Monday, November 26, 2007

Does A Horse Enjoy Being Trained?

Now that I'm meeting new friends in the blogosphere, I'd like to pose a question that I've been mulling over alot recently: Does a horse enjoy being trained? I've read that horses want to feel useful, so I think that they should enjoy learning if it is presented to them in a kind and engaging manner.

Silk was incredibly well-trained by two famous Western trainers, Charlie Cole and Cynthia Cantleberry. Then, she was sold to several people, and along the way, someone abused her. When I bought her, I had to work hard to earn her trust and affection, but her training under saddle was impeccable --far beyond my wildest dreams. When I ride her, I just have to think what I want to do and she does it. She teaches me much more than any horse I've ever ridden. Now, I face the challenge of training her daughter, Siete, to be as sensitive and responsive as SIlk.

When she was born, my cowboy mentor, Joe, warned me, "This little horse is really smart. She'll learn the bad things just as fast as she learns the good things." I think that I've got a basically well-mannered five year old. But I want her training sessions to be something that she looks forward to doing. I understand about always ending on a good note. And about trying to do a little "ranch patrol" or trail riding after working in the ring. I guess I'm looking for suggestions of ways to make it all more meaningful for Siete.

Am I crazy? Do I ask for too much? What can I do so that she looks forward to being ridden?


Ewa said...

I am not a horse person, but training horses must be real challenge and very true experience. It is fun to read your bog - thank you for sharing.
I am ignorant so forgive me to ask such question, but are you far from 'horse whispering'? BTW I loved that movie.
Greetings from over the ocean,

Victoria Cummings said...

HI Ewa - Thanks for checking out my blog. I do admire Buck Brannaman, who was the man that they based the "Horse Whisperer" on. I also come from a long line of Polish calvary officers and my ancestors rode their beloved ponies across the Steppes - so loving horses is in my soul, I guess. You are so right -- Doing anything with horses is a very true experience - they encourage you to be honest and trust your intuition. BTW I love those Polish Arabian horses!

LJB said...

I certainly think some horses enjoy learning, although that may be the result of good teaching.

So what is good teaching for a horse? Certainly clarity is a key, and consistency, and helping the horse feel successful and confident.

For me, I don't expect my horses to look forward to our time together. I don't fool myself that I can compete for their attention or attachments to their herd, their pastures, etc. I do expect myself to bring something to our time together to add to some good feelings we build in each other's company. However at times it may not always look like good feelings if I'm asking for something that I have already accidentally trained out of them. I think your mentor Joe has properly warned you. *g*

Karen said...

Hi Victoria,
We have a horse that Cynthia Cantleberry has trained too. Our mare is also 19 - so I bet our mare and yours "went down the road together" as she was at Cynthia's barn in training for 10 years before we bought her. She is a fantastic horse - I just got back from showing her
at a quarter horse show where we competed in Trail and Western Riding. She also took care of our 5 year old son in his first 11 and under walk-jog western pleasure classes. Besides still going around the show pen every once in a while (only 3 shows in the last 6 years - right from the pasture to the show pen and doesn't skip a beat), we use her for gathering and sorting cattle, trail rides (she will also pack our 5 year old son out on the trail), a lesson horse for 4-H kids, and our son even uses her in Jr. Rodeo events. She is so well trained that we can just about do anything we want with her and she is solid and willing (she has even competed in poles and barrels on the rare occasion and whupped the pants off of the "real gymkhana horses")

So yes, I believe that horses continue to enjoy being trained and learning new things- as long as the training is positive, varied, interesting for them and most importantly not a frightening experience. What they don't like is being drilled and drilled and drilled on the same stuff over and over again with little variety - that's where you get sour horses and other problems.

In addition to our mare Cynthia trained, we have 3 other quarter horses that have learned how to do a variety of new things - even after establishing a career and specialty. Our 24 year old rope horse will also do trail obstacles and basic dressage movements (when we got him at 15 he went around with a tie-down and only knew how to lope on the left lead ) - he is also a lesson horse for 4-H kids.
And we just recently purchased a 13 year old reining horse for my husband - and he now ropes, goes to brandings, competes in reined cow horse shows, goes out on trail rides, gathers cattle and went in a trail class at the horse show last weekend.

I also believe that with kindness and consistency you can take a horse that has been "burned" and turn them around. I have a reined cow horse that I bought as a project. Before I got her, she earned her AQHA superior in roping, and somewhere along the way (between the Snaffle Bit Futurity and learning to rope) she was traumatized in the reining pen. Cynthia and Jimmy Stickler have both been a great help to me with this mare. We first started working on her mind, by introducing her to new things in a quiet and positive way and providing variety in her riding schedule. We have worked on getting her lead changes cleaned up teaching her that they are not scary, and teaching her how to master trail courses, in addition to my taking RCH lessons with her. She now knows how to be a good ranch horse, competes again in reined cow horse shows and also has competed in trail classes at quarter horse shows.

I don't think that we would be able to do all of those things with our horses (they are all older) if they did not enjoy being trained and learning new things since each one of them has learned "new stuff" after already proving themselves in other disciplines. In fact, I think that they look forward to getting out of the pasture and going to work. For example; if my cow horse has too much time off, she gets into mischief - knocking over her feeder etc., and if our old gelding has too many days off in a row he shows it by leaving his pasture buddies, running to the gate and bobbing and twirling his head when we show up with a halter.

Did you know that Cynthia Cantleberry is still training and showing horses at her Paso Robles, CA ranch? I'm sure she would like to hear about Silk's baby and her progress.