Training the Horse

The kind of training given a horse and the age at which various phases are begun vary greatly with the type, breed, and future use of the horse. For example, Thoroughbreds to be used for flat racing need learn only how to race under saddle at a gallop. They are often raced as two year olds. Quarter Horses to be used in working cattle are not usually ridden regularly until they are three. They may not become accomplished cow ponies until they are five or six, an age at which most Thoroughbreds are nearing retirement.

Training of the young horse to tolerate handling by humans should begin shortly after the foal is born. The foal is soon halter broken (accustomed to a halter) and is taught how to lead (follow when led). Formal training of the average riding horse in the United States usually starts when the horse is two or three years old. The early phase of training may include teaching the horse how to longe to work in a circle about the trainer, who holds a line attached to the horse. The horse learns to wear a bridle or hackamore and a saddle or harness. It is then taught to respond to signals. Simple dressage maneuvers are sometimes taught as general suppling exercises. Advanced dressage, also known as haute cole, is seen in exhibitions and is part of the Olympic Games competitions. Training has become more gradual, and most Western horses are under saddle at two without ever having bucked.

A horse used for Western riding must learn to neck rein in response to even a very slight signal. Advanced training may include training in skills to be used in working cattle or in competitions at rodeos. These skills include such specialties as that of the reining horse, trained to perform a quick pivot, a spin, or other sudden change of speed and direction at a slight pressure of the reins. A rope horse (used for steer or calf roping) is trained to "work the rope" after its rider has roped the animal, keeping the rope from the animal to saddle horn taut. The cutting horse is trained to "cut out" (separate) a cow from the herd and prevent it from returning.

What About Training a Horse?

Training a horse takes skill and patience. Ideally, it should begin when the animal is a foal, which is a horse that is younger than 1 year old. A trainer must get a foal used to a halter. A halter is a leather or nylon device that fits around the horse’s head and attaches to a lead rope (a rope used for leading the horse). After the horse is 1 year old, a trainer gradually gets the horse used to having a saddle on its back. Then the trainer can get on the horse’s back and ride the animal for a few steps. Rides get longer as the horse gets used to being ridden.

After the horse has learned to follow the basic signals of a rider, such as stop, go, and slow down, it can be trained for certain sports. These sports might include racing; dressage (dreh SAZH), in which a rider guides a horse through various paces and movements without using reins or noticeable signals; or show jumping, an exhibition of skill in riding a horse over various obstacles.

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