After horses master the principles of clicker training and in-hand training, they start their official training to become riding horses. Gene and Kinna hold to the premise that horses were not made to carry. Therefore – if people want to ride – they are responsible for encouraging horses to build muscle, coordination, and balance to handle a human’s weight.
The key to this, according to Kinna and Gene, is a combination of balanced riding and clicker training. When the rider is balanced, the horse can figure out how to carry a human in the most beneficial way for his/her body. When positive reinforcement methods such as clicker training are used to teach gaits and directions, the horse can move into these changes in gait or directions in a way that feels best for him or her.
Gene and Kinna spend time observing the horses moving freely in the pastures. They find that each horse prefers to carry himself or herself in a unique way. This uniqueness is encouraged once the horses begin their saddle training. Kinna and Gene trust that with the right conditions of encouragement, balanced riding, and positive reinforcement, each horse will find the best way to carry a human.
Horses are ready to be ridden when they understand most cues from the ground, or “in-hand,” and have become balanced enough to handle a rider. Kinna and Gene take the next steps very slowly. It is paramount that the horses experience riding without tensing their bodies – for tension only creates bad habits and future injuries. Horses are introduced to bridles, saddles, and humans moving onto their backs in many small steps – with lots of positive reinforcement. The goal is for the horse to understand and enjoy the whole process. These steps can take days or even weeks (depending upon the individual horse)!
Once a horse is calmly allowing a rider, he or she is often hand walked for multiple sessions in order to find the new balance point without any distractions. The rider’s only purpose is to sit quietly and calmly. The horse receives the directions from the person on the ground – and therefore is never confused or fearful during this new step in training.
Verbal cues such as “walk,” “whoa,” and “back” have been taught in-hand via clicker training and at this point are fully understood by the horse. Since the horse is not used to hearing them coming from his or her back, Gene and Kinna make the assumption that they might need to start over with these cues. They build the behaviors – such as walk, back, and whoa – via a method called “capturing.” They’ll then build other gaits such as trot and canter via capturing or targeting. Both methods avoid pressuring or scaring a horse into a different gait. This way, the horse can maintain his or her optimal body position while learning new cues!
LIFETIME OF LEARNING
Once a horse knows the directions and the basic gaits, he or she is ready for additional study in other disciplines. All of this will be taught with clicker training and positive reinforcement. What fun!