Regardless of the type of horse or the discipline for which it is being trained, the basic training philosophy is the same: horses, like people, remember best that which 1.)  makes sense, and 2.)  is fun.  Therefore, training is varied, yet sequential.  

All horse training is based on the classical training tree:

- The well-being of the horse is always top priority -
She is a phenomenal instructor and a true Horse Whisperer.  She KNOWS the personality of every horse she meets within minutes and is so thoroughly committed to their wellbeing. 
- Tracy T.
I will have you know that not only am I very impressed with your work with Nova but so was Katie.  She was amazed he’s only been in training for 2 months and just 3 days a week!!  
- Kate 
Amanda has an excellent ability to understand a horse's inner workings and come up with insightful training methods to suit the individual and conditions.
- RaeDeane
Amanda has an excellent foundation in classical dressage, and is a tactful and patient rider.
- Bobbi


Home - Lessons - Training - Articles - Links


“Problem” Horses

These are one of my specialties.  There have been several instances in which I have been the last hope for a horse whose owners had already consulted several trainers, and had already decide that if I was not successful, the horse would be destroyed.  There have also, of course, been many horses who simply went on to live much more comfortable lives with happier owners.  Please read  about a few below.  

Brak was a retired thoroughbred racehorse.  On the track, many sorts of bad behavior are tolerated with the idea that the horse should be "full of himself" so he has the confidence to take on his competitors.  Brak often appeared to be well-mannered towards his caretakers, but with an air of superiority, as if he knew they worked for him.  Those who fed him were his waiters, those that groomed him were his hairdressers, those that cleaned up after him were his maids, those that did his feet were his manicurists, and he treated them well for the most part just as you would.  However, if they did anything to displease him (bad hair day, too slow with dinner, or just not bowing to his majesty quickly enough) he would charge at them and take a BIG bite!  He was very unpredictable.  When I explained to him that I was now in charge, he was truly shocked.  It was a complete paradigm shift for the poor guy.  I established my dominance thoroughly, and with no violence whatsoever.  In addition to his behavioral issues, his mouth was thoroughly ruined.  It felt like there was a brick wall at the other end of my reins.  I rode him entirely from my seat and leg for weeks, just holding the reins without using them until he was ready to open that line of communication.  Brak is now such a wonderful horse in every way that he is my lesson horse!

Lanai was a two-year old who had taken to kicking at people for no apparent reason.  The hard part with Lanai was observing the behavior.  Frequently horse owners tell me their horse does something with no provocation, when in fact there is something provoking the horse that his handlers haven’t noticed.  I had to see her kick in order to determine the cause.  In her case, there really was none!  She was thoughtless, playing.  It took some looking into the rest of Lanai’s routine to determine why she thought this was acceptable.  She was turned out with yearlings and a couple of very tolerant retirees.  There was no one in pasture to make her mind manners.  I had her owners turn her out instead with a group of young mares.  In her new group she was at the bottom of the pecking order, which meant that all the other herd members monitored her manners, and corrected her when she was out of line.  They never left a mark on her, but the lessons carried over to her work with people and she never kicked again!

Phae was 5 years old when I met her.  She had not yet had any training beyond basic handling.  Her owners had so much trouble with her anyway, they thought she might need the extra time to mature and settle.  She’d been hurt by someone as a yearling, and never trusted anyone since.  She was always prepared to defend herself in any way necessary.  At a big-boned 16.3 hands, she was very capable of doing serious damage.  Read about her, and another big girl in Resistance on the articles page.  Once I earned her trust, by letting her set the pace in our work and never trying to force her, she learned very quickly and became one of my all-time favorite, most trusted horses.

Captain was a very well trained horse who was out of work for a while.  When time came to get him back in shape his owners chose a trainer based on price and convenience.  After all, he didn’t need training, just exercise; it shouldn’t have needed much skill.  Unfortunately, the trainer tumbled off one day when Captain spooked during mounting.  He then bolted, got tangled in the reins, and hurt himself.  After that he became very difficult to mount.  He was punished for misbehaving, which only increased his fear, causing his behavior to worsen.   When someone did manage to fling herself into the saddle, he bucked her off.  The owners decided he would have to be sold.  When I arrived to teach a lesson to another boarder, they asked my opinion.  I assessed Captain’s behavior and estimated that I could cure him in two sessions.  They didn’t believe me, so paid for one month of full-time training.  His fear was gone in two sessions, and I was able to show his owners how to guard against it’s return.  They refused a refund of the remainig sessions, so I spent the rest of the month expanding his comfort level with mounting so that he could be mounted from either side, from the ground or a mounting block, in thunder storms, and in the midst of general boarding barn chaos without batting an eye, as well as getting him in shape.  

Alita was a gorgeous mare.  Unfortunately, her owners trusted the wrong people to care for her.  Her first trainer apparently was abusive.  When he declared that she was a waste of his time, she was sent to a boarding facility where her chronically pinned ears intimidated the staff.  They avoided handling her whenever possible, e.g., by opening her stall door and letting her run out to pasture rather than leading her.  They usually fed once a day, but sometimes in the winter it was too cold to bother (which means, I’m sure, that no one provided water on those days either)!  When I met her, she was extremely insecure, but tried to camouflage her fears with aggression: biting, kicking, rearing, bucking, and running people over.  Moving her to a facility where feed was provided multiple times per day on a strict schedule, and fresh water was always available, made a huge difference in her outlook.  She was very fearful of contact with the bit, as if she’d been ridden with a harsh bit, or by a rider with abusive hands, or both.  This created so much tension throughout her body that it was impossible to get any sort of steady rhythm in any gait.  However after 4 months she was practically unrecognizable.  All the tension was gone, both on the ground and under saddle.  She was working solidly at first level, and spectators frequently gathered during our riding sessions, attracted by her pure beauty, athleticism, fluidity, and grace.  She was an absolute pleasure to work with.

Back to Top
Why Training?

You may choose to put your horse in training if you
  • are having a problem with him/her
  • are going on vacation and want your horse to keep busy
  • will be unable to ride for a while for any reason and want your horse to stay fit
  • want your horse fine-tuned prior to a competition
  • are selling your horse, and want to get the best price for him
  • want to move up a level
  • have a specific skill that you would like your horse to learn, e.g., loading,   clipping, flying changes, lateral movements, half-halt
  • buy a green or untrained horse
  • want to change disciplines, e.g., a western pleasure horse re-trained to      jump, or a race horse re-trained for pleasure riding
         Have you ever ridden a horse that has been under saddle for only a short time, maybe a couple of months?  If you have, then you know first hand how awkward they can be!  With many, even simple requests like stop, go or turn, take several strides to effect.  Even slightly more complicated maneuvers, like turning at a specific place or angle, or altering stride length or rhythm, are impossible!  And then there are those unexpected bucks…

          Truth be told, as common as those behaviors are, they are not inevitable with young horses.  The key is balance.  Balance is necessary for any horse to turn or transition (this is the reason that half-halt is so important to older horses).  The more complicated the request, the more balance is required to perform.  A loss of balance is the most common reason that young horses buck.  The sooner your young horse discovers how to achieve and maintain his balance, the sooner he will look and feel like a “finished” horse, and you can seriously pursue your goals together.  

Many common problems that plague older horses are balance-related, too:  Bracing, pulling, crookedness, breaking gait, and sluggish transitions can often be traced to a lack of balance.  By establishing balance even before the first mounting, and re-establishing it continuously, these problems can be avoided before they begin.  A careful program focusing on your horse’s balance can reduce overall training time by months, putting you in the saddle sooner.
Balance                Young Horses            Retraining   Problem Horses
Young Horses

The early introduction to work lays the foundation for everything that comes after, in terms of not only performance, but even soundness.  Correctly trained horses often work well into their twenties, while those started incorrectly may not be able to perform half that long.  It is during this formative period that the horse learns
  • Whether his work is fun, interesting challenging, to be looked forward to with pleasurable anticipation; or tedious, scary, stressful, to be avoided.
  • Whether the trainer is a friend, protector, a fair leader to be followed with confidence; or a dictator who forces compliance without listening to feedback from those being led; or a wishy-washy leader who can’t always be counted on.

Early training (not breaking!) is the time to establish important habits like straightness, balance, impulsion, relaxation, submission; or to resign oneself to having to “unteach” your horse later on (a difficult and time consuming process compared to doing it right the first time).

Training of young horses need not be physically stressful.  Especially at the very beginning the work is more about training the young horse's brain than his body: 
  • adjusting to the daily routine, 
  • acceptance of tack and equipment, 
  • establishing a respectful relationship with the trainer, 
  • voice commands and their meaning, 
  • balancing under the  weight of the rider, 
  • accepting contact with the bit, 
  • understanding leg, weight, and rein aids 

All these are on the syllabus for the first month.  By the end of the first month, most horses will have a good understanding of longeing at all three gaits and being ridden at the walk.  By the end of the second monthmost horses have developed very good carrying muscles from their work on the longe, which will include cavaletti and lots of transitions.  Mounted work will generally include all three gaits.

By the end of the third month, longeing will have decreased in frequency.  Work under saddle will be soft, balanced, forward and relaxed at walk, trot, and canter, and lateral movements will have been introduced.  The young horse is able to perform a training level dressage test.  Some work will be done outside of the arena, where the horse will be exposed to natural and man-made elements.

The fourth month will focus on further development of balance and carrying ability.  Bend will develop and with it direct flexion at the poll.  Free jumping of small obstacles will be added this month to teach the young horse boldness, to develop his eye for distance, to reinforce rhythm and regularity, and to loosen his back and develop his engagement and throughness in canter.

Beyond this, progress becomes increasingly individualized depending on the horse’s conformation, talent, and aptitude.  Once I know your horse I can estimate what his progress will be in the upcoming month.  

Progress of horses being retrained can be difficult to predict, though it follows the same path.  The confounding factor is usually tension.  Each horse has his own timetable for relaxing, which can be encouraged but never demanded.  Once the horse trusts enough to release his tension, his progress becomes much more regular and predictable.

 Back to Top