Training horses is not magic but it requires some insight. Naturally, one needs a methodology...a proven system for development of your equine athlete. Along with this it is important to have goals or ideals to work toward so that your training path has a purpose to you. As a rider, and your horse's trainer, you must have a schedule that includes both you (you must be educated and fit also!) and your horse. Schedules are important so that you stay on track as much as possible. Training without a plan or schedule is like setting off to sea in a boat without a rudder…you have no direction. A well thought out schedule is imperative in helping you reach your goals (those dreams with deadlines.) It is a prerequisite to a training program! It may help you to have an overview of the progressive levels in our national competitions, as these have been well planned and thought out in considering a logical progressive development of the dressage horse:
So, your mission, should you decide to accept it...
It's common knowledge that an athlete needs to be well rested and well fed to perform at their best. As a trainer or coach, one has to go a little further beyond that thinking. We are the coaches of our equine athletes and it is only fair to them if we train with awareness and a plan.
Awareness is an important piece of the training equation. What this means is that you are in tune to what is going on with your horse's body AND mind on a day to day basis. A horse is an animal, like you are. The horse gets tired, hungry, sore...and don't forget the multitude of emotions he or she could have, especially confusion to our crude aids. As your horse's trainer, you need to be aware of how the day has been going. Did your horse get good rest? Did your horse get turned out? Is the feeding schedule the same? Many simple questions can be answered if you are chatty with the barn help. The persons working the barn can be invaluable in knowing some of your horse's psyche for the day. You also have to be aware of where you are in your own training plan. Did you work on anything that could have made your horse sore or worried? Do you look at his body for muscle development or flexibility? Are you aware of how your horse is moving when you take him out of the stall or paddock? How about the warm-up? Does your horse stay labored or is he fresh and energetic? Are YOU fit enough, calm enough, or are you stiff in your own body? You should be asking yourself all of these questions before you ever start your work program for the day. Stay aware. Adjust your daily program if you need to. It is your responsibility as a coach.
Planning is another important part of the training equation. Think of all the things you plan for...a birthday party, a trip somewhere, perhaps your own work-out program, or even which clothes you want to wear! Without planning, these things rarely work out as well. Training your horse is the same way. You should start out with some kind of goal or vision. It's okay to have grandiose goals but, you also need to have a focus on the here and now. If you are aware of how your horse is doing and of what you are working toward then, you should be able to come up with an appropriate daily plan. If not, get some help with this, either from a professional in the business or head to the books and read up on different ideas to experiment with. Try to pick two or three WEEKLY (and possibly attainable!) goals. It could be something as mundane as keeping your horse moving when he poops or it could be more intricate as in strengthening a left hind leg. It is a good idea to keep a notebook to jot down your goals of the week. It is handy to have and look over as time goes on. Training notes help you plan, help you analyze, and keep you grounded, honest, and progressing toward your bigger goals.
The will to win shows or attain lofty goals is helpful but, the will to prepare is a far greater challenge. A prepared rider is a confident rider. Confidence creates winners and gives one inspiration to keep working. Learn to have a plan and be persistent about following your schedules. Missed work-outs or setbacks are only adjustments that need to be made in your schedule. Plateaus in training or repetitive work require fortitude and focus. Just be persistent and empathetic (to you and your horse!) Work at your preparation. Your success is totally up to you and your desire jump on in and earn it. I promise...it is absolutely worth it. What fabulous animals our horses are!