Regardless of what the horse is here for, be it for trailer loading, biting, rearing, spookiness, helping a previously abused and un-trusting horse, putting on riding miles, atrocious ground manners, starting or re-starting or other issues, we will begin with building a relationship on the ground first. This can take 10 minutes or several sessions depending on where the horse is at. Doing this helps the horse build confidence in me, and helps them feel secure, safe and relaxed which is necessary for thorough learning.
The ground work includes leading properly, walking on the line where I tell them, not faster and not lagging behind, (unless that's where I've told them to be) staying put while I walk away, standing quietly while tied, comfortable with the tacking up process, trailer loading and other things you and I can discuss. They will learn verbal and body language cues that mimic what we do in the saddle for their upward and downward and stop transitions in the round pen or free lunging in the arena. Once they understand that, we are beyond running around in circles. I don't lunge horses, except for the very rare occasion as a reminder or unless it's something you specifically request they be taught.
There'll be outings on real trails of varying difficulty while being ponied or ridden. Just the hauling out and going to new places is an experience in itself. This will include creek crossings, close in brushy trails as well as trail blazing and riding into brush, bridges, wide open spaces, steep hills and steep declines, navigating rocks and logs, solo outings, leading, being in the middle and end of a line and behaving themselves all the while. It will include encountering other horses they don't know (hopefully), dogs, sometimes ATV's and often times we see elk or coyotes.
About my philosophy: A horse should be responding to your intent, your thought, then, if necessary, bring in an intended physical cue. So the rider needs to be present and aware. Steering with weight, (when you look in the direction you want to go, your weight shifts and the horse 'hears' it and learns to respond accordingly) legs and guiding rein if needed. Both parties should be willing, responsive, thinking, participating, quiet and patient.
You should able to pull them out of the pasture, tack up, hop on and go. While in the beginning of the horses learning process there is sometimes the occasional horse that may from time to time have excess energy they need to get out before settling and getting to work, I've found this to be the rare exception. Often, round penning or lunging prior to riding seems more for a getting a nervous person ready for riding rather than the horse. And I will do my best to help you be comfortable with your horse.
It's my expectation and hope that the owner actively participate and observe as often as possible. Time, and consistent commitment and effort needs to be put in not only by me, but by the person who is actually going to be trying to build and have the lasting relationship with the horse. And I may push you a little beyond your boundaries. If you are looking for somewhere to send your horse to be 'trained', are not wanting to participate and expecting to have a 2 week trail broke miracle when you get home, I'm not your girl. Although, it is possible, and has happened, (I give the amazing horses much of the credit) it's not how I like to do things.
One most important item that could really help keep people safe is the way they interact with their horse. Not so much the technical aspect, while that counts, but the mental aspect. Paying attention and being completely present and aware of your horse like second nature, like an extension of yourself, so you can feel things coming and head them off before they become an issue. This is hard, if not impossible to teach, it has to come from within the person, the more they get to know and experience their horse. It comes easier for some than others.
It's okay for a horse to ask questions, to look to their person for support. Hopefully you'll recognize the need for that support before the horse has to ask for it. This is how you build trust, this is your opportunity to be there for the horse when they need you to reassure them. We should all remember, we are supposed to be the humans here, the superior, smarter, confident ones who know what's best. Often, people are looking for their horse to take care of them when riding, when really, (and this is especially crucial in the beginning as well as when one acquires a new equine) we should be the ones taking care of the horse. I'm not suggesting you micro manage but you need to be aware and present. Likewise, you need to trust your horse and listen to them. This usually comes after quite a few hours in the saddle and doing a job together--and trail riding can be a job depending on how you do it, that's how I treat it anyway, a fun job.
Consistency is so important and every one needs to be on the same page for success. Before you and your horse leave here, I want to make sure you are comfortable with your horse, and that the areas we were working on have progressed to where you are confident in taking your horse home and having it be a positive transition.
This is a good place to note, it's my opinion that no horse is ever 'trained.' And to also note that I do not consider myself a 'trainer' but use that word for lack of a better one. Leaving everything up to the 'trained' horse, being a passenger more than a rider, not wanting to think and pay attention while you are riding, expecting the horse to take care of you, but somehow listen and respect your random commands when you decide it's time to chime in--- it's a dangerous way to ride. It's a good way to get tossed and a good way for a horse to develop bad habits fast, especially a green one. Poor handling once the horse gets home, reverting to old ways or developing new bad habits, both horse and person-- and everything could unravel pretty quickly. Sometimes within hours.
When handling a horse, one should ALWAYS be in communication with it. You'll need to become a master multitasker if you want to become a decent rider. That means we do not want the horse to mindlessly go down the arena rail and into the corners because that's what they have been 'trained' to do. They go down the arena rail and into the corners because that is where the rider is telling them to be. It's the same when trail riding. They aren't simply following the path or track in front of them, you need to be actively riding, consistently and 100% of the time. It will become second nature if you practice enough, I promise. And if you're doing that, that horse will go anywhere you tell them to, off trail into brush or down the steep drop off if that's where you need to go.
I say that quality is better than quantity. Horses are very smart animals. I've found that they don't need constant repetition, they need consistency from people each and every time they are handled regardless of how much time has passed. Rather than lunging your horse for 30 minutes then riding for 20 in the arena, 5-6 days per week, full time with me equates to a minimum of 6 hours per week of time with your horse. This includes a mix of trail outings, arena time and other things we may be needing to work on. They will get their full time hours in. And you are welcome to participate or observe each time I work with your horse.
I want the horse to look forward to our time together while they are learning. It shouldn't be drudgery for them, it should be enjoyable. I want them to approach me in the pasture when I come out with the halter, asking to be the one chosen. That's the hope anyway. Every horse is different.
If there are certain things you would like me to work on with your horse, let me know. It's nice to have a list of goals at the onset.
Willow was a very green, spooky mare with less than 15 rides from 2 years ago when she arrived. This is after 2 ground work sessions and 3 arena rides. She's calm, confident and enjoying herself while being ridden in a large hay field and new experiences on the trails.