Identifying your horse training goals can allow you to better train your horse. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how can you make a plan to get there?
You might want your horse to load in the trailer, or to consistently change leads when cued. Maybe you want to canter bareback and bridleless. Or you just want to halter break your filly. It’s relatively easy to identify end goals when training horses, and it’s important to do so – but it’s just as critical to be able to identify where to begin.
What’s the closest thing your horse can already do towards the end goal, today?
If your goal is for your horse to load in the trailer, what’s the closest thing he can do, today? Can your horse simply be led? Perfect! ‘Able to be led’ is a great place to begin when teaching a horse to load in the trailer. If he doesn’t yet lead, you still have somewhere to begin on this training journey, and that might be ‘Can be haltered’. While there may be more steps between the starting point and end goal if your horse can’t yet be led, you’re still on track, you can still achieve your goal. Don’t focus on what your horse can’t yet do, think of what he can already do, and plan your training between those points.
You now have a starting point, and an end goal, and you are that much closer to making it all a reality. There’s just one more piece of the puzzle you need for training success – what I like to call ‘The Fortune Cookie Game, for horse trainers’.
When I go out with friends for Chinese food, our meal usually ends with a fortune cookie. Maybe you play the same game we do when reading our fortunes: we add the words ‘in bed’ to the end of the fortune. Hilarity ensues. ‘You will do well to advance your career, in bed.’ ‘Try everything once, even the things you don’t think you will like, in bed.’ ‘Pursue your work with all due seriousness, in bed.’
All joking aside, when training, our starting points and goals should end with two words: with confidence. ‘My horse loads in the trailer, with confidence.’ ‘My horse executes a flying lead change at X, with confidence.’ ‘My horse lifts his hoof to be held, with confidence.’
As horse trainers, we should strive to have our horse be confident, every training step of the way – not just at the end. If we want to be better trainers – and have more trusting horses – we should be thinking about making confidence a priority when horse training.
But what if your end goal is something your horse is already anxious about? For example, some horses become anxious at the mere sight of a trailer. The trainer may have a hard time getting the horse to even approach the trailer because the horse is anxious, and is trying to escape while being led towards the trailer. That’s OK. There is still a place to start within this imaginary scenario where the horse retains his confidence. Finding that place isn’t hard; it just requires we be a little a little less direct line, and think more outside the box.
If our scenario horse becomes anxious when led to within 40 ft of the trailer, that’s fine. How is he at 60 ft? Still anxious? 80 ft? 100ft too?! That’s still OK too, because as smart trainers we noticed that our horse is confident walking towards the trailer at 200 ft. At that distance he is still aware of the trailer, but his involuntary fear hasn’t been triggered, priming his body to flee or fight us to escape. If we don’t trigger his fear he will stay in a learning frame of mind, and we can still work our plan which ends with him confidently loading in the trailer.
When we approach training in this manner the horse retains his confidence, and we achieve our goals – and it doesn’t get much more win-win than that.
It is good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end. ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
Happy horse training,
Lauren Fraser, CHBC offers relationship-based horse training that blends the art of horsemanship with behavioral science and the practical application of learning theory. She provides horsemanship coaching, behavioral consultations, solutions to problem behaviors, foundation training, clinics, and educational presentations.
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True narcolepsy is rare in horses, but sleep deprivation is not.
This video shows an older mare who is sleep deprived, falling into REM sleep while standing. Horses must lay down to achieve REM sleep, and when deprived from doing so it may manifest as the behaviors you see here. Sleep deprivation is harmful to the health of all animals, so it is very important that your horse has the ability to lay down each day, and feels safe to do so.
Horses won't lay down to sleep for a number of reasons such as pain, lack of suitable resting sites, or when they don't feel safe to lay down. It's reported that two factors resulted in this mare not laying down to sleep - the arrival of a new horse, and undiagnosed arthritis pain ... See MoreSee Less
Sleep Disorder Case : Horses require 30mins/day REM sleep. Siri is a 22 year old Arab X mare. Last summer after a new, dominant horse was introduced to the herd, she lost weight and was seen to have frequent episodes of partial collapse, once falling onto her side. The episodes resolved, but a couple of weeks ago the same behaviour was observed again and New Forest Equine Vets were called in to investigate. Collapse in horses is fortunately uncommon, but when it does occur can obviously be hazardous to both horse and handlers. Three types of 'collapsing' are seen in horses; seizures, syncope (fainting) and sleep disorders. Siri underwent a very thorough clinical examination including neurological and musculoskeletal assessments, and had a range of blood tests performed. The most significant findings were; The original association of the behaviour with the arrival of a new field-mate. A low grade right hind lameness, with severe persistent right hind pain with flexion tests. The gradual lowering of the head, before the front legs buckle. We also found a cardiac arrhythmia; Siri has a second degree AV block, but this is a normal finding in horses and would not cause fainting. Siri's condition is a Sleep Disorder. True narcolepsy can occur in horses, and is usually associated with events like grooming or saddling. Siri is most likely suffering from sleep deprivation. Horses require 30 minutes of REM sleep per day and although they can doze standing up, they need to lie down for REM sleep. We expect that when the new dominant herd-mate arrived, Siri was not comfortable to lie down in the field with him. Now she has lameness and finds it painful to flex her right hindlimb, which is likely to be preventing her from wanting to lie down to sleep. She is currently on a bute (pain relief) trial, and her owner has made her a lovely deep stable bed that she is coming into daily to encourage her to lie down – so far, no further collapsing episodes have been seen. A very interesting case and a good reminder of how important it is for horses to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically in their herd/environment, so that they don't miss out on their REM sleep.
3 days ago ·