In my online “Interactive” training program, I work closely with people from all over the world to improve their horse’s training and their own horsemanship skills, although I may never meet them face-to-face. Interactive members are given assignments to complete, along with study materials, then they report back to me on their results as I coach them through the curriculum.
Helping horses and riders I’ve never met would be more of a challenge without a lot of information up front that I need to understand where the horses and riders are in their journey. When I work with horses and riders in-person, at a clinic or expo, I can see with my own eyes how the horse acts and responds and how the rider engages the horse. But from thousands of miles away and interacting solely online, it’s a bit more of a challenge.
Consequently, I’ve developed a series of questionnaires that help me get a full understanding of the horse’s training history, what level of training it currently has and where the holes may be. There are similar questionnaires on the rider’s ability and training level, as well as the horse’s conformation and temperament.
Whether you’re working with a trainer to improve your horse’s performance, evaluating a horse’s training for purchase or adoption, or simply setting training priorities for your horse, it’s important to start with its history.
A horse doesn’t always have a known history. Often, we acquire a horse with little or no information on its past, in which case we can only guess about its training, based on how it currently responds and performs. But sometimes, with a little sleuthing, you can piece together a history then fill in the blanks with a little guess work. If you have some history on your horse, you may be a step ahead, but even if you know nothing about its past, it’s important to put together as much information as you can because it will influence your training plan.
Below is the assignment I give my Interactive students about compiling their horse’s training history and scoring its current training level. Once we’ve compiled the training history, we can assess the current state of the horse’s training—then we have the information we need to develop a training plan!
Been where? Done what?
It’s important to have a full training assessment on a horse before developing a plan of action. Not only does having a thorough understanding of your horse’s existing skill level help you be a more effective trainer, it also helps me, as your coach, understand how to better help you with your specific training goals.
Assignment: Find out as much as you can about your horse’s training history and try to answer the following questions. If there is zero history on your horse, write your best estimate of his life story when prompted and simply enter n/a for the questions you do not know the answers to.
- Tell me everything you know about your horse’s training history. Dig through the records you have for any clues. Contact previous owners to see what they know. Gather what information you can and fill in the holes with your best guess. The more we know the better.
- How old was your horse when he was started under saddle?Top of Form Most horses begin their under-saddle training at 2 or 3 years of age, while they are still highly impressionable youngsters. If a horse’s saddle training begins later in its life, it may present certain challenges in work ethic and obedience.
- If you consolidated all of your horse’s riding experience into the number of days ridden, deducted all the idle time each week and year, and only counted the days he was actually ridden, how many days/month/years would it be? It literally takes years to train a horse to the highest levels, not counting any idle time. If we can look at the actual number of days it’sdbeen ridden or trained, not including idle time, it gives us a much more realistic picture of the horse’s training.
- What, if any, professional training has your horse had? In general, professionally trained horses will have fewer holes in their training and will have learned fewer inappropriate things. This is not a given, just a generality. Also, professional training is often discipline-specific, so it helps us speculate what the horse may have learned.
- How many different homes has your horse had? How many different locations has he lived? Although people are often leery of horses that have changed hands a lot, experience with different riders in different situations can be a good thing. One rider and one location may indicate that a horse that has very little life experience and could potentially fall apart in a new situation.
- Has your horse had any history of showing, competitions or traveling to events away from home? The more road experience the better!
- What is your primary activity with this horse? Casual trail riding or high-level competitive riding? At some point, we must consider how well the horse and rider are suited to each other.
- What is your horse’s strongest, most endearing trait? I’m a big fan of playing to your strengths and building on your assets.
- What is the number one priority in your training agenda? This can be very enlightening to me, in terms of telling me where you are currently with this horse.
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a push-button, finished show horse, and 1 being an untrained 2-year-old, rate your horse on the following qualities. Score it like many competitions are scored– consider that 7 is an average score for a trained horse adequately executing the maneuver. If you made a 70%, it is a well-trained horse. Be realistic, so we know what areas to focus on in your horse’s training plan. Rate your horse in the survey below.
- Easy to ride
- Smooth-gaited, sure-footed and maintains a steady speed
- Always in control and rarely spooks
- Stands quietly for mounting
- Stops promptly with light aids
- Moves forward with light aids
- Can canter figure eights with simple or flying lead changes
- Has competition-level skills (in any discipline)
- Is experienced performing in any location and always acts the same
- Trailer loads well and stands quietly when tied
Total your score for all ten criteria and the score will tell you how your horse’s training rates. Again, a 70% is a good score—anything above that is awesome and you should have a huge appreciation for your horse. Don’t fret if your score is below 70%. It simply means you have things to work on with your horse.
By starting with compiling a training history, even if it includes a lot of guesswork, we have a good idea of where your horse has been and what he may have learned or not learned. Scoring your horse’s current training level gives us a baseline, illuminates training priorities and helps us develop an effective training plan. Other assignments in my Interactive curriculum are designed to find (and plug) holes in the horse’s training, while others are designed to refine the horse’s training and develop high-level skills.
It’s hard to know where you’re going, without knowing where you are currently and where you’ve been. Completing this assignment will give you a greater understanding of your horse’s training and experience and help you see the path ahead.
Note: Horse Master Academy’s Interactive Membership includes a complete curriculum of groundwork, equitation, training and study problems, along with the resources (videos, audios and articles) you need to complete the assignments, and personal online coaching from Julie.