How long does it take to train a horse?

Question: How long does it take to train a horse?
Answer: As long as it takes.

This is a follow up post to my previous post, In a Whisper or In a Shout? Training under Time Restraints, which discussed training unhandled colts in 2 1/2 hours.

Do you remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? The hare is fast at the beginning, but ends up having a bit of trouble at the end. The tortoise is slow and steady, hardly seeming to make any progress, but ends up winning the race. With horse training, people often want to see results and they want to see them fast. But good horse training is like the tortoise, slow and steady will pay off in the end.

We had a mare at the rescue named Rosie who I worked with quite a bit over the past year. I’ve written about her quite a bit on this blog. She’s 4, and a braver soul than me probably could have put a few weeks of basic groundwork on her and started riding her fairly quick last spring. She was a bit hesitant about being caught and touched when we started, but wasn’t horrible.

Instead, we’ve spent the last year going really slowly, building a rock solid foundation. Getting her completely comfortable with being touched, desensitization with bareback pads, saddle blankets and the big green ball and teaching her to pick up her feet. Playing around with the first 5 Parelli games and the weave and figure 8 patterns. Lots of long walks around the property, sniffing and smelling things. I stood on a mounting block once brushing her and leaning on her back, but never in the past year got on her or rode her.

A young man adopted her about several weeks ago. He does team penning and trains his own horses. He got on her the first day he had her and within a couple days was using her to check fences and riding her up and down the roads and around her property. Likes riding Rosie better than he likes riding his broke horses.

No problems, no hesitations, no bucking, no difficulties with any of the first rides. Partly because she’s a smart little mare, but mostly because she had a nice solid foundation.

Most complex skills and behaviors that we teach the horse are really just foundation skills that have been expanded or repackaged. We run into problems later with more complex skills because the horse has a weak foundation. If we build a strong foundation from the beginning, than later skills are easy to teach.

In the end, prior and proper preparation pays off. It’s important to make sure you have a plan with logical steps to teach whatever we’re working on. Also you must make sure the horse understands what has been taught and is comfortable and relaxed before you move onto the next task. The amount of time this takes depends completely on the horse. If we train at the horses pace, we save time and effort in the end.

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