
When a pressure gets "louder" either physically or psychologically,
the horse feels that as something he wants to escape from. Whenever
he's running away from a pressure, the horse is not learning. Whenever
his current rhythm is abruptly interrupted, he is not learning.
So if you jerk on a lead rope, make a sudden move around his head,
yank on the reins, kick him in the side, smack him with a crop or
gig him with a spur as "punishment" for something he didn't do right,
the only the thing horse has learned is that it's not safe to be
around you. His trust goes away. Any positive feelings about the
training session gets cancelled by that breach of trust.
Remember that you have to show the horse what you want him to do
before you can ask him to do it. You reward any tiny move in the
right direction. You don't punish wrong moves, you just ignore them.
You simply go back to showing him what you want. Go back to something
he already knows and can be successful at. Then ask again. If you
get what you wanted, stroke him or scratch him and let him know
how pleasant the whole thing was. If you don't get it, just stay
calm, stay positive and start showing him again.
Once you can ask the horse to do something and get it consistently,
now you can tell him to do it by just beginning the feel of a full
corridor of aids. Only when the horse reaches this stage can you
enforce your asking.
Here's where things get a little tricky. You have to enforce what
you've asked in a way that the horse does not feel as punishment.
Enforcement means re-enforcing something the horse already knows,
re-minding or re-focusing his attention. That's a different attitude
than correcting the horse because he's gone wrong.
When any one part of a corridor of aids gets too loud, it destroys
the feel of the full corridor. A corridor of individual aids gives
the horse a message about how you want him to shape the next stride
just like a sentence make up of individual words tells your buddy
what you want him to do. If you start a sentence then wind up yelling
just one word, that one loud word drowns out the meaning of all
Enforcement means emphasizing one of your aids just enough to remind
the horse of the shape you're asking for without raising his excitement
level to the point where you drown out all the rest of the corridor.
Maybe you've asked for the horse to work in a straight line in a
particular rhythm as he approaches a jump. You have him in a corridor
of aids that includes your seatbones, your hands and your legs but
as he gets closer to the jump you feel him starting to belly out
to the right. You could put just a little more pressure on that
right seatbone to ask to him correct his bend or you could squeeze
just a little more with the right leg or you could just touch him
with your right spur to re-enforce or re-mind him that he's in a
corridor that's straight.
If your enforcement focuses the horse's attention on a single aid
or pressure within the whole corridor of pressures that's creating
the feel of the shape you want him to take so that he forgets about
all the rest, your aid--your rein, your seatbone, your leg, your
crop, your spur--was too "loud." Punishment doesn't remind the horse
of the shape you're asking for. It slaps him to attention to that
one aid and makes him forget all about the rest of the things shaping
the corridor. Worst of all, it changes his thinking about whether
or not going back into the arena with you is something he's going
to look forward to the next time.
Training is a matter of making the horse feel positive and comfortable
when he takes the shapes you direct at every stride. When he there
are three times you punish him for that--never, never, and never.
So here at Meredith Manor, when a horse doesn't get the shape right
or misses it for a stride or two, there are three times he'll get
punished--never, never, and never. And the three times instructors
are allowed to yell at a riding student are never, never, and never.
What's good for horses is good for people, too.
About the Author
© 1997-2004 Meredith Manor
International Equestrian Centre. All rights reserved.
Instructor and trainer
Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for communicating
with equines for over 30 years as president of
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, an ACCET accredited
equestrian educational institution.