WHY DO WE TRAIN

I have would like to put across to you some part of my philosophy with regard to the very important subject of why we train. I have also given some part of this blog to what to look for in a good trainer.

BEFORE WE START TO TRAIN OUR HORSES I BELIEVE THAT A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE REASONS BEHIND TRAINING ARE MADE CLEAR.

What about human beings?

All of us human beings are capable of certain moderately athletic functions which come naturally to us.

We can walk, climb the stairs, and step on and off the pavement without falling down. We can also judge distance; my mother who is 83yrs old can perform these simple tasks with no effort. Most of us can run for a bus or a train if we are late, it will more than likely leave us out of breath but what the hell, being fit does not matter does it, after all we have our cars, buses and trains, when we are riding our horse does all the work anyhow right......WRONG.!

Although we can perform these semi athletic functions fairly easily, how many of us can run the 100 meters in under 12 seconds or high jump 1m 20cm (a course that is) without any training or without a fitness programme? Nobody! Come on now, why not, you expect your horse to do it, and he has the added problem between the hat and the boots, yup, that’s you. .

Just imagine being put into a 100m race against well trained professionals and be expected to compete on equal terms with no training, incorrect diet and perhaps having to do this twice a day for three days in very often bad ground and sometimes badly shod. Then when you don’t perform well having your teeth knocked out and your backside beaten or your sides raked with spurs.

Strange to say, but human beings are inherently athletic creatures. That was of course before we started eating burgers, fries, cream doughnuts and sitting in front of televisions and computers 8 hours a day.

We are after all predators. We used to hunt on foot, running, climbing, jumping, stooping low, crawling and throwing stones and spears. We had to, or starve to death. Above all we had to use our powers of reason and our cunning to work things out. These are the natural tools of the predator.

The horse however is not a natural athlete in the true sense of the word. They could be most likened to a sheep or a cow and all other forms of grazing and browsing prey animals. They are in fact part of nature’s food chain.

Horses do not jump naturally; kangaroos jump, grasshoppers jump, hares and rabbits, cats and frogs all jump along with fleas. These are nature’s athletes. They have very long powerful hind legs with strong joints in the hind legs and short front legs. Their balance is in the hindquarters whereas the horse’s natural balance is on their forehand.


The horse’s natural defense is to run away very fast in short spurts. Unfortunately for them they are also very curious and will stop after a quick burst and look back to see where and what they were running from, that’s when they get caught and eaten.

When it comes to fight or flee they flee and will only defend themselves if they are cornered. I really do believe that when it comes to courage even the bravest horse in the herd is not nearly as brave as the most timid lion in the pride.

Thankfully most horses are no longer in the wild and they are on the whole looked after, well fed much loved and protected. Not many lions in my back field.

They are constant feeders and if left to their own devices would get very fat and lazy. Hmm sounds familiar!

Horses get their courage through training and building up trust and confidence in the rider over along period of time. So the actions of the trainer/rider goes a long way to developing the horses courage so if the rider lets the horse down by some inappropriate action the horses courage will desert him. Or if the trainer asks too much of his horse the horse’s willingness and attitude to blind obedience will take a severe blow. So you see we take a huge burden of responsibility when we start to train a horse.

So we must try to turn our predominantly lazy grazing animal into a fit and supple athlete, maybe even an Olympic athlete. Yes this is the stuff of dreams, but remember, ever Olympic rider had to learn to rise to the trot at the beginning and every Grand Prix show jumper was once an unbroken three year old, fat, unfit and with no training whatsoever.


Over many years our breeding programmes have taken the best qualities of various breed types to develop faster runners for the track, bigger movers for the dressage arena and higher wider jumpers for the show ring. We mist as riders make sure that we pick the very best of their type of horse that we need and can afford. Start of with a suitable type and we have more of a chance of success.

The talent that the horse possesses is the talent he is born with. We cannot add or take away any of that talent, however, we can nurture, cultivate and develop this talent with correct training.

The horse’s bio mechanism is the machine which enables the horse to run, jump, rear, buck, kick and rein back, to go sideways and in short do all of the natural things a horse does. He is made up of levers, pulleys, hinges in the shape of joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles. If any part of this complex machine is not working efficiently then it will adversely affect some other part. The inevitable result will be that something will seize up or break down. Logically this will also affect the brain in the form of either pain or discomfort and consequently his willingness to work to his maximum ability. We all know how painful it can be just performing a simple task like tying a shoe lace with a bad back pain.

With all athletes it is the facility of the mind to tell the body what to do and thus perform to its maximum potential on demand this cannot happen if the clear focus is blocked by pain. Training in its initial stage is purely physical. We have to teach the horse to use his body correctly and efficiently. Joints only remain healthy through correct usage and by the slow build up and strengthening of the muscles, ligaments and tendons to support those joints. Only when we have the horses trust and confidence and he allows us to ride him, and then begins the long process of training first the body then a small step behind, the mind. In time these will work together and in harmony.

Horses are amazing creatures; they perform very willingly despite, many times, being totally confused and bewildered about what is being required of them. However an untrained horse will not work willingly forever, not because he doesn’t want to but because he just cannot. As I said at the beginning, neither can you.

Now riders are strange creatures, very complicated, with all kinds of hang ups and issues. They get angry, bored, scared and nervous, unreasonable, frustrated, too fat, too thin, mostly unfit to ride. Most of their riding problems are expected to be cured by a visit to the tack shop, or the back man, or the dentist or the vet. Most of the horses they ride are blamed for their shortcomings; the anthropomorphic attitude is the funniest attitude of all. A lot of ladies and some men talking to their horses as if they are talking to their husbands wives or boyfriends/girlfriends and expecting the poor horse to understand. “Stop that right now”, “Behave you stupid creature”, “Oh God my horse is such a pain in the neck”, or “He hates me” I could go on but you get the picture. They are not people in fur coats, they are HORSES

Now image that you cannot speak in a foreign language then someone asks you a question say in Greek and you can’t respond. How would you feel if that person then hit you very hard and asked the question again? If he went on asking and hitting then how long before you either ran away or retaliated. No one wants to be beaten for not understanding! Not understanding is not being disobedient. I think you understand what I am getting at. Training horses is just like going to school. First you learn the alphabet, then your numbers and then it progresses logically until you have a complete education. This is much more profitable if it is done with a carrot and not a stick.

TRAINING IS GIVING THE HORSE THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN, TO FULFILL HIS POTENTIAL AND DEVELOP HIS SKILL AND TALENT.

Unfortunately for many poor horses they are asked to perform repeatedly without training and without the understanding or guidance to perform well. Not only that, but they are expected to perform with no muscle development to keep them sound and in good condition. Ironically, when the horse does not perform just because the rider who pays the bills wants him to, he is more than likely to be abused, or put under more pressure by a more experienced ignorant rider who has persuaded our inexperienced rider that for a ten pounds he will sort problem out, usually with a big stick that would be better employed on the riders a—e!

TRAINING MUST BE METHODICAL AND HAVE A SYSTEMATIC AND OBVIOUS ROUT TO PROGRESS DOWN.

TRAINING MUST BE FAIR, MOTIVATED AND DISCIPLINED.

TRAINING IS LONG AND REQUIRES MUCH PATIENCE, UNDERSTANDING AND SELF CONTROL.

GOOD TRAINING SHOULD BE THE ULTIMATE GOAL.

COMPETITION

The height of the competition matters very little. If the horse is taught the basics, going forward, straight and in rhythm and balance with the correct amount of impulsion and being able to bend in the direction they are traveling. To be able to maintain these basics all the way to the jump and through any related distance then the chances of both the horse and rider keeping their confidence and progressing to the next level of competition are greatly enhanced.

This comes from correct training. Not boring training, trotting round in ever decreasing circles, but training that will enable both the horses and their riders to lead a more enjoyable life. The use of trot poles, transitions, lengthening and shortening the pace, stretching, bending, gymnastic jumping, hill work, lateral work (shoulder in, leg yielding etc). Preferably under supervision until it is understood correctly.

RIDER TRAINING.

IT IS A PURE NIGHTMARE FOR RIDERS TO FIND THE RIGHT TRAINER.

AFTER ALL EVERYBODY IS A TRAINER AREN’T THEY!

For many years the only route to becoming a trainer/teacher/ or coach with qualifications in the UK was through the British Horse Society exam system. This was the route I went down and was successful in eventually becoming a Fellow of the BHS as a show jumping specialist. It took many hours in fact years of training and study, then many years of practice in the field to feel comfortable to set out my stall with confidence. Some of you will have been to me for training and so can judge for yourselves whether or not I am any good at what I do.

Thankfully it has now become the responsibility of the disciplines to take on the mantle of training. At the start this was slow but now there are a growing number of accredited coaches in all three major disciplines for the competitor to draw from. Each discipline has a list of trained professional coaches published on their various web sites and like everything else it is either by trial and error or from recommendation that the rider finds the right coach.

This is great, it means that there is some way of choosing a trainer through his experience and with the knowledge that he/she has chosen to take time out to learn a system of work which is safe and which makes sense.

As I said above all of these people are now trained professionals who are responsible and have a thorough knowledge of their subject. There are some very good teachers involved in the sport that have no accreditation or qualification, this does not make them bad teachers, but they only have there mouth to mouth reputation to guide the prospective client.

The people who scare me most are riders who have a limited experience as riders hanging their sign up as a “Teacher”. What are they teaching? The idea that those that can, do and those that can’t teach is an old worn out cliché which does not hold water these days. I am frankly scared stiff of the idea that riders who may have ridden some time ago or have jumped around some small competitions are putting themselves up as coaches. Teaching is a skill which requires a huge degree of experience and knowledge, not only in the subject but in matters of health and safety and child protection. All of you riders out there think hard before taking lessons from anybody who has no real credentials and no proven track record of experience. (They most likely have no insurance either)

I firmly believe that if a rider wishes to become a trainer then a certain degree of study and sacrifice in terms of time and money is necessary to enable the coach to develop the communication skills and create a system of work that really works. So if you want to be trained, then find a real trainer!

THE QUALITIES OF A GOOD TRAINER ARE EASY TO ASSES.

A GOOD TRAINER IS A MOTIVATOR AND A LISTENER.
A GOOD TRAINER HAS A SYSTEM, AND A METHODOLOGY.
A GOOD TRAINER KNOWS HOW FAR TO PUSH.
A GOOD TRAINER IS INSPIRATIONAL.
A GOOD TRAINER IS LUCID AND GIVES CLEAR EASY TO UNDERSTAND DIRECTION.
A GOOD TRAINER SHOULD BE ABLE TO DEMONSTRATE HIS METHODS
A GOOD TRAINER UNDERSTANDS THAT TRAINING IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL.
YOUR TRAINER SHOULD PRIORITIZE AND SHOULD CREATE ORDER.
ELIMINATE STRESS, TENSION AND THEREFORE CONFUSION.
BE ABLE TO SEE ALL THE FACETS OF A SITUATION
FIND REASONS NOT MAKE EXCUSES.
ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY.
CREATE INDEPENDENCE AND SELF RELIANCE
ACT AS A SOUNDING BOARD FOR IDEAS AND THE RIDERS ANXIETIES.
BE A GOOD COMMUNICATOR, TO BE ABLE TO LISTEN AS WELL AS SPEAK.

Above all both the rider and the trainer must have the dedication and motivation to see the system through and not blame the system for its failure.

THIS IS WHY WE TRAIN.

We train for success, if any of this is of interest do read my book Show Jumping for Fun oe Glory or send me an e mail ernestdillon@yahoo.co.uk

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Comment by Jackie Cochran on June 29, 2009 at 9:57am
Wonderful post.
Thank you so much for emphasizing that proper training takes TIME. To many riders seem to believe that there is some magic that will enable them to skip all the hard work. To many people expect a perfectly trained horse after only 1-3 months of training. Too many people expect their just broken 3 year old to hold himself and move like a mature horse with years of training and physical development. And the worst thing is that at least in the USA there are too many instructors and trainers who encourage such treatment of the horse.
Comment by Barnmice Admin on April 30, 2009 at 8:02am
What superb insights. Thanks Ernest!

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