A Hard Lesson For Horsemen

©Tamarack Hill Farm

We all know how many things there are about which we can say, “I wish I’d known then what I know now.”

For me, one of the most profound, as it applies to training horses, is the idea that on any given day it is infinitely easier to detract from a horse’s progress than to add to it.

Here’s why I have come to think that…

Everything about building understanding, everything about building fitness, everything about building confidence, everything about building a harmonious relationship—is slow.

We talk about building blocks, one upon another, day by day, week by month, even year by year, as the tried and true method by which horses actually learn. Slow, incremental schooling. And we can’t hurry this no matter how much we may wish to. It happens as it happens. Think about taking a 7th grade child and trying to force him to be a college sophomore to “get” this point.

©Tamarack Hill Farm
©Tamarack Hill Farm

So it is a slow deal. But one day of frenzy, one day of losing our temper, one day of forcing a horse past its physical or emotional limits, can literally cripple the horse forever, physically, and create enough distrust and fear to undo months of quiet, systematic confidence building.

If you find yourself getting “hungry”, remember that it’s a lot easier to prevent loss of self assurance and boldness in a horse AND a human than it is to regain it.

Remember the words of Jack Le Goff: “Boldness comes from confidence. Confidence comes from success. It is therefore the job of the trainer to create lots of situations that guarantee success.”

©Tamarack Hill Farm
©Tamarack Hill Farm

So, put succinctly, here is what I wish I had learned decades earlier:

“What we do on any given day to train a horse is measured less by what we do that is right than by what we do not do that is wrong.”

We have an obligation to hold it together—physically and emotionally—on the days that the horse seems most resistant and uncooperative. And that is a hard, hard hard lesson to learn for many humans who deal with horses.


About the Author

Named “One of the 50 most influential horsemen of the Twentieth Century” byThe Chronicle of the Horse, Denny Emerson was elected to the USEA Hall of Fame in 2005. He is the only rider to have ever won both a gold medal in eventing and a Tevis Buckle in endurance. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College and author of How Good Riders Get Good, and continues to ride and train from his Tamarack Hill Farm in Vermont and Southern Pines, NC.

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