People can get bogged down with the question of what they should actually teach their horse. After all, what does my horse really need to know? For example, why would my horse need to know how to do a flying lead change? I am only planning to ride him straight down a trail. Should I teach my horse how to do lots of different maneuvers? Or should I just make sure he can move at various speeds, turn a little, slow down, and eventually stop?

Teaching Goals

At clinics, we begin with groundwork. I ask the participants if they think their horse has decent groundwork. Most of them say yes. But after the groundwork section is over, 100% of them then say their horse’s groundwork was not near as good as they thought. Just because your horse will lunge around you in a circle, that does not mean his groundwork is good. The goal of teaching groundwork is to have precise control of all 4 of your horse’s feet from the ground using very little pressure. It’s not to tire the horse out before you get on. The purpose of groundwork is to provide an opportunity to communicate an idea to your horse in an efficient way that he understands. And there is no limit to how refined these groundwork exercises can become. Obviously, this would benefit any horse no matter what age, breed, or riding discipline.

For my free Groundwork Checklist, go here: Groundwork Checklist

Become A Leader For Your Horse

We also work on moving the shoulders, moving the hind, transitions, speeding up, slowing down, stopping, and even random things like pulling on their tail to have them back up. For what purpose? So that the participants can become the type of people who can communicate an idea to a horse, cause it to become the horse’s idea, fix it up, and then get out of his way when he finds it. This type of human will be able to convince their horse that they understand him and that they are a trustworthy leader. The horse’s self-preservation instincts will then lower, and he will be able to give himself up to their leadership and instruction.

Teaching Your Horse Confidence

The communication required to teach a sidepass, lead change, or any other maneuver is how confidence is built into a horse. The unlying root of all the common horse ‘problems’ is a lack of confidence or sureness. The horse doesn’t know what to do, so he begins trying random different things. When a horse is not sure, and the human isn’t helping him find the answer, his self-preservation keeps the walls up both mentally and physically. Then you have a horse that is full of mental and physical braces which will manifest in negative ways. But it’s not even so important if what you teach your horse is more basic or more advanced. What matters is that you use a good approach with precise timing and effective communication. That is what will pump confidence into your horse.

Cross Train Your Horse

It’s also a good idea to cross train your horse. There is a reason why Olympic runners and swimmers lift weights. It’s not because they are going to be in a weight lifting competition, but it brings balance. Take your barrel horse on a trail ride. Chase a cow with your trail horse. Ride your dressage horse on a loose rein. The more variety we can provide, the better off our horses will be. 

Even an older horse can be totally transformed into a safe and solid mount in a very short amout of time. Learn more here: Successful Horse Training

Just A Trail Horse?

I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, this is just a trail horse’ as if to imply all he needs to know how to do is walk around with a rider on his back. But in reality, a safe trail horse must be mentally sound, full of confidence, and able to deal with any number of unforeseen circumstances. That sureness must be taught and built into the horse BEFORE heading out on the trail. Being out on the trail will only expose and manifest any lack of confidence the horse still has. And the best way to build that confidence is to effectively teach your horse how to do something which will establish yourself as a trustworthy leader.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a maneuver you think your horse may never use, the objective is the teaching opportunity.

Listen To My Podcast: Why Should I Teach My Horse Things I May Never Use?

Listen To Your Horse To Become An Effective Teacher

Always be very aware of your approach even when you are doing something simple like catching, saddling, and grooming. All these are prime teaching opportunities to build confidence that many people miss. Your horse will quickly reveal the areas where he is not yet sure. THAT is what you work on. The sky’s the limit and the more things we teach our horse to do, the more confident he will be.

So when people ask me what they should work on when interacting with their horse, I always say, ‘Just find something he’s not great at and work on that’. The list is never ending. The horse will always let us know where he still needs help if we will simply listen.

How do you ensure you are listening to your horse? Find the answer here: Listen To Your Horse.

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Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.