- Bottom Line Up Front
- What Is the Purpose of Hiring a Horse Trainer?
- Styles of Horse Training
- What to Look for When Hiring a Horse Trainer
- What to Consider for Your Horse When Choosing a Horse Trainer
- Training Your Own Horse When You “Know You Don’t Know”
- Horse Training Books
- Best Book for Gentle Horses
- Best Overall Horse Training Mindset Book
- Best Basic Groundwork Training Book
- Alternative Training Guide
For centuries, horses have been part of the human journey through history. From working horses on farms to war horses on the battlefield, horses have always held a particular position in our hearts. While we don’t need horses to travel anymore, nor do we have to use horses for work on ranches and farms, there are more and more horse owners than ever.
When I began my own journey with horses, it was a somewhat delayed journey since I’d never ridden as a kid, and I only bought my first horse when I turned 28. I had to make some big decisions about who would train the semi-wild horse I had purchased for next to nothing.
I could find a trainer for my horse or train her myself.
At that stage, I didn’t know as much about horses as I do now. And the training process, while filled with tears, pain, blood, and agony, also ended up being one of the most life-transformative events of my life. Would you like to train your horse? Perhaps you are considering sending them to a trainer to be trained, and you are looking for advice on how to find the right trainer for you?
Bottom Line Up Front
A horse trainer can bring several key concepts to the table when it comes to the training they can offer your horse. Here are the top characteristics to look for before hiring a horse trainer:
Top Characteristics of a Horse Trainer
- Knowledge: A trainer needs to know more than just the basics of horse anatomy.
- Patience: Teaching a horse (or any living being) is trying, and it requires patience to move past failures.
- Self-Control: A trainer needs to control themselves before they can control the horse.
- Dedication and Drive: When the going gets tough, the trainer needs to find ways to continue.
- Horse Instincts: Instinctively knowing is also about timing, which is crucial to horse training.
- Understanding and Empathy: Look for a trainer who understands the horse and loves the horse as much as you do.
- Passion and Innovation: Training is never the same for each horse, and a trainer who innovates solutions is better than one who forces the horse into boxes.
If you can’t find a trainer, and even if you can, it’s always a good idea to further your training mindset and develop your skills with a great horse training book or guide. Here are the best:
Horse Training Guide Books
- Best Book for Gentle Horses: Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership – Mark Rashid
- Best Overall Horse Training Mindset Book: The Principles of Training: Understanding The Relationship Between You and Your Horse, and Why Effective Training Works – Warwick Schiller
- Best Basic Groundwork Training Book: 101 Ground Training Exercises for Every Horse & Handler – Cherry Hill
- Alternative Training Guide: The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book: Enlightened and Revolutionary Solutions for the 21st Century – Linda Tellington-Jones
- Training for Conditioned Response Guide: Lyons on Horses: John Lyons’ Proven Conditioned-Response Training Program – John Lyons
What Is the Purpose of Hiring a Horse Trainer?
Having your horse trained, whether you are backing them (introducing the saddle) or getting a trainer for advanced movements, isn’t like sending your car to the mechanic. The horse the trainer rides is often different than the horse you ride. So before you get a horse trainer, and then think they failed when your horse doesn’t seem “trained,” remember:
- Your horse’s training is not a fixed item like a piece of tack, it changes daily.
- Your horse’s training will only be as good as your ability to practice that training after the trainer is done training.
- Poor training can result from conflicting training (you and your trainer don’t ride the same).
- Good training is about consistency and practice.
Ultimately, authentic horse training is about partnership.
Styles of Horse Training
Of course, we don’t all think or behave the same. And many different styles of horse training have been used on horses through the ages.
In the early days of the West, horses were often “broken” quite harshly by tying them to a tree or chasing them until they couldn’t run anymore in a round pen.
Sadly, a few people still believe this is acceptable behavior and that you have to show your horse who is boss. A lot has changed too, and thanks to many authentic natural horsemen who have successfully trained with gentler methods, most people want their horses trained by someone who cares and won’t abuse their horses.
So, let’s consider the central tenets of current training methods or styles:
Traditional Horse Training
Sending a horse off to be trained and pushed into ranch work is still a popular way to get some horses to accept the saddle. You may have a reasonably well-trained horse if the trainer is gentle and believes in reading the horse’s body language. However, the bond of trust isn’t as solidified as it could be because the trainer won’t focus on long-term results.
Usually, a traditional horse trainer will train the horse to the point where the horse is rideable or ridden “through.” The trainer will rarely work with the horse rider or owner, which means the horse is trained, but the owner or rider doesn’t always know what training has been given to their horse.
When you get on the horse, you may not be able to ride the horse like the trainer does (and you may not want to either).
Behavioral Horse Training
With advances in psychology, trainers such as Pat Parelli designed their own training systems created with the guidance of human psychologists and animal behaviorists. Other horse trainers have used their own observation skills to develop methods and techniques to train horses.
Other horse trainers use a combination of behavior training and intuition to create what is loosely known as natural horsemanship training methods. Most natural horseman trainers will work the horse in a round pen, desensitize the horse, move the horse’s feet, and train the horse from the ground before getting into the saddle.
Within this spectrum, there are many different variations of natural horsemanship training. But honestly, you’d want a good horseman and trainer who doesn’t cut corners or rush your horse through training.
Sports Horse Training
Horses that have already had their basic training in accepting a rider may then have further training, such as training to the finer aids and developing specific skills to compete in equestrian sports.
The top equestrian sports you may have your horse trained for include:
|Skills and Goals
What to Look for When Hiring a Horse Trainer
You’re ready to hire a horse trainer. But before you sign up with the local yahoo at the stables, who says he’s “broken in” many horses, you should consider just what to look for in a horse trainer and why.
Find a horse trainer that has sufficient knowledge in the type of training you want your horse to have. You can ask them who they learned from, what method of training they use (natural horsemanship, traditional, classical training), and which famous trainer inspires them.
This way, you know what the trainer’s background is. I know what to expect from a trainer if they say they’ve trained with Monty Roberts or John Lyons.
Teaching a horse (or any living being) is trying, and it requires patience to move past failures. When a trainer lacks patience, they will force the horse to do things before the horse is ready. You want your horse trained, not damaged by impatience.
Before a trainer can teach your horse about listening and being obedient, the trainer needs to be able to listen to themselves and show self-control. Consider the trainer’s approach to challenges and their attitude to the training process.
Dedication and Drive
Training doesn’t always go according to plan, so ensure your trainer isn’t the type who will quit on your horse before giving them a fair chance. They need drive to get your horse to work with them. Violence shouldn’t feature in their training methodology.
The trainer you choose needs to have good horse sense. This means they need to know how to read a horse, how and when to respond to the horse, and have the timing to do what’s needed exactly as it’s needed.
Understanding and Empathy
Choose a trainer who has understanding and empathy toward your horse. If they set off with an attitude of “your horse is naughty, but I’ll teach him,” you are sending your horse to a horse abuser. The trainer should instead try to understand what the horse’s past experience is, why they act the way they do, clearly and calmly build communication, and seek to help the horse.
Passion and Innovation
Passionate trainers get in the saddle each day because it’s what they love doing, not because it’s a job. It shouldn’t be about money (though paying a fair price for their services isn’t unreasonable). Each horse is unique, and your trainer should come up with unique ways to connect with your horse and help them learn.
What to Consider for Your Horse When Choosing a Horse Trainer
I have seen too many horses come back from their first trainer in an absolutely broken state. They are frequently abused by trainers who use too much force and not enough knowledge to “get the job done.”
If you love your horse and care about their wellbeing, you wouldn’t want this either. So you should carefully investigate these aspects of the training process and trainer before you decide on a trainer for your horse.
Use of Violence and Force
Violence and force have no place in the training space. Instead, the trainer should train by directing the horse’s energy. They should communicate with the horse, teaching the horse new skills, while helping the horse become a willing partner.
Beating the horse is very different from a corrective tap. Even natural horsemen train with a flag or a dressage whip to help them “touch” on specific parts of the horse’s body (such as a tap on the shoulder or leg or hock).
Decide what level of “touching” you will tolerate with your horse. Be on hand to observe and ensure your horse isn’t abused by the trainer.
Use of Restraint
Some trainers believe in tying a horse down. I have even heard of trainers who tie the horse’s halter to their front leg, then chase them until the horse collapses of exhaustion before putting a rider on them.
The only level of restraint you should allow is the use of a halter, correctly fitted, and only handled by the lead rope, never tied to a fixed fence or post or any part of the horse’s body.
Steps of Training
Asking about the trainer’s method is important. What are the steps of training they are teaching your horse? Do they simply want to chase your horse and then hop on, or do they train a solid foundation of ground work, circling, yielding to pressure, communication, and finally progress to introducing the rider?
Some trainers like to board the horses they train at their facilities. If you have unlimited access to your horse during this time, this might not be a bad thing, but if you have to “call before coming” you should be wary.
Many trainers like to starve horses before training them, denying the horses water and feed so they will be weaker and easier to train.
Care During Training Period
You should ask what kind of care your horse will receive during the training period. Does the trainer want exclusive access to your horse, which means you won’t be able to lunge, groom, or ride them during training?
If your horse is to stay with the trainer for the training period, what feed, grooming, and medical care will they receive? Ask these questions, get the answers on paper, and don’t just assume because someone is a trainer they will care for your horse.
Equipment for Backing
Finally, ask about the equipment the trainer will use for training. Your horse should be backed with a saddle that fits them. You should have a say in which bit they are ridden in and schooled in. Remember: some equipment will be harsh on a young horse, and it’s not recommended that you allow the trainer to use these.
Deciding What You Want from Your Horse’s Trainer
Your horse’s trainer has different knowledge from what you do, but they don’t “outrank” you and don’t get to decide what’s best for your horse unless they can correctly justify it.
Be clear on whether you want the trainer to start your horse under saddle, teach them specific skills, or retrain them for inappropriate behavior they may have picked up. Also, tell the trainer if the horse is being trained for your personal preference or if the horse is being sold after training. These will all impact how the trainer proceeds.
Your Role in the Training Process
You shouldn’t be a passive bystander during training. While you need to keep any interference limited to severe issues (like abuse) during a training session, you should support the training efforts by following the trainer’s teachings. So, if the trainer doesn’t like the horse being stroked while riding as it distracts them from finer aids, don’t stroke the horse while you ride.
When you ride your horse after the training, you should be able to ride similarly to the trainer’s method. Riding differently will confuse the horse and cause behavioral problems.
Training Your Own Horse When You “Know You Don’t Know”
Training your horse when you’re not a horse trainer can be daunting. But admitting you don’t have the skills or knowledge is the start of mastering your training knowledge and becoming the best trainer you can be. Pretending you know everything is where the real danger lies (for you and for your horse).
Horse Training Books
Training books are a great way to launch into your new role as your horse’s trainer.
|Horse Training Books
Here are the top training books and what I thought of each:
Best Book for Gentle Horses
If you want to train your horse as gently as you can, it may start with teaching yourself to be gentle first. This is what Mark Rashid’s Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership is so great at sharing.
- Detailed explanation based on Aikido principles
- Revokes the “alpha leadership” notion in favor of working with passive leadership
- Agenda-less training so the horse sets the pace for training
- Each chapter has additional notes
- Priced at $10.99
What I Really Liked About It
Mark Rashid’s book is written in a style that is so authentic to his way of peaceful training. He explains via stories of horses he’s worked with, making the training real.
Best Overall Horse Training Mindset Book
Warwick has created a masterpiece that has truly been influential to many horse people across the world.
In his book, The Principles of Training: Understanding The Relationship Between You and Your Horse, and Why Effective Training Works, he teaches the basic principles that help guide horses and humans to better understand each other and help avoid trouble situations in training.
- Gets to the heart of each principle that causes a horse to act a certain way
- Teaches principles as a way of thinking and developing horse-sense
- With the skills and principles in the book, you become the trainer
- Available in Kindle, hardcover, and paperback
- Priced from $19.22
What I Really Liked About It
Warwick starts training in the mind, and by teaching the rider or trainer how to think about a situation, he breaks down stereotypical thinking and shows you how to teach your horse with compassion.
Best Basic Groundwork Training Book
Of course, not all training is always about the science and thinking behind training. Sometimes you have to teach physical skills, which is where Cherry Hill’s 101 Ground Training Exercises for Every Horse & Handler is a great buy.
- Full color photos
- Step-by-step explanations
- Authentic on-the-ground scenarios
- Priced from $24.99
What I Really Liked About It
Cherry Hill has a really authentic “farm woman” vibe going on, but she’s also incredibly experienced both as a trainer and a judge. Her advice is simple enough for a beginner to follow, but comprehensive enough for a more experienced rider to also brush up their skills with.
Alternative Training Guide
Many horse owners, trainers, and other equine clinicians use the TTouch method to some extent. It’s amazing to calm a horse and help with any learning process.
The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book: Enlightened and Revolutionary Solutions for the 21st Century is the centerpiece of this method and it’s essential to any horse owner, trainer, or rider.
- Step-by-step guidance
- Fully illustrated
- More than 20 groundwork exercises
- Trailer loading feature
- Problem-solving section
- Priced from $16.28
What I Really Liked About It
Linda writes with such absolute empathy for horses that reading her book instantly transfers that horse-sense to the reader. The exercises are clear and incredibly valuable.
Training for Conditioned Response Guide
John Lyons is a legend in horsemanship. His empathetic method and extremely gentle but practical method is renowned. His book, Lyons on Horses: John Lyons’ Proven Conditioned-Response Training Program offers insights and step-by-step guidance to the lessons he’s taught trainers and clinicians for 29 years.
- Focused on horse understanding
- Establishes communication through exercises
- With conditioned responses the horse is trained in behavior that builds partnership
- Priced from $14.95
Answer: Horses can be trained in the traditional method, which can be punishment-based or harsh. The scientific method focuses on training a horse with gentle methods that aim at understanding horse psychology.
Answer: The German training scales are popularly used to train horses in classic and Western riding. The scale starts with relaxation, then progresses through rhythm, impulsion, suppleness, straightness, collection, and contact.
Answer: A horse trainer needs to know about horse anatomy so they know how the horse’s body moves, what each movement means, and how to interact with the horse. Patience, feeling, and gentleness are all vital skills for a horse trainer.
Finding a good horse trainer can be challenging, but with an insight into what training a horse involves, you are much better equipped to select the best trainer for your horse. It’s not only about results but also about the steps to those results.
Teaching your own horse can involve trainers, clinicians, and other horsey people who know more and have great horse skills. Ultimately, it’s up to you to ensure your horse always receives the best care and can learn in an abuse-free environment from people who care.
Learn more about how to care for your horse in my detailed guide.
Happy training and trails!