My Top Five Most Useful Training Tools
by Lauren Wright
At university, I spent three years actively training a young Percheron/Thoroughbred cross as part of a program to take weanlings and turn them into suitable horses for police work. I watched eleven other trainers struggle through the same job I did, and I began to realize that the experienced trainers used some of the same tools and methods. I realized that they did so for a reason… some tools are just too useful not to use! So below, for your convenience, I have listed in no particular order.
1. Rope Halter
A rope halter is extremely useful, especially if you find that the horse you are working with is dominant or pushy. The little knots fit right over pressure points on a horse’s nose and make it much easier to get a horse’s attention or get him out of your space. A leather or nylon halter can be nice in some circumstances, but I would wait until you have established a respectful response from your horse using a light pressure from the rope halter before you switch back to the broader pieces of the leather or nylon.
2. Cue Stick
Let me begin by saying that I would not attempt to train a horse without one of these. A cue stick adds at least three or four feet of length to your arm, allowing you to apply pressure from a safe distance if you work with a reactive horse. If your cue stick has a length of rope on the end (which I highly recommend!), your reach is even longer. This tool lets you desensitize your horse’s legs without getting kicked or struck. It may take a little practice before it feels entirely natural in your hand, but spending the time to get familiar with your cue stick can have wonderful results in your training.
3. Long Lead Rope
The right lead rope is a vital tool to have, but it is often overlooked for several reasons. Your lead rope should ideally be between eight and fourteen feet long, and I prefer mine to be at least twelve feet. This gives me enough length to use the rope to desensitize my horse if I need to, and also to make sure that if my horse spooks, I am still holding onto my horse afterwards. With a twelve or fourteen foot lead rope, you can lunge your horse in a small circle or over obstacles. The ideal lead rope should be able to carry energy from your hand all the way to your horse’s halter. A too-light lead rope has no power in it, and I find that a too-heavy rope sits dead in my hand. Look for a lead rope that suits you, not just in color, but in length and weight, too.
I know it sounds backward, but the more you scare your horse, the fewer things your horse will find scary. Obstacles can be extremely useful in producing a calm, confident horse, but so many people ignore a bounty of obstacles they have around the barn. A tarp or piece of plywood is a great place to start with your horse. Also, tires or broken mattresses are great. Feel free to be creative with your obstacles: pool noodles, flags, caution tape, PVC poles… all of these are great items to desensitize your horse to. The best way to find obstacles is to find out what scares your horse. Once you know, don’t avoid those things; play with them, around them, over them. Send your horse between you and the obstacle, and make very sure that your horse doesn’t invade your space! Playing with obstacles will build your horse’s confidence like almost nothing else will!
5. A Consistent, Patient Hand
If you struggle with being patient, then training a horse will definitely challenge you. No matter how good a trainer you are, there will be days when nothing goes according to your plans. Your horse might have done everything perfectly the day before, but today, he’s not doing anything right! On those days, this last tool comes into play. Especially when you work with young, green horses, you have to be very calm and consistent in what you’re asking. Being patient will get you farther than rushing through things. Horses learn in cycles, and I have yet to figure out how to predict how my horse will perform on any given day. When your horse is having a great day, wonderful! Feel free to try new things or set new training goals. When your horse is having an off day, work through things calmly and patiently, using a consistent increase of pressure until your horse does what you ask. Always try to find a good note to end on.
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