10 Things Good Trainers Do

There are a number of factors the separate the good trainers from the rest. According to trainer Jonathan Gauthier, these 10 things are the critical elements that make a good trainer. 

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Professional horse trainer Jonathan Gauthier of JG Reining Horses has put together an amazing video series to assist people in training their horses. In addition to his paid content on The Comfort Zone, he also offers free content on his YouTube channel.

In one of his latest videos, he discusses 10 thing good trainers do (and a number of things good trainers don’t do). Watching this video, I found myself both agreeing with him and reflecting on my own riding and what I can do better. So, it certainly is an informative video that is sure to get you thinking about how you ride and what you do with your horses.

According Gauthier, here are the top 10 things good trainers do:

10. Rest Their Horses

Gauthier points out that we don’t always feel the fatigue our horses feel, so it’s important to allow them to rest in between training sessions or drills. This allows them to re-oxygenate and it’s good for the horse’s mind. It allows them to take in what we’ve done. It’s also important to take into account how the horse feels depending on the exercises that we’re doing with them.

9. Reward

Good trainers often reward their horses. Whether it’s with a release of the reins or a pat, rewarding the horse is a way to develop the horse’s confidence and desire to do well. It’s important to reward even a good try so that the horse will continue to put forth effort. If you don’t reward the horse, it may never know what do to make you happy or please the rider.

8. Make a Plan

According to Gauthier, it’s important to go into your ride with a plan and structure in mind. The plan may go out the window based on how the ride begins or progresses, but going in with a plan in mind sets up you and the horse for success.

7. Look Up

Looking down is a common mistake among riders and one you don’t see good trainers make. Riders have a tendency to look down into the horse’s shoulder, sit on their thighs, pull down with their hands, and lean their shoulder forward. It seems to be a result of trying to lift the horse’s shoulder and work them in the direction we want them to go.

Instead, riders should put a lot of emphasis on sitting up, sitting on their pockets, and pointing their upper bodies where they are going. It’s important to look up and stay a quarter of a circle ahead of your horse at all times.

By looking down, all of the energy gets concentrated on the front of the horse and right where you’re looking even though the goal is to transfer the energy to the hind end.

6. Wait For the Breath

This is something good trainers do automatically, whether or not you see it. It’s important to wait for your horse to take a breath. After you do an exercise or a maneuver, stop and wait three of four seconds for your horse to take a deep breath and exhale. This is an indication that you are ready to move on; it lets you know that the horse has assimilated what’s just been done and is ready to move on to the next step. Gauthier emphasizes that it’s very important before correcting a horse or before moving on to the next thing or asking something else to wait for that breath

5. Adapt To Different Types of Horses

This is another thing that good trainers do naturally. Rather than approaching your training program with a cookie cutter mentality, it’s important to change things in order to work with each type of horse. Whether it’s being willing to adapt the equipment you use or your timeline, adjusting your training to the horse brings the best out of each horse.

4. Judge Intent

This is something a bit more nuanced, but it’s important not to punish fear or misunderstanding. Sometimes horses do something wrong because they get scared or don’t understand and sometimes they blatantly refuse. It’s important not to punish fear or an attempt — even if it’s a miss — so that the horse is not afraid to try in the future. Gauthier recommends giving the horse the benefit of the doubt at least the first two times. A miss could be due to a physical malfunction or fear, so it’s important to set yourself up again and ask again. Only when you’re 100% sure that a horse has missed because it says no or got lazy and didn’t try should consequences be instituted. At that point, the consequences should be clear and effective. As soon as you get an effort or the the thing you wanted, reward the horse. This makes clear that it’s okay to make mistakes or miss, but a lack of effort won’t be tolerated.

3. Don’t Overdo It

Gauthier points out that he likes to follow this golden rule of horse training: If you can obtain 1% every day, then in 100 days you’ll have 100%.

To be fair, one horse’s 1% may not be the same as another horse’s 1%. Some horses can be green with six months of training but perform as well as another green horse that has 12 or 18 months of training. What defines a green horse isn’t the timeline of its training, but where it’s at in its training.

Although it is important to set training goals (preparing for a specific competition, for instance), it’s more important not to overdo it on a horse that isn’t ready; just set a new goal down the road and move forward.

2. Emotional Control

Good trainers make a point not to let their emotions get in the way of their training. Letting anger get the best of you is the number one ingredient for failure. Gauthier advises that whenever you feel yourself getting angry, do whatever you can to stop whatever you’re doing at the time to realign and control the energy you’re communicating to your horse. Otherwise your negative energy will channel into your horse and make it fearful. Stop and take a breath; only resume when you have control over your energy

1. Separate Hands and Legs

The inability to separate your upper and lower body is a great way to get your horse to explode. Do not kick with your legs and pull with your hands at the same time – this is what causes horses to rear or grab the bit and leap forward. Applying a lot of hand and leg pressure at the same time puts all the energy in the middle of the horse with no outlet for the pressure.

Gauthier reminds us that it’s very important to be able to separate your upper and lower body; the harder and more aggressively you use your legs, the more passive and light your upper body needs to remain. Similarly, the harder you use your hands, the more steady and relaxed your lower body needs to be.

The written list above is a brief synopsis of the great information covered in this video. If you want a more complete understanding, watch the full video below:

Want even more great information? Check out Jonathan Gauthier’s training page, The Comfort Zone.

Go Jonathan Gauthier and go riding!