Schooling

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Keys to an effective horse training session. I’ve trained a lot of horses. After nailing up my sign as a “professional horse trainer” several decades ago, I learned quickly that overhead is high in the horse business so you’d better make some hay if you’re going to pay your bills. Consequently, I rode many horses each day, breaking young ones and tuning up show horses.

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Most of us intend for our daily rides to improve our horse at some level, either by adding to his physical conditioning or progressing his training skills. But whether or not your horse actually makes these gains often comes down to the amount of time you spend on each phase of the ride. The format of your ride determines the outcome of physical improvement.

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Many classical dressage masters from the past often praised the merits of long schooling sessions at only the walk. This kind of training refines muscle recruitment, releases tension stored in poor postural habits, and stimulates the slow-twitch fibers used for stabilizing the skeleton. In other words, there is big value in workouts at the walk. And note how I have used the term workouts, since that is how you should think of them. These are purposeful sessions, not strolls.

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Why do we have them? What keeps us practicing them? As I write this article, I find it ironic that I am laid up on the couch with a lower back injury, brought on by the age-old tradition of lifting, hauling, and generally doing way too much when my body wasn’t up to the task. From my recovery position, it seems fitting to attempt to grapple with the rather sticky topic of traditions, and why we often feel so compelled to stick to them. I’ve touched on this a little in my past articles, but today I want to really dig in and unpack why and how traditions become traditions and what keeps us practicing them, sometimes long past their best before date.

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With today’s horse world being highly recreational, there are many horses that don’t have to earn a living. These recreational horses are often very well cared for and sometimes even coddled. I will not use the term “spoiled” as I think a spoiled horse is one that has become a serious problem for his owner. I will say, though, that some of these pampered horses are well on their way to developing “pampered horse complex.”

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When it comes to training related injuries, again, look for obvious reasons first. Most training related injuries are common and very preventable provided there is an understanding of the biomechanical demands of the particular discipline; meticulous attention to the horse’s feet, teeth, tack, and food, which are the pillars upon elite equine athletes are built; and a collaborative, integrated team approach to building and developing individualized training and maintenance programs.

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Why and when to introduce your horse to lateral work - While they used to be predominantly the domain of prancing dressage horses, lateral movements like shoulder-in and haunches-in offer unrivaled conditioning effects for almost any equine athlete. Exercise science has shown them to be on par with gymnastic routines like hill repeats and cavalletti routines in terms of muscle recruitment, with a bonus of altering motor sensory patterns. Below I will explain how and why you might consider incorporating them.

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