Horse Training

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If you want to learn to ride a horse, you take riding lessons. But have you ever wondered how the horse learns what you mean when you pull a rein? Turns out, horses have their trainers too!

Horse training involves working with a young or untrained horse and teaching it to respond to human directions and commands, such as turning, stopping and jumping. When taken to a competitive level, this "obedience training" for horses is referred to as dressage.

"Basic training involves getting the horse to respect you and not be afraid of you," says Kathy Stamps, a horse training enthusiast from Desoto, Missouri.

Horse trainers say training horses takes a lot of patience. It means repeating instruction and directions many times, and rewarding the horse when it does what it's told. It's a lot of work to turn a green, untrained horse into a finished horse.

"Taking a young horse and moulding it into a good riding horse is an exercise in patience and understanding," says Diana Crawford, a horse training enthusiast from Gainesville, Florida.

A trainer needs to have a number of special qualities, says Arthur Smith.

"There is a great satisfaction in being able to establish a common language between yourself and the horse, and it is no small pleasure to see a satisfied owner ride his or her horse for the first time! I would recommend horse training to anyone who feels that they have the time, patience, and love required to do the job right."

What is the key in training horses? Thinking like a horse!

"Horses don't understand 'hurry' unless it relates to their safety, and they don't understand deadlines and show dates. You have to think like the horse because the horse can't think like a human," says Crawford.

If you want to become a good trainer, nothing can replace the experience you gain by riding a lot of horses.

"Once you learn to ride and speak the horse's language, you can begin to teach the young horse what more experienced horses have taught you," explains Diane Cooke, a horse trainer from Brentwood, California.

Letting the horse know who's boss is another important technique in training horses.

"The first thing you have to do is earn the horse's respect," says Cooke. "You don't allow it to step on you or push you around with its body. Once it respects you as its 'herd leader,' you can begin to get on with teaching it the things you want it to do."

Horse training can be a very expensive hobby. In fact, enthusiasts say getting the money together is one of the hardest things about getting started.

"Probably the hardest thing is getting the money together to buy a horse and gear and [to pay for] lessons," says Stamps.

An average horse will cost you about $1,500. The cost for food and stabling varies across the country. Lessons run about $20 to $30 per hour for group lessons and $50 to $70 per hour for private lessons.

There are also some other things you will need, such as a saddle and saddle pad, a bridle with bit, a halter, a lead rope and brushes for your horse. This equipment can cost around $1,200. And these are just the basics.

If you want to show your horse and get into competitions, you'll end up buying other special equipment. If you get into jumping, for example, you could end up buying things like a jumping saddle and special "boots" to protect your horse's feet.

Despite the expenses involved with horses, many people are involved in this activity. More than 10 percent of U.S. households currently participate in riding, reports the Horse Industry Alliance. Plus, another 18 percent of households have an interest in riding. The American Horse Council Federation reports there are 6.9 million horses and 7.1 million equestrian participants in the U.S.

If you get involved with horses, a much cheaper option is to rent a horse, not buy one. In this case, you will still need riding clothing.

"A helmet and sensible boots with a half-inch heel are absolute essentials," says Cooke.

Horse trainers are people who have lots of experience with horses and riding. It's this experience that enables someone to become a trainer.

It's been estimated that for every one trainer there are probably about 1,000 riders. This is because it takes a lot of training and experience, not to mention the expense, to train horses and few people are so committed to the activity.

"You have to be pretty experienced to train a horse and you get this experience by riding lots of different horses," says Stamps. "You won't learn anything by just riding a couple."

Horse training can be a dangerous hobby. Many trainers have had their share of falls, but they say a healthy respect for the horse, know-how and wearing a helmet can help reduce the risk of injury.

"You have to keep in mind that you're dealing with a 1,500 lb. animal," says Crawford. "If a horse is acting strangely or bad, you have to notice this right away. I have a healthy respect for the horse's power and I've tried to learn what makes them tick so I can keep out of the way if and when one blows up."

Horse trainers need to be physically fit.

"Flexibility, good upper body strength, a strong back and strong muscular legs are ideal for riding and training horses," says Debbie Messner, a horse training enthusiast from Pittsburgh.

Not respecting the horse's power is one common mistake beginners make, but the most common by far is having a lack of patience.

"Many people try to push the horses too hard and too fast," says Stamps. "There are no 90-day wonders. If you take the time, you'll have a very solid horse that you won't have to continue to train for the rest of its life."

With plenty of patience and hard work, the rewards are great. You'll know your work has paid off when you find yourself with a good horse.

"I like the feeling of accomplishment when a horse and I work as a team," says Crawford. "There are frustrations, for sure, but the good times outweigh the bad."

Getting good at training horses can lead to paid jobs as a trainer or in related fields. Besides being a horse trainer, people interested in dressage can find employment as a riding instructor or a stable manager, someone who breeds and boards horses.

Getting Started

If you're interested in going one step beyond riding horses to take up training them, here's what the experts suggest to get started.

"Talk, watch and ask lots of questions. Don't ever be afraid to ask lots of questions if you're having trouble with a horse," says Kathy Stamps.

Find yourself a local riding school and an instructor to help you learn. Feed stores are a good place to ask about stables in rural areas. In more urban areas, stables are usually listed in the telephone book.

Choosing a good instructor is very important. "Look for someone who understands and listens to your concerns and needs, and someone who is willing to go at your pace -- not theirs," says Debbie Messner. "Look for an interactive instructor, not someone who sits in the middle of the ring and barks out orders."

For people with little or no experience with horses, joining the local branch of the Pony Club is an excellent way to get started. Members receive lessons in basic horse care, riding, grooming and health -- all for free! The only condition is that Pony Clubbers must be 21 or younger.

If you're too old for Pony Club, see if there's a local riding club you can join. It's a great way to make new friends and gain knowledge about horses.

Ride as many horses as you possibly can. Experts say this is the best way to learn how to train horses.

"I suggest taking lots of lessons from lots of different people, sitting on a lot of fences around shows and training barns," says Diana Crawford.

Finally, don't expect to become a trainer overnight. There's a big difference between knowing how to ride a horse and knowing how to train it.


Certified Horsemanship Association
Involved in safety and education issues internationally

American Riding Instructors Association
Its goal is to help promote safe, knowledgeable riding instruction

American Quarter Horse Association
The home page for the "world's most popular horse"

The United States Equestrian Team
For all those who love equestrian sports

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