Why Use Training Aids At All?

Most or the schooling equipment or training aids that we see today were invented for, and should be used for, specific purposes: to relax, school, build, develop and discipline horses for all sorts of equestrian uses. If applied correctly and knowledgeably many do make a significant difference. But before you use a piece of schooling equipment or a training aid I suggest you think carefully about a few of the following points.

Have I made a fair assessment of my horse’s mental state?

In order to be able to begin to school or train a horse fairly you must be sure that he is mentally able to cope with what you are trying to achieve.

If his diet is too high in protein for his temperament or his workload for instance, or if he is not allowed any freedom and only has an hour’s hack around the block or half an hour cantering around in the school on the end of a lunge line in his headcollar, he may be genuinely difficult to handle and ride or drive, but this might not be improved by buying an expensive training aid. Go through your horse’s lifestyle to see if you can make changes and improvements. What you perceive to be a schooling problem could be erratic behaviour caused by over-excitement.

Most of us have to work for a living and fit our horses in before and after Work. After eight or nine hours at work not many of us feel like changing and mucking out and schooling our horses, particularly in the dark and in the cold! So, after all the chores are done and we are tired it’s not surprising that the prospect of riding our horses for two hours or more is daunting.

But your horse has possibly stood in his stable for 20 hours awaiting release.

If overfeeding and underexercising isn’t enough to cope with, there is the possibility that not enough hay is being fed to satisfy his need for fibre. If you leave your horse at night at 8pm, and do not go to the yard until 7am or 8am the next morning and his night hay ration only lasted until 10pm he has had 10 hours in which to do nothing but wait anxiously for you to arrive to feed him again. If your horse is being badly behaved or will not relax sufficiently to be schooled because of any of these factors, then better management is required, not the use of a schooling device.

Is my horse physically comfortable and fit enough?

A check should always be kept on your horse’s soundness; if he is a little pottery or not 100% sound, using some of the powerful training aids will only make things worse, not better. Teeth need regular attention: any sharp edges are going to make it difficult for the horse to accept a bit and establish a good head carriage if his head and mouth are not comfortable. The bridle and saddle should fit comfortably and correctly. Any rugs should fit well so that they do not rub sores on the shoulders and withers, a driving horse’s breast collar harness may touch parts of his shoulder that are already sore from rug rubs.

A horse should be kept at a comfortable temperature; some of our winters can be very mild and rugging up a horse so that he is constantly sweating will only make him miserable and possibly cause skin eruptions that make him uncomfortable. No horse is going to respond well to new ideas and pieces of strange equipment unless he is calm and comfortable and reasonably fit and well. Most of the training aids require a horse to maintain certain physical shapes; if the horse is not very fit he will soon get tired and begin to resist because it is simply not comfortable to carry on.

Sound application of basic knowledge

As with all well-thought-out ideas everything is open to misuse through lack of knowledge and even, in some cases, to abuse. If you are struggling with a specific problem and are thinking of using a piece of schooling equipment, you really need to have a clear idea of what your problems are, what you expect to achieve, exactly which item of schooling equipment will besr suit the goal you wish to reach and, most importantly, which piece of schooling equipment will suit your horse’s conformation.

If your horse has weak conformation this could possibly be the source of your problem. Great care must be taken to build up and improve a weakness, not cause distress by the wrong approach. You are trying to achieve a relaxed, interested and obedient horse not a tired, bored, tense one. Nothing should be rushed, there are no short cuts, allow yourself time to slowly build the horse’s confidence, obedience and gradually his strength and physique

Force and coercion

In my opinion horses should not be coerced into submission but fairly and systematically schooled so that they enjoy the work being asked of them. If what you are doing with your horse is not working, take a mental step back and reassess the situation. Are you trying to force your horse into a shape that he is not physically capable of achieving at this level of training? Are you lungeing or schooling too often and for too long using a schooling aid that is not fitted correctly thus causing resistances stemming from discomfort? If you feel that there are no changes to be made, seek help and advice, there are plenty of well-qualified people to turn to.

You may have to try one or two until you find someone you really feel conhdent with. I am not saying that certain horses do not need very skilled and firm handling but with thought and a well-executed schooling plan, even the cheekiest and brightest can be made to conform. There are no short cuts to a well-schooled and calmly obedient horse willing to do things for his rider out of understanding and a physical wellbeing.

Powerful tools in the wrong hands

Some pieces of schooling equipment are very powerful tools indeed and some can put great strain on the horse’s limbs and back. A gradual introduction is always necessary, a gentle, slow build-up ofshort sessions over a period of time, with correctly fitted and applied training aids, Will always achieve more in the long term than forced and prolonged sessions of misunderstanding and fatigue. Remember to vary your work, continuous repetitive schooling is very boring, use what facilities you have well: flat work, pole work, gymnastic jumping, everything to produce a satisfied relaxed and happy horse.

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