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Starting your own colt
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Common Sense, Horse Sense
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Try Something Different!
Green Broke
Resolution Time
Going in Circles
Hot Enough for Ya?
Pleasure or Equitation?
Return to Work Carefully
Saving your "Good Stuff"
Holding Western Reins
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Cold Weather Warm Up
Expect the Unexpected, 1
Expect the Unexpected, 2
Bad Attitude
Horse of a Better Color?
Power of Exercise
Importance of the Herd
Bath Time
Even Up
Choosing a Martingale
A Good Night's Sleep
Alternative Therapies, Part One
Alternative Therapies, Part Two
Get the Most out of a Clinic
Blanket or No Blanket?

Does Practice Makes Perfect?
Doris Eraldi

One of the more misunderstood aspects of horse training is the idea that practice and repetition are necessary for the horse to learn. We are told to “end on a good note” when working with our horses, and it’s easy to misunderstand that to mean repeating something – especially something that is not going well – until we (or our horses) get it right. This seldom works. If we are trying to do something with our horses and it’s not going well, the situation usually gets worse – more frustrating and exhausting – and we fail to get that “good note” where we can quit. Getting caught up in this spiral can be very detrimental to both the horse’s training and the rider’s confidence.

Horses learn quickly from positive reinforcement, and the most positive experience that the horse has is the release of pressure. If we are teaching the horse a basic cue, moving away from the pressure of our leg, for example, the horse will learn to move off sooner if we release the pressure of our heel in his side the instant we feel him move away. The horse will quickly associate moving away with the reward. As this cue becomes more consistent, we can repeat the cue to combine the movements. The leg yield across the width of the arena is not one maneuver with one cue, but a long series of small cues with releases in between (not to mention the rider reacting to other aspects of the maneuver, such as forward motion or placement of the shoulders or hindquarters).

Unfortunately for horses, humans like to practice. We tend to approach a training session with some big goal such as doing ten perfect circles or five good stops. This kind of thinking tends to take us away from the communication with the horse that can jump our training way ahead. I remember watching a great trainer get out a young colt he was starting, warming up slowly and finally trotting around for a short while. When the trainer asked the colt for a stop along the rail, the colt happened to drop his hindquarters and give an above-average stop. The trainer sat there a moment, then dismounted and put the colt away. He’d ridden for maybe fifteen minutes. Did it take self control and an awareness of a training opportunity for the trainer to quit when he did? Certainly. Did he “end on a good note?” Absolutely! If he had decided to do four more stops, would they have likely been as good quality as that first one? Probably not …. And there would go his chance to end on the good note. Did that colt get a reward for trying extra hard that day? I know that this trainer was well known for how his horses stopped, and for how calm and confident they were. He made it easy for the horses to learn each small cue with confidence, so that as the horse’s education progressed, he could string those small cues together and end up with a winning performance as a hackamore or bridle horse.

For riders to develop the balance and coordination to be skilled horsemen, they do have to practice. The more time one spends on horses the better that feel and rhythm are developed, but the riding time can (and should) be relaxed. Long trail rides, working on a variety of skills and avoiding the repetition that dulls up our horses also teaches the rider to be well rounded. Riders should always be looking for that training opportunity when the horse offers up a better response to our cues and we have the chance to reward him. If the rider is too focused on practicing one thing, she might miss completely an opportunity to teach something else.

The trainer I mentioned earlier? His horses were the most versatile, well broke horses I’ve ever ridden. If you asked him what a certain horse was in training for, he might answer that it was a Futurity horse, or that it was going to be a Bridle Horse. But if I ask what he was going to work on with a particular horse that day, and he would think for a moment before answering, “Well, I’m just going to ride him around a little.” Good training is seeing the big picture while watching for the small details.


Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley, specializes in Pleasure, Showmanship and Equitation events. She can be contacted at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail

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