In the movie The Horse Whisperer, Robert Redford’s character Booker encounters Pilgrim, a horse in need of training. Pilgrim is extremely skittish and does not let Booker near him. Eventually Booker is able to get closer and closer to the point where he is able to stroke Pilgrim and lean into his face, whispering something in the horse’s ear.
This scene is a good example of the patience and caring it takes to train a horse to trust.
Real horse whisperers do exist, hiring out their services to those in need of help with a particularly tough horse, such as Pilgrim. Luckily the few horse whisperers out there are not required to train all the stubborn horses in existence. Good results, however, do require a trainer with a solid foundation in basic horsemanship skills.
A lot of dedication is involved in training a horse, especially because even basic training should not begin until the horse is at least two years old. Many wait until the third year.
Basic training of colts and fillies begins with getting them used to a soft halter. At first the halter is unknown and can be scary. Although it does not have a bit, it can be unnerving because of the close proximity to the face. Once the horse is comfortable with the halter, a lead rope can be attached. The lead rope attaches to the halter and is used to lead to horse around, getting him comfortable with having pieces attached to the area around his head. Ultimately the reins are attached.
Horses are very sensitive about their backs, so saddling a horse is perhaps the most difficult aspect of horse training.
Starting off slowly with a saddle pad or blanket gently laid across the back is a good precursor to the saddle. Having an unfamiliar item on his back will trigger the horse’s natural response to buck. This common reaction is why a professional is required to keep the trainer and the horse safe.
After the saddle pad doe not cause any problems, a rudimentary saddle can be used and fitted with a girth. All of these additions are made in a slow process. Throwing too much at a young horse can cause a bad reaction, making the horse nervous around any sort of tack, thus making the training process much more difficult and drawn out.
Once the halter and saddle are able to be placed safely on the horse, the process of teaching the horse how to respond to rider commands begins. Typically lunging is the favored process. The lunge line is a 20 to 40 foot rope attaching to the halter and is controlled by the trainer, who stands in the middle of the arena. The horse is coaxed around in a circle starting at a walk and slowly moving through the four natural gaits, eventually leading up to the gallop.
Western trainers heavily rely on the hackamore, which is a sophisticated training tool. It applies pressure to the sensitive areas around the horse’s nose, the sides of the face and the underside of the jaw by means of a subtle side-to-side rocking motion.
Whatever tools are used to train a horse, the most important is the patient and caring trainer. A proper education for the horse will increase his sensitivity to his rider thus increasing his performance. A good trainer will fully develop a horse’s athletic ability and help him reach his utmost potential.