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Guest writers

Clair Thunes
Summit Equine Nutrition

Clair Thunes

As an equine nutritionist Dr. Thunes has worked with a wide range of horses from lactating mares to competitive dressage horses, and with a variety of physiological problems including insulin resistance and muscle myopathies, and she is happy to work in conjunction with your veterinarian. Dr. Thunes believes in finding the right balance between the horse\'s diet and needs and the client\'s resources. She works with both individual horses or an entire barn and enjoys working with owners to find the optimal feeding solutions. Services provided include diet evaluation and formulation, hay analysis interpretation, custom supplement formulation and farm visits. Dr. Thunes also offers phone and email consultations. Dr. Thunes can be contacted at 916-248-8987.

Articles by Clair Thunes:

IMPROVING STALLION FERTILITY

WEANING YOUR FOAL

FEEDING THE THIRD TRIMESTER MARE

Charles Wilhelm
Ultimate Foundation Trainings

Charles Wilhelm

Charles Wilhelm is internationally known as America’s most respected horse trainer and is the creator of Ultimate Foundation Training, an equine training technique that combines the best of traditional, classical and natural horsemanship into a methodology that is applicable to every riding discipline.

His training facility located in Castro Valley, CA, offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship, from novice through trainer.  His programs truly reflect his motto “Success Through Knowledge”.

Articles by Charles Wilhelm:

ULTIMATE COLT STARTING::
Introduction to De-Spooking and Sacking Out

ULTIMATE COLT STARTING::
Training Month IV - Continuing Linework & First Bath

ULTIMATE COLT-STARTING:
Training Month I - A Good Mind & Haltering

ULTIMATE COLT-STARTING:
Training Month II - Leading & Picking Up Feet

ULTIMATE COLT-STARTING:
Training Month III - Basic Linework

TOOLS:
The Role of Equipment in Horse Training

PREPARING YOUNG HORSES FOR THE VET & FARRIER

TOOLS
The Role of Equipment in Horse Training

by Charles Wilhelm

Ever feel like if you had saved all the money you've spent on horse training equipment over the years, you'd have enough to buy a new horse? Have you found yourself lured by trainers at clinics selling the benefits of their magical equipment? Trainer A recommends one type of halter, (and only $79.95 with my world-famous name embroidered on the side). Trainer B tells you another style is better. But wait, you also need a dressage whip - no, no, you need a crop. And don't forget about the lunge line - better get the twenty footer… No twelve feet! What are you doing with a snaffle bit, you need a curb bit, wait, more leverage, a port with roller… it's crazy isn't it?

Before spending any more money on equipment, consider this: these are just tools, gadgets really. The equipment does not train your horse — you train your horse. The only thing the equipment does is to help you be more efficient in applying the pressure and release cues that teach your horse conditioned responses. That's it, period. The magic is in you — not in the tools.

So why do so many trainers recommend different types of equipment? Frankly, it's just because we ourselves get used to certain things. I use a dressage whip — but I could just as soon be using a stick I picked up off the ground! They accomplish the same thing — if you know what you are doing (although the wood stick may not hold up very well and people would probably look at me kind of funny for using it).

So why do we need tools for horse training?

Just like any job, we use tools for building. And what we are building are "push buttons" on our horses. We install a different button for each type of behavior we want. You push the button — you get the response. We have a go forward button, a stop button, a trot button, canter, back-up, side-pass, piaffe…buttons for cutting, driving, jumping — you name it. And the key to properly installing those buttons lies in you. Let me give you some examples. We can have contractors using the exact same set of tools and plans. One does a lot better job - because of better skills and knowledge. Even more to the point, that same contractor could be using inferior tools, and still end up doing a better job because he had the skills, patience and consistency where it counted. The tools help folks, but the magic is in your hands, head, and heart.

Horses learn by conditioned response.

Conditioned meaning it happens over and over again — repetition. And what they respond to is pressure. They will do just about anything to get away from pressure. They are after all prey animals and instinctually they have pretty high fear levels. This is known as the emotional aspect of the horse. The emotional level of each horse will vary quite a bit. On a range from one to ten, some are naturally a two or three; some are a twelve. How many of you have had one of those? Let me tell you, it's a lot more common than a two! It's important to recognize your horse's natural emotional level, because it should dictate how and when you apply pressure most effectively. But make no mistake — whatever the emotional level is, the horse is trained by the release of pressure as a reward for the behavior.

Now pressure is not as simple a concept as some people think.

The obvious types of pressure are whips, bits, reins, spurs, kicking, etc. But the most important forms of pressure to learn about are subtler. When you walk toward a horse, it's pressure. When you take a horse near an unfamiliar or scary object, it's pressure, when you ask a horse to do anything with which is it not completely comfortable — it's pressure. And the minute you release that pressure, whatever it is, you have rewarded them. And if you release the pressure within literally a couple of seconds of them doing a behavior you want - you are training them and installing the buttons.

So how we teach a horse is that we release the pressure immediately when they perform the behavior we want. We do this in baby-steps, and we do it a lot. Hundreds, even thousands of repetitions. When they do what we have asked of them — we release the pressure, over and over again. And in conjunction with this, we start to teach them pre-cues (a kiss, cluck, verbal, clicker, etc.) so over time, the horse learns the pre-cue and responds to that to avoid the pressure altogether.

The end goal — no matter what discipline you ride - is to have a horse that is consistently lighter as your training progresses.

What does light mean? Something different for everyone actually, and you will want to set your own standards for lightness. Do you want a horse that goes forward with a light aid? Do you want a horse that goes forward when you give a verbal command? What about a horse that goes forward when you think about going forward? Sure. You can get a horse so light that the tiniest shift in your balance that comes with deciding to do an action — actually cues the horse.

So, the first thing you need to do is decide what level of lightness you would like to achieve and to keep that goal in mind throughout your training sessions.

In other words — set a standard.

Setting clear standards for training and performance is critical, as is ensuring that these standards are within reasonable expectation for both your horse and yourself. Once you have defined your standards, the next step is to ensure that you consistently live up to those standards. The more consistent you are - the more consistent your horse will be.

As you work with your horse, you should always be checking your progress against your goals. At the end of each session, are you closer (even if just a little bit) to your standard? If yes, you are on the right track toward lightness. And lightness simply means less pressure needed to push the buttons…

And of course, as your training and relationship with your horse continues over time, you always want to be focused on setting higher standards. Never be afraid to dream big when it comes to what you and your horse can accomplish together.

So now that we have reviewed some of fundamentals of horse training, on to equipment. What to use? Now, I won't lie to you, just like a lot of other horsemen, I have training equipment that I sell also. I may not have my name stitched on it, but it is excellent quality stuff. However, I don\'t tell folks that they should buy my equipment. I have it if they need it, and I always recommend they consider these things before buying…

First - what feels comfortable to you?

Because I tell you, the hardest thing to learn to do in horse training is to juggle all the equipment. It feels very awkward at first. I get people at my training ranch all the time, good riders too, who start doing groundwork training with me and get really frustrated trying hold their hands in a certain position, keep a rope at the right tautness, manage a lunge whip with the other hand, change over hands easily when there is a change of direction exercise. They all feel like total klutzes at first. It reminds me of when you first learn to drive a stick shift car. Remember that? Trying to use the clutch, gas, stick and wheel all together? Trying desperately to get your feet and hands in harmony, having the car jump forward, stall — it's terrible. This is the same thing. It simply takes a lot of practice. And then once you get it down, you can't believe you ever had trouble with it. In any case, when you are just getting started, it really does help to begin by using equipment that feels the most natural and comfortable to you.

Second - what do you already have?

Before you go out and buy new gear — take inventory of what you've got. Chances are, you may not need new tools. We all love to buy stuff, but if you have equipment that will meet the need, use it.

Third - I always recommend (which may contradict against buying new stuff), that people own GOOD equipment.

While this does not have to mean expensive, it should mean the tools are of excellent quality. Especially anything put on your horse should be crafted so that it is extremely comfortable for the horse to wear. You do not want to have equipment applying pressure all on it's own! This can seriously degrade your training efforts. The horse will never get the full release as a reward if the equipment is pinching or rubbing, or just plain uncomfortable.

So what equipment do you need for horse training?

To determine this, you will need to assess your own skills, your horse's emotional level and level of training. How does s/he react to a lunge whip versus a shorter stick? Does a twirled rope get him going or can you just raise your hand in the air and he's moving off? Does she lead quietly under halter or pull away? My golden rule is: Always use the least amount of pressure that gets you the results you want — so you need to select tools that complement the appropriate level of pressure.

The tools you use in every training session should work with you toward these ends:

  • Make sure you are safe and the horse is safe. Never conduct an exercise that puts either of you in danger. Even teaching horses more dangerous things such as de-spooking, jumping, cutting, etc., can be made safe(r) by working in small building-block steps up to the end goal.
  • Always have very specific goals for each training session. Don't just go out start doing exercises without some type of thinking about what you want to accomplish.
  • Be very flexible to changing the goal(s) if you are finding your horse is having a 'high' day or simply needs to revisit some basics.
  • Always feel good about going back to the basics. If your horse is not getting an exercise, chances are your own methods are not quite there. However — rather than giving up, step back and revisit some exercises the horse does know.

Remember everything you do with your horse is a training opportunity.

Leading, washing, clipping, tying, grooming — they all give you numerous chances to consistently reward your horse for positive behavior and apply pressure to eliminate unwanted behavior. I cannot tell you how many complaints I get about horses that are perfect under saddle, but have terrible ground manners…it's not rocket science why it's happening. Everyone is always fired up to get the horse saddled and hop on. They'll do arena or trail exercises all day under saddle but few people want to take the time to teach their horse to lead or stand quietly. And you don't even have to make a big deal of it, just make a conscious effort to do a little groundwork training every time you have your horse out. You will be amazed at how quickly you can see results.

Ensure the horse is becoming calmer as the session progresses.

This is a checkpoint for you that the horse has in fact 'gotten' some of what you have been teaching. If a horse is confused, it is NOT calm. When do you know the right time to end? When you see either that the horse is calm and is showing progress, or else you find that you are no longer calm and see that your frustration is impacting the training work. In either of these cases — it's time to stop the session.

So one last time, what equipment do you need for horse training? Now after everything that's been discussed, did you really think you were going to get a specific list of stuff? You did? Okay, then, here is a list of the equipment you absolutely must have in order to become your horse's best trainer.

  • Knowledge
  • Consistency
  • Focus
  • Determination -Tenacity
  • Humility
  • Patience
  • Practice-Dedication
  • Desire
  • Humor

You should be able to find these quite close to where you live, and when used together, are guaranteed to work magic in your relationship with your horse. Remember: Never give up and ALWAYS have fun!

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