Notes on Horse Training – The Joy of a Well Trained Horse

Baba The Mustang

Baba The Mustang

So, here it was. A beautiful Sunday morning. Not too hot, not too cold. In fact, the weather was perfect for my daily ride on my curly Mustang ‘Baba’.

I made my way out to the trails to give Baba her daily workout that usually culminates in a nice gallop over my cross country course. After the usual warm up we go merrily galloping down the long hill towards the sharp left turn over the ditch and up the next hill. As we are approaching the ditch (a twelve-foot wide, 4 foot deep ditch at the bottom of which is a little stream) I get ready for the approaching leap that we have done thousands of times before.

Two strides out from the ditch I notice that the buckle on the nose band of Baba’s hackamore has somehow come undone. Go figure. Stuff happens. The first thing that runs through my mind is that this isn’t going to turn out well. The way I saw it was that I had two choices: panic or just ride it out like nothing unusual is happening. Given that panicking isn’t in my DNA, I decided to just ride it out, rely on the training I gave my horse and put my trust in my horse and my skill and worry about it all after the ditch.

Baba and I sailed over the ditch in perfect form and galloped off up the trail without incident. We continued on as usual, Baba obeying my every wish passing the next two jumps until I asked her to slow down and halt so that I could dismount and fix the bridle. This was accomplished without incident or excitement.

The question is, how did this all turn out so well? The answer to that is simple. I just have to explain a little about Baba’s background to explain the text book perfect ending to this story.

Baba (whose official name is “Lambchop” due to her curly winter coat) got her name not because she had curly hair like a sheep. She got it from “Baba Yaga (Баба Яга, for you Slavophiles), the diabolical witch from Russian folk lore. When she’s good, she’s good; when she’s bad, run for the hills. Baba came to me from someone who didn’t treat her so well and was essentially a rescue. She was a confirmed bolter, spinner and totally wired for sound. But that was the old Baba. The new Baba is nearly perfection.

I trained Baba using the exact principles used by Federico Caprilli in his “Natural System” of forward riding. Baba was schooled with the principle that nothing would be done to interfere with her natural movement and without imposing any unnatural balance. I trained her to jump not with the idea that the jump was the end all and be all but with the theory that the jump was mostly a tool to help teach her to carry herself. Baba learned though training with Caprilli’s “Natural System” that she could balance herself, carry herself and would be accommodated as much as possible by the rider.

To make a long story short, Baba learned that it was OK to make a decision on her own if needed, that the rider wasn’t going to inflict any discomfort upon her and that she could trust the rider not to do anything that would cause her any discomfort. She was also taught to go without a bridal (a rider should never rely on the reins too much) and never made to do anything that she didn’t know how to do or wasn’t ready to do. In short, she learned that she could do her job, remain calm and willing under all circumstance. But the most important result was that Baba could not only trust a rider, but the rider could trust her to do her job, pay attention, be willingly obedient and to accommodate the rider.

Perhaps the most important point of theory applied here was that one should not try to change the nature of the horse to accommodate the rider but the rider should use the horse’s nature and accommodate the horse. If Caprilli’s “Natural System” of forward riding can be reduced to any single point, it would be exactly that. And these theories can be applied to training in any discipline to produce a horse that is willing, bold and obedient.

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4 Responses to Notes on Horse Training – The Joy of a Well Trained Horse

  1. Odin444 says:

    There is something to be said for a Mustang in the hands of someone who respects her. Not to depend on the bridle and other tools, but just to have this understood relationship between horse and Master, is, as far as I am concerned, what it’s all about.

    Lambchop is a very special horse and I am very happy she’s well taken care of. You once spoke of the time when you were in the mountains and a rattler decided to flare up at your twelve o’clock. Most horses would have reared upright or bolted madly, but Lambchop just continued on in her decided canter. It shows the sheer fearlessness and wild instinct in such a majestic breed, and I pray I get the chance to make one my PARTNER someday….
    Because, you never “Own” a Mustang……
    Anyone who thinks they do is in for a surprise!

  2. marcia brackfield says:

    Love your whole philosophy. Really wish you were closer to me in Greenwood SC and could work with my little halfbreed filly I had such great dreams for but no time to realize with two jobs and 3 kids.

    • Dan Gilmore says:

      Many thanks for the compliment! Too bad you’re about an hour away because I would be more than happy to work with your horse.

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