Fear-Free Horse Training
Every Step of the Way
We live in a Hurry Up Quick world, moving a million miles a minute. We are inundated with information, a constant barrage of data, so much detail, in fact, that there isn’t really enough time to stop and think about what we’re hearing and seeing.
The result of all of this is that, understandably, it takes quite a bit of glitz to get our attention. We want to be entertained – the more eye-popping the entertainment, the better. And, because we are short on time, we often look for the quick fix.
And what exactly does this have to do with horse training?
Go to any equine event. Watch the “famous” trainers – jumping picnic tables bareback and bridle-less – causing the crowd to ooh and ah and wish they could do that; promising the fast and simple solution to all of our horse related problems. Just buy their videos, books, special equipment, and you, too, can achieve miracles without putting in any of that pesky hard work.
Then there are the contests – a group of these famous trainers get together and compete against each other to see which of them can “break” a young, untrained horse the fastest. These contests generally take place in one day. Think about it – one day to take a frightened horse that has never been handled and teach it to accept a saddle and rider. On the surface, at the end of the day, it may look like they’ve succeeded. But I’d really like to see how that horse behaves on day 2 or 3 or month 2 or 3.
I learned of Australian trainer Neil Davies’ new book Fear-free Horse Training Every Step of the Way from my friend Colin Dangaard, owner of The Australian Stock Saddle Company in Malibu. Thank goodness for Colin who is pretty much responsible for introducing the Australian Stock Saddle to America. I confess right up front to being heavily biased in favor of his saddles, wouldn’t ride in anything else, but that’s the subject of another story.
Fear-free Horse Training Every Step of the Way by Neil Davies is unique. Why? Because it tells it like it is. There are no quick fixes, no tricks, no games in horse training. Sorry about that.
On the surface, Mr. Davies’ training methods appear simple. One step at a time, advance and retreat, repeat, repeat again. Keep the lessons short. Don’t frighten the horse.
The mantra is never frighten the horse. That means no chasing the horse around a pen, no waving objects to “desensitize” this gentle animal.
The basic tenet of Neil’s philosophy is teaching a horse to be calm and confident. It is the foundation for all other training. And it is achieved by teaching the horse that it is a pleasure to be with you. Sounds simple, right? No tricks, no games, no fancy special equipment – just a lot of good rubs.
The book is filled with photographs showing each step of the training process.
Although much of his discussion addresses starting a young horse, I believe there is no reason you cannot begin again with your own horse. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert, a horse whisperer, or famous to follow Neil’s lead. What you do need is patience and the ability to slow down. After all, what’s the rush? Hopefully, you are building a life-long bond with your horse, one that can only be enhanced by teaching without fear.
Which brings me full circle back to my early comment about our desire for eye-popping entertainment. My concern is that people will not take the time to read a book written not to entertain but to teach. It seems deceptively simple on the surface. No one is jumping picnic tables. But whether your goal is a quiet trail ride (me), a fast gallop in the Malibu mountains (Colin, again) or to one day jump a picnic table, you have to build the foundation. Neil Davies can show you how to do that.
I heartily recommend this book to horse loving people everywhere. Go sit close to your horse and read it all the way through. Better yet, read it aloud to your horse. It can’t hurt.