Get Inside the Horse’s Head, by Al Dunning
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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