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Get Inside the Horse’s Head, by Al Dunning

Al Dunning - Almosta Ranch

How do we create a rewarding connection with the horse – through true horsemanship.  This is the cultivated relationship between  horse and man. Much of this occurs through a deliberate process we  call training ““ and by training, we mean guidance and preparation. (We  tend to think of this, by the way, as something man does to the horse.  But if you’re around horses long enough to make some big mistakes,  believe me, you will be on the receiving end of some good training by  the horse!)

If the horse-man relationship is to be successful, training must occur.  Thus, if better horsemanship is the goal, specific training techniques  must be adopted. It is the small things that a real disciple of horses recognizes.  Horse training is not an exact science for which there is a prescribed,  step-by-step method. It is more about developing “feel” toward  the horse and using it wisely.

Each day, and along each step, the horse  poses a different set of challenges that you must adapt to with what is  commonly called “horse sense.” The uppermost level of horsemanship  relies on inspiration rather than on a mechanical approach. Training a  horse to perform superbly requires the ability to feel your way through  each step in the process. With a step-by-step mechanical approach,  you can train a horse to do ordinary maneuvers, such as stop or turn,  but to train a horse to do something extraordinary, you must get inside  that horse’s head and begin to think like the horse.

Years ago, when I began training horses, a trial-and-error approach  was common. We would see if something worked and if it didn’t  we would switch to something else. That was largely the way one  learned how to train horses then, but today there is no need to take that  approach.

One reason is that horses are bred to be genetically superior  at performing certain tasks. In addition, there are many knowledgeable  people who are willing to help you today and it can save you most of  the trial and error process.  But perhaps the most positive change in the industry is that good trainers  today strive to reach the horse through greater awareness and greater  understanding. This approach has been called by many names and is embraced  to varying degrees by the majority  of trainers. They accept this concept  because it is a humane and effective  method.

Both my daily work with horses and  the ideas I communicate in these articles  are based on my  adaptation of this  concept. In essence, these articles are  saying to you, “You don’t  have to fight  this horse.” Obviously, discipline will be  necessary at times; we are working with  a large, powerful animal that has a will  of its own. But it doesn’t have to come  down to a battle of wills.

Because of the  people I’ve been fortunate enough to  learn from over the years, I can try any  one of the methods that have already  been proven effective.  Thus, instead of relying on trial  and error, I can use methods that are  tried and true, and I can combine these  techniques with my own feel for what is  right for the horse. You can do this also.

My desire is that your years of  horsemanship will bring you the rewards, the joy, and the exhilaration mine  have brought me.

About the Author:  Arizona horseman, Al Dunning, has owned and operated his “Almosta  Ranch” since 1970. The Quarter Horse training facility is in Scottsdale,  Arizona.  Born in Chicago in 1950, Al’s family moved to Arizona when he was 8  years old. He began riding horses with his  sisters and went on to further his talents  with mentors such as Jim Paul, John  Hoyt and Don Dodge. Over the years, Al  developed his multi-faceted business with  a focus on the development of champion  horses and riders.  Al married his wife Becky in 1971.  Becky is a well-known horse show  announcer, and co-founded America’s  Horse Cares, a division of the AQHA  foundation which focuses on therapeutic  riding charities. The Dunnings have two  children, Grady and McKenzie Parkinson.  Al has been a professional trainer  since 1970. His expertise in all facets  of western events have elevated him  to great success in the AQHA, NRHA,  NRCHA, and NCHA.  Al has developed a winning  tradition with quarter horses that is well  documented. He trains, conducts clinics,  and consults for ranch development and equestrian planning.  Learn more about Al and his programs at www.teamadinternational.com a membership website featuring the training methods and best practices  of World Champion Al Dunning.

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 12.]

 

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