Schooling

Horse Personality Profiling

When starting to work with a new horse, I am never sure what I’m faced with. In order to make my training time with that particular horse more efficient, I need to know more about his personality. Several factors influence how teachable a horse might be.

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Without access to multiple riding surfaces, many horses plateau in their fitness or get stuck in a state of physical discomfort. In fact, different footings can play such a big role in any horse’s conditioning that there is an industry adage for it: there are no poor surfaces; only poor use of surfaces.

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What to consider when sending your horse out for training - Along with many people, I've sent my horse away for training with varying results as to its impact. It is common practice, especially at certain stages of training such as starting under saddle, to invest in several months of intensive training at a trainer’s facility. Given that our horse is going to be in someone else’s care for a substantial amount of time, in a new environment, with countless changes, a great level of care must be given to our decision.

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Fitness contributes to far more than aesthetics and performance, making it a constant goalpost for domesticated horses. In terms of health and well-being, it serves a protective role, safeguarding from illness and injury. But how long does a horse need to exercise daily to reap these benefits?

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When it comes to training related injuries, again, look for obvious reasons first. Most training related injuries are common and very preventable provided there is an understanding of the biomechanical demands of the particular discipline; meticulous attention to the horse’s feet, teeth, tack, and food, which are the pillars upon elite equine athletes are built; and a collaborative, integrated team approach to building and developing individualized training and maintenance programs.

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For generations, riders and horse lovers have been enthralled by the mystique of horsemen (and women), but many struggle to define what a “horseman” actually is. Is a horseman someone with a laundry list of skills such as starting young horses, nailing on shoes, being knowledgeable about horse care, and having the ability to train horses to the highest levels? Or is a horseman someone who lives in the moment, has mastered their emotions, and understands a horse’s mind? Perhaps a horseman embraces all of these attributes; perhaps none.

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It’s common for riders to compete at high levels today without advanced horsemanship knowledge. A rider’s success in the show ring seems to have greater value than their horse management skills, but that wasn’t always the case. Many of Canada’s former top riders credit Canadian Pony Club (CPC) for their horsemanship knowledge and acknowledge its importance to their success. The horse industry has since changed and now, riders rely on coaches to know what’s best for their horses.

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Should young horses be left in pasture to grow up or brought in to begin their training? While arguments can be made in favour of each plan, the ideal approach is actually somewhere in the middle. In order to enjoy athletic lives later on, youngsters do need regular exercise, but the structure of their training should differ from that of a mature horse. Primarily, it should be shorter, slower, and avoid concussive skeletal forces.

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As a trainer and clinician I am fortunate to work with a wide variety and a large number of horses. As a result, I see different patterns of equine behaviour emerge.

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Contrary to what the name may imply, Pony Club isn’t just for little kids on ponies. Pony Club is an international volunteer-based organization that originated in Britain and came to Canada in the 1930s. The Canadian Pony Club alumni Wall of Fame reads like a “who’s who” of Canadian equestrians: Ian Millar, Beth Underhill, Chelan Kozak, Christilot Boylen, Dana Cooke, Danny Foster, Gina Smith, Jim Henry, Jimmy Elder, Joni Lynn Peters, Karen Brain, Leslie Reid, Liz Ashton, Lorraine Stubbs, Lynn Larsen, Rebecca Howard, Rob Stevenson, Sandra Donnelly, Tik Maynard, and many more. Some of those alumni still compete at top level; some no longer ride. But they all struggled through a series of written, stable management, and riding tests, then put those skills and knowledge to use to become some of Canada’s best riders.

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