These tips and techniques are designed for use in riding programs for children. Safety is the primary concern. There are important legal requirements. I am not a lawyer and you should discuss any legal issues with your lawyer. You should also consider insurance issues if you are inviting the public to your facility. I have never had any student suffer serious injury. There is never any guarantee of safety when you work with animals. Never say your horses are "perfectly safe" or anything close to that kind of comment. I always say "there is no such thing as a perfectly safe horse. There is also no such thing as a perfectly safe skateboard, bicycle or house pet. I will teach you many ways to reduce the risk when you work with horses, but no one can guarantee your safety." That being said, it our responsibility to provide very well trained horses for children to manage. We use a program called CIP training. That means you have to be consistent, insistent and persistent when training horses. Our goal for the horse is that the "right thing should become the natural thing." That requires constant repetition of the right thing. We can't expect our guests to know how to handle a horse safely, we have to teach them. Consistent practice means that the same cue means the same thing every time. For example, we use the "kiss" cue to mean "move something." Other cueing tells the horse what to move and how to move it, but it is imperative that everybody who works with the horse will kiss to tell it to move and never kiss for anything else. Each cue should be distinctive and have one designated acceptable outcome. Insistent practice means that when you cue the horse to do something the horse must respond appropriately EVERY TIME. If not, repeat the cue until the appropriate response occurs. BE INSISTENT! Persistent practice means that you continue training day by day and recognize that every moment you are with the horse you are training it. You are either training the horse to obey you and follow your direction or you are training the horse to do whatever the horse wants to do. Persistent practice occurs over a period of YEARS. You never really stop training the horse.
There are many excellent horse training aids to help you. Youtube is a great source of material. Do not trust anybody who is presenting a "quick fix" for your horse issues. It takes a lot of time and a lot of repetitions to make your horse a solid and reliable partner. Keep in mind there is no gadget or magic formula for training a horse. Your goal is do develop a relationship based on trust and respect over a long period of time. One excellent resource is a book called "The Perfect Horse" by John Lyons. I do not receive any compensation for any recommendation, but in my opinion, his approach is as good as it gets. You will find that all of the good trainers will use very similar techniques with their own personal tweaks to the system. All of the good ones are patient and recognize that horse training is a marathon not a sprint. I am not going to give you extensive "training tips" beyond a few basics. It will be up to you to do some research and ask a lot people a lot of questions. Following are just a few of the most important training tips.
PRESSURE AND RELEASE - The horse seeks the release of pressure. If you release pressure immediately when the horse responds to your direction, the horse will be more likely to respond appropriately to your direction easily and quickly. Look for the horse to do the right thing, then release pressure by releasing your cue or backing away. Do not get into a tug of war with the horse. Be patient and persistent. Do not lose your temper. Repeat the cue until the horse "gets it" then repeat it again and again until the response is automatic. Take things ONE STEP AT A TIME. Keep your cueing simple and consistent. Make sure each step is thoroughly understood and the horse’s response is immediate and appropriate for the cue.
THE APPROACH Make sure your horse is comfortable with your approach. Approach slowly with your hands down. Talk to the horse in a relaxed manner. You may need to spend a lot of time in the pasture and stall with the horse just standing and approaching them for them to become comfortable. You don't want to start playing "catch me if you can." The horse should stand still for your approach. Walk up to the horse, if they stand nicely, give them a rub then walk away. If they back away, approach as close as you can before they back away, stop, then you back away. Repeat, coming a little closer each time until the horse lets you walk up to them. Never chase them. The goal is for the horse to stand still as you approach them.
GIVING THE HEAD - You don't want to have to fight with the horse to get him to give you his head for haltering or bridling. When the horse is comfortable with the approach, place your hand on top of his head and leave it there until the horse lowers its head. He may only lower it an inch or so at the beginning, but as soon as the horse lowers his head any amount immediately release the pressure. Back away and do it again. Gradually ask for him to give his head more and more until you can get his nose to the ground with just a light touch. It will take as long as it takes to accomplish this. Some horses it is a few minutes, for others, it is a few days. The goal is immediate compliance. Take your time and do it right. It will pay off in a peaceful relationship instead of a battle.
RESPECTING YOUR SPACE - Train your horse to respect your space. This is critical to protect the safety of children working with horses. Some horses want to walk right on top of you. Walk right into the horses head making him step away from you in a small circle. The horse should cross his front feet as he steps away. Practice this until the horse steps away very easily when you walk into him. DO NOT EVER LET THE HORSE INITIATE CONTACT WITH ANYBODY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES! Sometimes they just want to scratch on you. Don't allow it. Make them step away if they try to rub on you. Sometimes they just like the smell of fruity shampoo and want to taste it. Don't let them. It seems kind of cute but it can be dangerous. You can rub and love on your horse all you want, but do not allow the horse to rub on you.
LEADING YOUR HORSE - The horse should walk when you walk, stop when you stop and turn when you turn. Keep the horse walking at your shoulder, not pushing ahead or lagging behind. If the horse tries to push ahead, make him stop. Start, stop, start, stop until the horse learns to walk with you. Turn the horse frequently when leading him so that he learns to stay right with you no matter where you go or how fast you walk. Your goal is for the horse to walk with you even if you are not holding the lead rope. You should eventually put the lead rope over his neck and just let him walk with you following visual cues. Again, do not rush these preliminary steps. They are crucial for the safety of all riders.
In the future, I will provide more training tips. Until then, watch some of the youtube horse training videos and read "The Perfect Horse" by John Lyons. It is an excellent primer.