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Hearing the Truth is Sometimes Hard But can be very Beneficial...
By Diane Helmin

First, get the most experience you can in general horsemanship.  Learn the basics on the ground as well as in the saddle. Then learn how to use your body & voice consistently to communicate with your horse.  

The most important thing you can do for your horse is get educated in horsemanship before trying to become a champion.  It saves frustration and disappointment for the rider and it saves the horse from the beatings they receive from riders who lose their patience and blame the horse for their own lack of knowledge.  Horses are not stupid--riders are uneducated.  I’m not saying horses do not need to be disciplined but they need to understand what you are asking to get the correct response. I have seen many riders over the years beat their horses with bats and boards, tie their heads down and around for hours and truly believe they were teaching their horse something.   This was all caused from the rider not knowing how to communicate effectively with their horse.

I once trained a horse which reacted to all of my commands with no reins just for fun.  Do we need to train all our horses to ride unbridled? No.  Natural horsemanship, as it is now called, has set the example by putting on demonstrations for the general public to show that any horse can be trained to work without resistance.  This is a great education in itself.

However, this is not a new way of training.  It’s been around for a very, very long time.  Put enough correct & consistent repetition and time on a horse and you can ride with no bridle, lead without a lead line and go anywhere with just cues and body position.

Anything you can learn will help the horse cope with the human counterpart.

Personally, I do not train and ride my horses without a bridle anymore.  It takes a lot of extra time and frankly, unless by pure accident, I don’t intend on running barrels unbridled any time soon.  I train my horses to understand what I want them to do by a change in body position, voice cues and quiet hand movements, used consistently.

My horses all have their basic training and understanding.  They all flex from side to side. They give in the poll, the mid neck area and at the base of the neck and shoulder.  They lift their shoulders, rib cage, move their hips, stop, back up, two-track, and turn around.  I have taught some horses how to spin, when I have the time.  However, I don’t feel a finished reining horse spin is something I need to develop to teach a horse to turn a barrel competitively.

Your horse should break in the poll, however, in my opinion, breaking too much at the poll and getting behind vertical is not the outcome you want.  A horse should never carry their head continuously behind the vertical.  My horses are also very collected.  I can turn them loose and ride them in a natural gate or I can take up lightly on my reins, squeeze with my legs slightly and ride them in a very collected stride with a nice round in their back, which strengthens their topline muscles.

I believe it’s a journey you take to become a great trainer, rider or competitor.  You don’t just all of a sudden become one.  You need to ride many, many horses and have a lot of hands-on experience to develop a good set of hands on 'every' horse you get on.  Getting “a little” education is just as dangerous as no education.  There are many weekend clinics out there now that riders attend, learn a few things, go home and decide they are going to be a trainer. Worse than that, they try to give lessons to others.  One or two weekends at a clinic will not make you an accomplished rider much less a trainer.  It will, however, give you some great knowledge to start to apply.

Teaching others to ride means showing them how to develop feel, learn and apply knowledge. This is done by training with consistent repetition….


Pressure & Release are the two words the rider needs to understand in order to communicate with a horse.  Pressure is what a rider does to get a certain movement from a horse.  The Release is what the rider does to let the horse know he has made the correct move.   Timing is the key to both!

Pressure can be explained by how light or how heavy you use your cues to communicate.  In the following explanation, I will use 1lb as the lightest fingertip touch and 10lbs as the heaviest touch.

We will start by associating pound pressure with lateral movement of the head and neck.  Let’s say we are on a horse, which is heavier than he should be, asking for a lateral move.  If your end result is to have your horse respond to 1lb, then this is the amount of pressure your horse should first feel when asking him to give either to the right or to the left.

If he does not respond (and he probably won’t) to 1lb, then you should increase the pressure, in increments, until you get the desired response. Let’s say you got him to ‘give slightly’ at 4lbs of pressure, then you should quickly release before he pulls back.  This is called Timing.

This is how pressure, release and timing are applied throughout your training.  Release too late and he pulls back from you.  Release too early you will not get the correct response you were looking for.  The horse did not learn anything because your timing was not at the appropriate moment for the horse to understand what action you wanted.  The release must come quickly, when the horse is reacting to the exact response you were looking for.

To summarize, consistent repetition is how horses learn.  If you learn to communicate effectively with your horse, the quicker they learn and the happier you both become.

I will post future training tip articles-they will not be absolute but they do work for me. Learn from many but develop your own style that works for you. Do not fix what is not broken but improve anywhere that you are not getting the best outcome.

Enjoy the 'Journey'!

Courtesy Diane Helmin
Graduate of Findlay, OH
Over 45 years of experience
    in horse training, competing & breeding

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