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Training Your Own Horse

A question posed to the ClickRyder list:

I would like to know how everyone feels about training their own horse vs. sending it out to a trainer.

Are you happy doing it? Did you EVER think it would be possible to train your own horse? Are you meeting your own expectations?

How do you feel about yourself in this endeavor? How are you perceived by others by doing your own training? Any differently than before?

Do you now have a different perspective of professional trainers?

I think it is important NOT to say we don't need trainers any more. There are too many good horsepeople out there to dismiss them as a group or say "I myself can do it all and know it all." Also, many people simply don't have the time (or patience) to train at any level (although for me it's not WORTH having a horse if I'm not!)

But I think we can look at the expert's role in our lives a little differently. Not relying on history and wealth of expertise at some level is to assume I know it all. I don't, and never will! That's where trainers (or lesson-givers) come in. They can show us, demonstrate, and give feedback about ourselves and our horses. If we're smart, we'll learn and try to understand. (I don't take lessons now, but I have a few years ago).

Then we can go home and CT our horses using this new understanding. Then go back to the trainer to check our progress.

We as owner-trainers (amateurs?) still need to be trained (whether it's through an actual human being, self-training through books, observation, trial-and-error experimentation, whatever). I cannot (or should not) teach my mare something I do not understand myself. I could make a very clumsy attempt to teach my mare the piaffe, but I haven't the faintest clue the exact mechanics of it and would frustrate both her and me, I'm sure.

Luckily most of us understand more than we realize (we know that horse CAN lower its head, how it moves it's hind quarters, stand still, tolerate a plastic bag, etc.) We CAN teach those things. As the behaviors (and terminology!) become more complex (gaits, lateral movements, rhythm, impulse, etc.) it's necessary to know exactly WHAT we are asking of our horses before we can teach them.

I have surpassed my expectations about training my mare and nothing seems impossible--but I am also mindful to be humble! I understand that I must continue to improve my riding ability. Most importantly, this is so as to not get in my horse's way and make it comfortable for her to carry me, much less do anything complex. If I am to do dressage, jumping, Search and Rescue (partially joking here, but Anna IS inspiring), driving, or any of the life-long dreams of experimenting I want to do with my horse, I need to educate myself about those things before I can educate her. Lessons from experts are part of the plan.

As for other's opinion of me training my horse, some think I'm crazy, some are fascinated by the process. Thus is life--not everyone will think the way we do. Bottom line: both my horse and I are happy--and safe.

Here's my answer. My first horse I had a trainer. She left his halter on (which I knew better to do). He got stuck on a fence and broke his neck. My next horse was a colt. Met him at 5 days, bought him at 5 months. I was so gunshy of trainers that I did it all myself. I'll tell you what! He was the best horse I've owned. I lived in Malibu at the time and by the time he was old enough to ride, I could ride him through mountains, creeks, the ocean, past semi trucks. If he got loose he would come back when I called him. I feel in many many ways I exceeded my expectations.

The downside is that I am NOT the best trainer/rider in the world. Though he would do anything/go anywhere for me, I had the devil of a time getting him onto his right lead. And I probably had a lot of flaws that even I didn't know about. But my flaws were his flaws. We were perfect together.

Now I've got a yearling and weanling in my herd. I'll be training them from the ground up. But I'll also be taking dressage lessons on my seasoned mares. By the time the babies are old enough to ride, I think I can do right by them.

Oh, how I feel about myself training. I love it. Do accept advice from people but like to know that I've made myself a nice horse. My riding instructor's perception of me I can only guess by a comment she made which was "give yourself credit for knowing more than you think you do". (Don't know if that's true, but it was nice).

My perspective on professional trainers now: some are great, some are pretty darned bad. If you get a good trainer it is a blessing.

In effect, I have trained my own horse,though he was 13 when I got him, he needed refresher courses in EVERYTHING! I think that, by learning together, we have become a team, not just a working pair. Because of all of the time that I have spent with him, I know him...I know that doesn;'t sound like much but it is very evident in the episode just past. As all of you know, Calvin is injured and is out of work. I think that, had ANYONE besides myself been on him, nothing would have been noticed and his current injuries would be much worse. Even the vet, on straight jogging, saw NOTHING, but I felt it. By training him myself, we have come together and understand each other. I am not at all disappointed in what he is now, and what he can be. He tries harder for me than any other person in this world and I think that it has much to do with the fact that I have done all of the work. It has been hard, but the work pays off...more so that I even realized until now, writing this!

Well I have personal views for me and they may not be for others.....I do not like the idea of sending my horses to trainers anymore, although I have done it in the past. But I think it is also very important to realise your own limitations and accept that if things are not working properly then something has to be done. This could mean sending your horse to a trainer. But I am also happy playing in the paddocks and the trails, no more competing for me.

I am never happy sending my horse anywhere away from me LOL. But before clicker training I never realised it was possible to do all the training myself :-) I believe that I am now meeting my personal expectations and now with the longer days there will be more time to get out there and play.

I think that one of the interesting things that clicker has made me realise is just how much time is required to put into training our horses, if we want to get it right. If we send a horse to a trainer we expect to pay a certain amount of money plus board and feed. We cannot pay forever, so we expect a job well done within a few weeks or so...otherwise our banks will be paying for the trainer fees. In a way therefore "we" have economically set a standard by which training is measured. I guess what I mean is that on the whole we are prepared to put up with the horses at the trainers for a "few weeks" maybe $500 or so per week, we have to set a limit on how much we can spend; thus inadvertently we have set a limit on how much training our horses can receive. Of course we want the horse "trained" and the trainer knows that, which could mean short cuts are taken or jobs are not completed properly.

Clicker has shown me that it is not possible to take short cuts and get it right. I can do everything I need to do with my horses. Of course results are not found overnight, but at least I am the only one setting their limits and at the same time getting to know them better. That is one of the things I think I would miss most if I sent my guys to a trainer again: that little achievement that only a "mother could be proud of".

Clicker is also very self rewarding: it makes you set tasks for yourself and your horses and makes me look for the tries which means that I am taking account of my horses body language alot better. I could not get that at a trainer and I doubt that alot of trainers would be able to know my horses as intimately as I feel I am becoming to know them.

Many people who know I clicker train think I am just going through another one of those phases: but when they see how well mannered my horses are and how happy, they seem to change their tune, but they would prefer to put it down to the change in "me" rather than in the horses and I: many cannot see that the clicker facilitated a change in me and the horses and that "I" did not directly cause the shift in attitude, but my tool did. I now have the right language, its like before clicker training my horses and I were wondering around trying to find a trainer that speaks my language, or my horses, so they could interpret for one of us. hehehe it was right under my nose the whole time.

You know I am not sure whether I have a different perspective of professional trainers. Many do a great job and are wonderful and competent horse people, but I suppose they have to compromise like everyone else in this world. I guess I would prefer trainers to take the time it takes, but that would be too expensive for the horse owner to bear and of course then you will get what you paid for. Training is an ongoing process and in any training program it is essential that you get to really know your horse: Clicker works for me and I could never afford to pay for the kind of training my horses are receiving :-)

>> We as owner-trainers (amateurs?) still need to be trained (whether it's through an actual human being, self-training through books, observation, trial-and-error experimentation, whatever). I cannot (or should not) teach my mare something I do not understand myself. I could make a very clumsy attempt to teach my mare the piaffe, but I haven't the faintest clue the exact mechanics of it and would frustrate both her and me, I'm sure. << Good point!! We too (those of us that train/instruct professionally) also still need to be trained and continue to observe and learn, otherwise we get pretty clumsy with new things too! Thats why I'm on these lists, to keep the learning process flowing. It goes back to always keeping the open mind and desire for more knowledge.

Judys questions are excellent ones too. I had occasion a few years back to hire a trainer for my young QH stallion. I had sustained an injury and was unable to ride for several months. I can honestly say that I was not comfortable with any of the trainers I interviewed. I was mostly uncomfortable with depositing my horse away from me and not having an on-going influence in his day to day training (I was in a wheelchair and on a walker, so I could have NO active participation). I finally utilized one of my students and my husband and was able to coach from the sidelines and get the stallion started.

People sending their horses to the trainer has actually been great for my business because after their horse is "trained" (that is, trained so that the trainer can ride them) and the horse comes home, usually within two weeks the horse realizes they don't have to work for the owner and now it's "let the games begin!". I haven't taken just a horse in training in many, many years.

I specialize in teaching green horse/novice rider combinations. Many of these people have ridden for years, but they've never experienced training a young and/or green horse. I require that the horse and owner participate in the training together. This does weed out the people who don't have the time and/or the inclination to participate. It's usually one or two lessons a week, with me giving the owner "homework" of things to work with their horse on in between. We discuss what the owner wishes to accomplish and then we head in that direction if I feel the goals are realistic. MY goal is to NOT keep the person in training with me forever. I want them to learn to problem-solve and develop a great partnership with their horse so they eventually don't need me anymore. I don't want to have to "hold their hand" for every little thing. I want to teach and support, but then let them figure some stuff out for themselves and become proficient and independent.

Some of my best lessons are the one's they don't get charged for; over the telephone if theres a glitch in the progress that needs to be worked through (maybe this is why I have a few students that live 4 or 500 miles from me? lol). I even have a program set up now of voice-over video lessons for my long distance students. This way, the lessons are still individualized, but we don't even have to be in the same state! Plus, they can look at the video as many times as they need to. I always tell my students "I don't want to ride your horse, I have plenty of my own to ride". Sure, it's much easier for me to just work with someones horse, it gets done a heck of alot faster, but what does that teach the owner about their horse and vice versa? The key is to create the partnership of mutual respect and trust, and to do that we need the individuals that will BE the partnership to participate together.

I am a first time horse owner (the novice owner with a green horse). I would not send my horse to a trainer unless I was right there with her and the trainer was training both of us at the same time (typically not done). Yes my horse would come home well trained. No I would not know the cues the trainer used. Additionally, my horse knows that I am not the trainer; therefore, she knows she can act differently with me. So I would say that I need training more than my horse.

For the past (almost) 2 years both my horse and I have been trained. I take weekly riding lessons from an instructor that retrains racehorses. The lessons have varied in both hunt seat and dressage. Sometimes I ride the full hour. Other times my instructor rides 1/2 hour and I ride 1/2 hour. Other times I ride most of the time except when my instructor gets on to show Rio how to do something new. Then once Rio has learned how to do it, my instructor explains the aids to me and shows me on Rio and then I get on Rio and my instructor teaches me how to give the aids (for example, bending and counter bending along a straight line). So yes, it is possible with hard work to train my own horse (or help my instructor train my own horse *S*). I have homework I need to work on during the week and then we review at my lesson. My horse and I are moving up slower than others, however, my goal for Rio is being met. I'm having fun being lucky to be with her. I could watch her play for hours.

I think others think I'm making slow progress in the training process. But I have something a lot of them don't have. I have a bond with my horse. It was there before the clicker training and it's become twice as strong since starting the clicker training (only been doing CT for a couple weeks now). That is more important to me.

However, these views are from someone who owns her horse for pleasure. Soon I'll be getting a trail riding lesson (our first trail ride for both of us) from my instructor and I'm more excited about that than the regular lessons. I plan on local shows hunt seat and dressage and trail riding. I will always be seeking new knowledge to better my relationship with Rio. This has worked for Rio and me, but only with regular instruction.

Re: Are you happy doing it? Did you EVER think it would be possible to train your own horse? Are you meeting your own expectations?

My mare is my first horse to raise completely on my own. I never thought of sending her away for training. I would try on my own, maybe to prove it for myself I could manage. I sure thought it was possible. Some things turned out much easier than I expected, some turned out much harder. I`m very happy training my own horse, I would never send her away. What I WOULD like, is a trainer that could teach me and Chia together. I have no use of her learning a lot of stuff somewhere else, I need to learn the same stuff too. And I would like to be there, as a part of the learning prosess. I had no clear opinion how I wanted the horseto turn out. But I had very clear opinions how she should NOT turn out. And most of theese things we managed. I want to do the training myself, but I also ask for advice and help.And I try to use the little experience I DO have together with "common sense" - to pick out the parts that will work for me and my horse. As Andrea said: I know my horse very well!!

I`m not meeting all my expectations, some things are more difficult than I thought. I also soon reach my limit in what I`m able to teach her. So we will need outside help. I must admit I also should have a trainer to turn to during theese years. We got stuck many unnecessary times.

Re: feel about yourself in this endeavor? How are you perceived by others by doing your own training? Any differently than before?

I feel that I managed to a certain point. The horse is very kind and gentle. Behaves very well with other people. I thought she would have more knowledge at this point. That`s where I get to short. I`ve had some comments from certain peoples that know I never started much compatitions etc. They don`t understand that I`m supposed to do this myself. Well, as I said, for that part, if I were supposed to start anything - I want us both coached together.

Re: you now have a different perspective of professional trainers?

We need the trainers, but not necessarily to train the horses. I believe in woring as a team all the way. But you don`t "pop" as a baby out of your mom, ready to win the Olympics. We need to learn from others, and that`s where trainers come in. But also them need to develop them self somewhere. There are a lot of good trainers. And a lot I never would use. You don`t make a good jumping horse in a hurry, and by scaring the life out of him.

This list is a good help on the way.

>> I would like to know how everyone feels about training their own horse vs. sending it out to a trainer.<<

Since I am on both sides of this I'd like to comment. I'm both an owner and a "trainer." Though I had experience training my own horses before clicker, once people saw my clicker work I got other horses to train!

>>Are you happy doing it? Did you EVER think it would be possible to train your own horse? Are you meeting your own expectations?<<

I always knew it was possible, but CT has made it so much easier. I think the biggest difference is the bonding and relationship that comes so quickly with CT. When I had trained horses "the other way" I don't think I had the same level of communication and bond. Misunderstanding happened a lot more frequently. Maybe I wasn't a very good traainer...I don't know. What I see now though is an "agreement" with the horse that is set in clear terms. "I'm going to ask you to do something new... I promise that you will enjoy your efforts...I will never do anything that hurts you, and if something scares you at first, I promise to make it worth your while to trust me that it will be OK."

>> How do you feel about yourself in this endeavor?<<

Proud...of both me and my horses!

>> How are you perceived by others by doing your own training? Any differently than before?<<

Some happy and excited, some skeptical and even condescending. Here are some comments I've heard while training or mentioning CT: "Want me to get you a twitch while you do that?" "Wow!" "What's wrong with the old way?" "How did you teach him to do that?" "Just get the buggy whip!" "I wanna learn CT!"

A non CT trainer saw me working one of the fillies and she said to the breeder in reference to me: "Where did THAT come from?" As I have said before...I take it all with a grain of salt. The skeptics are usually the last to change and have a closed mind. I feel blessed to have kept mine open.

>> Do you now have a different perspective of professional trainers? <<

Yes. I still see them where dog trainers were 10 years ago with this struggle of positive vs negative reinforcement. The taboo of using food and training has to be lifted. The dog training world has finally moved on to embrace clicker but I think it's going to be a while before the horse people do. When more people like Anna and Indy get out there in a public forum to promote CT, I think that is when it will get the respect it deserves. Of course I tell as many people as possible, but you kind of have to see it to believe it!

There are a lot of competent trainers out there. The fact that I decided to train Dakota myself doesn't mean I would recommend training your own horse over sending to a trainer. For Dakota and myself I thought it was best. It was evident to me that part of the problem Dakota was having was me.

There were several reasons for my deciding to train Dakota myself. Dakota had a lot of trust issues. It seemed the best way for Dakota and I to work on his trust issues would be for me to train him. It would give me the opportunity to show Dakota I was worthy of his trust. It is difficult to understand why Dakota is difficult. He has a lot of penned up frustration which causes him to act out. It just didn't seem right to give him to someone else to train. Dakota is also crippled in his right hock from a fight he lost back in December. Someone else may not understand just how difficult it is for Dakota to do something so simple as lift that leg.

So far I'm very happy with training Dakota. Dakota and I have learned to communicate in a way I never thought an animal and human can communicate. It has been amazing to watch Dakota go from a complete explosive, lunatic to a calm, thoughtful creature. He actually starts thinking to figure out what I'm asking instead of blowing up on me.

I have to say I thought it was possible to train my own horse because without some belief it was possible I would never have taken on the project. There were times when Dakota had me totally stumped; times I was completely at a loss. Having a good support group made the biggest difference in where Dakota and I are.

There are times when Dakota and I exceed my expectations and times when we meet my expectations. It has depended on the level of difficulty and my understanding of the small steps needed to reach the goal. At this moment Dakota and I are meeting my expectations.

Training Dakota has given me a lot of confidence, not only with Dakota but with myself.

When I first took on training Dakota myself everyone thought I was crazy. Dakota was such a basket case that everyone was sure that he'd hurt me. Now everyone is amazed at how well Dakota is shaping up.

My perspective of professional trainers. before I began training Dakota myself, was more of a passive perspective. Now I have the utmost respect for professional trainers.

I'm feeling my way along. I'm not opposed to calling for help when I need it. Jim is pretty mellow. He allows me to make mistakes and doesn't freak out if I do something wrong. We're both having fun and we have the rest of our lives together to figure it all out.

I'm starting to see a bit more acceptance and interest in what I'm doing at the barn. Jim and I are both more focused on our partnership than ever before. Time almost stands still for me when in with him. I have to remind myself that he may not have quite the same attention span as I do for our play time.

I see horse training as an on-going life interest. People and horses can learn for their whole lives - and should. If you send a horse to a professional trainer, it's for a very limited time in the horse's life, usually. There is so much more than can be taught (or learned) in 60 days - or 3 years.

I see professional trainers as wonderful resources - I'm really glad they're out there to help me learn to be a better rider and horse person, and to call on if I come up against something I can't figure out. But I'm finding my confidence is blooming - I'm picking and choosing what works or feels comfortable in my situation, not necessarily going along with everything I hear, just because it's spoken by someone with more experience than me.

I have had horses all my life, and I have yet to send one out to a trainer. I have always done all the training myself. This is for two reasons. 1. I have never had any extra money to pay the $450 to $500 a month for the training. 2. I have trouble finding a trainer that will allow me to come out and see what is happening with my horse. 3. I am very paranoid of the term "trainer" due to a lot of horror stories that I have heard about trainers. There are trainers out there, and then there are the real "Trainers". The hard part is finding the real trainer.

I love training my own horses. I start them from babies and progress from there. I get good results because I know each and every horse's personality, and quirks. I know how to work around them without very much experimentation. Most people say things like "wow who trained your horse?" When I answer they usually say "I wish I could do that" My answer is usually that they can..... and now I usually show them something about the clicker and what great results I get with it.

I have trained other peoples horses before, and I usually will not train one unless the owner agrees to come out and learn what I am doing. I teach the owner to train the horse. That way they are more successful when the horse goes home, and there are definitely less problems.

I admire professional trainers. They not only have to know their business if they want to stay in business, but they have to know how to handle people too. Horses are easier to handle than people! So clicks to all you real trainers out there who can train and get results, not just blowing your own horn!

Finding the right keys to communicate with my horse has brought a joy to horse ownership I always desired, but felt eluded me.

For the first 3 years I owned a horse, it became alarmingly clear that I had no idea what I was doing, and was keeping horse company with folks who really weren't oriented to getting along with their horse. They would be better off with ATVs.

Being a total novice to horses (prior experience: pony rides as a child, vacation hacks as an adult), I read every book the library had on horses. It was pathetic. I came away with no clear picture of what to do, and a distressing awareness of all that can go wrong with a horse's health (my but they sound like awfully delicate creatures). Suffice it to say the local library does not have an extensive collection of equine oriented works.

Fate brought some wonderful people (and a new horse) into my life 2 years ago, Who I call The Enlightened Ones. What was this "natural horsemanship" they spoke of? Some Italian guy with a "carrot stick"??? And who is this John Lyons? Why weren't their books in the library?

This new phase of my life made me aware that I already WAS a horse trainer -- albeit a terrible one. Once I could really acknowledge that truth (OUCH!), I became serious about how to become a good trainer.

We ALL are trainers, no matter if all you do is pat your horse's face & give him a carrot once a week.

> >Are you meeting your own expectations?

Would it sound too vain if I said "yes"? A great joy I've discovered is that my horses are capable of anything I ask of them. They keep me challenged, by having to discover new things to challenge them with.

>> How do you feel about yourself in this endeavor?

It has greatly increased my confidence, and I'm actually starting to feel competent with my own horse.

> >How are you perceived by others by doing your own training? Any differently than before?<<

Perhaps this tale will illustrate: I ran into one of my former riding pals recently in the grocery store check-out line. Now I know she thinks I'm a weenie rider, because A) I didn't want to run (and I mean RUN) my new horse the first time I had him on a trail ride, and B) I wear a riding helmet (you only wear one if you're afraid, she thinks). She asked me how I was doing with him -- did I ever ride him? And here's the clincher: she asked if I was "still doing that toy thing" with him, with a look that said she thought it was the silliest thing int the world.

So I find the answer to outside perceptions of my horse training to fall into two camps: The Old School of Thought ("gotta let 'em know who's boss") that thinks I have no idea what I'm doing, and the New School of Thought ("How did you get your horse to do that??").

> > Do you now have a different perspective of professional trainers?

I think one has to be extremely cautious about who you turn your horse over to. When I hear of a trainer who catches my interest, my first question I ask of others is "Does he/she DO what the SAY?" I'm finding many people are jumping on the NH/horse whisperer bandwagon. But do they really have the right stuff in their hearts for the animal? Anyone can parrot techniques. I can do that. What I would look for in a trainer is something more intangible -- a "feel," something almost spiritual. But that's me. I don't do a specific discipline with my horses, so I can't speak for those who do.

I have been thinking a lot about this question. I have very mixed feelings about having my horses professionally trained. While I was showing, I thought I needed a trainer who knew how to get the best show gait from my horse. At the same time, I was a nervous wreck about it because of the possible abusive training of the TWH. I also know I am not talented enough to get what I need from my horse to win. A dilemma!

Now that I have decided not to show anymore, I am still struggling with the same dilemma. I have started the clicker training with varying degrees of success and have started the Parelli with the same iffy results. I know a professional could come in and do a much better job. Again, it comes down to my lack of talent. But on the positive side, I feel much closer to my horses. I have seen more of there individual personalities and quirks. Subtle things that I hadn't been in tune with before. I love this part the best!!

just catching up on my digest after being away from my computer all weekend ...

regarding training your own horse (with clicker) vs. sending your horse out to be trained:

for me the limiting factor has always been cost. yes, when my horse starting behaving in a way i considered detrimental to our relationship, my first thought was, do i have enough to send her to a trainer? the answer being, no, not at this time. and yes, it was a depressing thought. because the second limiting factor was my experience. i consider myself an average rider, but i'm no trainer. i have neither the guts nor the experience or the desire to sit out (or fall off) a bucking horse. especially when i didn't know WHY she was bucking.

so in participating in the equinemassage list, someone suggested i also check out the clickryder list. i've since sent her an e-mail saying THANKS. the changes i've seen in my horse, while probably not impressive to most people, have really encouraged me. i can actually see the wheels starting' to turn in her little bay head. we have a long way to go, since we JUST started, but we're going to keep at it.

and the weird part is, not only am i NOT depressed any more, i'm looking at my lack of experience/bucks as a GOOD thing. because i can see the bond between myself and my horse starting to grow. i can see her stretching her brain. and i'm learning how SHE thinks. this wouldn't have happened if i had lots of money to send her off.

would i send fern to a trainer? maybe ... we're having too much fun now and i still have the lack of money problem! it would depend on the trainer, and it would have to be a situation were fern and i learned together.

otherwise, i suspect old habits would return, if only fern learned and i didn't.

we are progressing just fine, because i'm not having any expectations of how FAST we should progress. we progress as fast as fern feels comfortable. she has good days, and days when she's not so interested. but she IS a different horse than when i started. and yeah, i get the snide comments about her learning to be a "porpoise." i just ignore it. because i have a horse i can enjoy, even when i'm not riding her.

we're still just targeting stuff (i'm WAITING for my kurland book to arrive!) but for the first time i took her into the indoor arena (we've only been clicking in our stall) and let her loose. our latest project is targeting the garbage can on wheels. she's knocked it over and has finally gotten to the point where her front feet are planted (no mad dashes to the back of the stall). in the arena, she finally bumped it over, jumped back, looked at it, then went up and bumped it again with her nose while it was laying on the ground. this from a horse who would have turned tail and run to the other end of the arena, throwing in a few bucks for good measure. that's progress!

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