Most dogs look forward to training sessions, wagging their tails with excitement when learning a new trick. Horses? Not so much. Callie Rae King contemplates why.
The past two years have really been a time of learning for me and for that I owe a big thank you not just to the trainers I have worked with and the authors of books I have read, but also to my little Dachshund Freida. When I look back I realize she started the whole thing.
I bought Freida as a nine week old puppy in January two years ago. My family always had dogs when I was growing up, but Freida was the first dog that belonged to just me and that I also carried the sole responsibility of training. Before I even picked her up, I had compiled a library of books on the subject of dog training. While the cues and tips suggested in these books varied, the universal thread was positive reinforcement, a subject that I thought I understood and applied to my horses, but looking back I realize that I didn’t know as much about this concept as I thought I did.
Training Freida was fun and easy, she loved her training sessions and would get so excited when she saw me gathering the supplies that signaled to her it was time to learn. She had such a brightness in her eyes when I was teaching her to sit, stay, and heel. I could just see the wheels turning in her head as she tried to make connections between what she was doing and what got her the “good girl” and the treat or few minutes of play.
Seeing the enthusiasm for learning in my little dog got my own mind working as I started thinking – why don’t my horses act more like this in their training sessions? It’s not as though they would run the other way when it was time for a ride (at least not often!) but they didn’t have a twinkle in their eye as we stepped into the arena and they didn’t often look as though they were really mentally engaged trying to figure out a puzzle and find the “right answers” as Freida did. Instead they just seemed passively obedient, doing what they were told, responding and reacting to what I asked, but never really taking an active role in the learning.
For me, this raised many new questions in my head – is it a prey/predator thing, are horses just not as intelligent as dogs, or is there simply a better way I could be training? That’s where the learning started for me as I dived into books, YouTube videos, visiting new trainers, and then experimenting with my own horses to try to figure out what I was missing with my training methods.
The whole process was a lot of fun and the more new things I tried, the more I started seeing my horses engage in their training. I discovered that there was more science behind the art of horseman than I ever realized, and as I learned how to incorporate positive reinforcers that actually mattered to my horses, I started seeing the same look that Freida has as we prepare for a training session – an expectant, “what are learning today?” I also noticed that our training sessions actually got longer and I was getting more done with my horses, because not only was I having more fun, but the horses were too, and I could keep their attention much longer than before.
For me, the learning will continue, it’s been a lot of fun so far and I know it will only get better, thanks to a little miniature dachshund named Freida, and of course all the patient, forgiving horses I get to work with every day!
About Callie: I own and operate a small boarding and training facility in Chester County, Pa., where I love working with young horses and so-called “problem horses.” I enjoy learning from every horse I get to work with and always finding better ways to train and to teach my students. Writing is another passion for me, and I write two blogs. The first is CRK Training Blog, where I feature riding and training tips and interview other trainers and horse industry experts. The second blog is Happy Horse Reviews, where I share my thoughts on a variety of equestrian products. Thanks for taking the time to read my article!
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