It’s OK to Work Your Horse (No, Really)

As you know if you visit this blog often, I’m all about giving your horse the benefit of the doubt and setting him up to succeed. Key tips of the past include: Don’t punish your horse in anger. Make sure resistance isn’t the result of discomfort or pain. Slow down and get a little “zen,” even, to get the best from your horse—the way trainers the caliber of Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Greg Ward, and Bobby Ingersoll have done.

That’s all well and good, but here’s another important tip: Don’t be afraid to work your horse. By that I mean it’s OK to ask your horse for his best effort, and to put him through his paces thoroughly when you ride.

World champion trainer Sandy Collier impressed this point on me when we were collaborating on her training book.

“People often feel guilty about pushing their horse or making him work when it’s cold or it’s feeding time or it’s later in the day or whatever,” she says. “Don’t!”

Sandy, a member of the national Cowgirl Hall of Fame, suggests you think of it this way: “What if you saw a help-wanted ad that said, ‘Job opening. Two square meals a day and a comfy room provided. Housekeeping services included. Full medical benefits. Pedicure and new $125 shoes every six weeks. Applicant need work only one hour per day.’

“Wouldn’t you want that job? I sure would!”

So, take it from a pro. When you’re riding your horse in that one hour or so per day, don’t be afraid to ask him to work—the way Sandy is asking her horse to work in the photo.

For more training tips from the only woman so far to win the open division of the National Reined Cow Horse Association’s Snaffle Bit Futurity, plug her name into the search box above. Or check out her book, Reining Essentials.

(Photo © Caroline Fyffe)

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