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There is no one way to train a horse......

Memory - is vital to experiences and learning, it is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If we could not remember past events, we could not learn or develop language, relationships, or personal identity (Eysenck, 2012) .

Learning- is the process of acquiring new, or modifying existing, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences.

Intelligence - can be described as the ability to perceive or infer information, and to retain it as knowledge to be applied towards adaptive behaviors within an environment or context. 

How Much Time Does it Take?

Back to the brain and the Neuron

When you practice anything the myelin sheaths on the axons used for that task thicken. Thicker myelin better insulates the axon so electrical signals travelling through the nerve travel faster with less leakage. The information travels faster and more reliably so the animal can preform the task smoother and smoother. No matter how fast you want your task to be learned it physiologicaly takes time for the brain and motor skills to develop.

It is unrealistic to expect a horse to go to a trainer for 30-90 days and have enough training to suit the task. The best thing a trainer can do for you and your horse it to teach both of you how to learn from each other.

No matter what you want to teach a horse and to what level you wish to achieve the horse must be kept close to homeostasis and learn to down regulate themselves in order to be the best they can be and learn correctly.

No matter how one goes about training a horse if they are training with dominance and expecting the horse to respond to a high level, it won't work without the athletic stamina that comes from conditioning. The horses mind and body will break down in some way and someone will get hurt.

Just takes time...

Of course we are all short on time but that does not have to stop us from having a meaningful relationship with our horse.

So if you want a horse to go over any obstacle straight, thoughtfully, collected and in rhythm, communicating that outcome in your mind while staying physically supportive and WITH the horse all the way through the task is the fastest way to achieve your goal.
Your consistent energy and support will create the right environment for the task to be done to your satisfaction.

All this takes it a bit of practice on concentration, consistency, understanding herd dynamics and support. This can be done walking and just being with your horse 10-15 minutes a day. This works for both ground work and in the saddle.


Asking a horse to perform a task in which that horse is predisposed to preform that task will learn much faster than a horse that is mentally or physically unready, and/or too young to do well. This type of horse will take much longer to learn. 

Long and Short Term Memory

Short Term & Working Memory

Short Term Memory, also called "active memory", is the capacity for holding, but not manipulating, a small amount of information in mind in an active, readily available state for a short period of time. A short term memory lasts only bout 30 secs. Working memory is a cognitive system with a limited capacity that is responsible for temporarily holding information available for processing. 

Working memory as a function working together with short term memory is important for reasoning and the guidance of decision-making and behavior. Working memory is often used synonymously with short-term memory, assuming that working memory allows for the manipulation of stored information, whereas short-term memory only refers to the short-term storage of information.





Long Term Memory

There several kinds of long term memory. This one is call Episodic memory. Episodic memory refers to memory for specific events in time. Based on our own world view the experience can be very different. This also could be autobiographical memory refers to knowledge about events and personal experiences from an individual's own life.

Side Note:
The brain does not use just one portion of the brain to remember. Memories are complex entities and are pulled from all over the brain.
The brain has a limited capacity to hold memories which is why some fade to make room for new ones


Working on flat ground

When a horse has been working and living on flat ground all its life it will be ill-suited for performing tasks that require different motor skills. Even though it has a classical foundation and athletic fitness for what they HAVE been doing, they will not have the skills needed to be safe doing something different.

Asking that horse to run down a hill would be extremely dangerous and unwise, as in the picture to the right.


You also could not expect a horse to perform high dressage level tasks without the proper motor skills.


These skills can be learned but it takes a very long time. Because the brain builds new experiences on top of old ones. This is myelination happening in the brain whenever new skills are being learned. 

Motor Skill Development

Procedural memory is created through procedural learning or, repeating a complex activity over and over again until all of the relevant neural systems work together to automatically produce the activity. 


Procedural memory is a type of implicit memory (unconscious memory) and long-term memory which aids the performance of particular types of tasks without conscious awareness of these previous experiences. 


When needed, procedural memories are automatically retrieved and utilized for the execution of the integrated procedures involved in both cognitive and motor skills, from flying lead changes on cue to running down a hill. 

That is why it takes so long to learn something new. Your brain actually has to grow.

Stages of motor learning

Cognitive phase –

When a learner is new to a specific task, the primary thought process starts with, "What needs to be done?"

Step 1,2,3 etc.

Considerable cognitive activity is required so that the learner can determine appropriate strategies to adequately reflect the desired goal. Good strategies are retained and inefficient strategies are discarded. The performance is greatly improved in a short amount of time.


Associative phase –

The learner has determined the most effective way to do the task and starts to make subtle adjustments in performance. Improvements are more gradual and movements become more consistent. This phase can last for a long time. The skills in this phase are fluent, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing.

Autonomous phase

This phase may take several months to years to reach. The phase is dubbed "autonomous" because the performer can now "automatically" complete the task at a high level without having to pay significant attention to performing it. Examples:

  • High end Classical Dressage
  • Cutting
  • Competitive Trail
  • Just walking and talking

How many tools in your tool box......

For the best way to train your is not with set techniques you use but to watch, listen and be educated on how a horse learns best. When you taking into consideration their physical and mental ability for the task your success is much greater. Any trainer that is truly successful with any one individual horse, will have many tools in their tool box and train with out dominance.

Working a quiet horse will help ensure they are learning.

Examples of tools for teaching...

Understand a Horses world view- Herd Dynamics


Teaching the horse how to learn

  • Operant Conditioning (laws of effect)
  • Associative Learning
  • Imitation - Observational Learning
  • Pressure and Release
  • Informal Learning - Fixing the Fence 
  • Aware of their Central Nervous System
  • Cognition
  • Learn to get out of their way when they are trying
  • Support through each step. Always


Evidence Based Horsemanship Pyramid

Martin Black & Dr. Peters

This pyramid gives a general idea about the area that the brain learns best.

Between the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Parasympathetic Nervous System just above Homeostasis.

With in this area each horse has their own area they learn best. Also on each different task it is being asked to do.


Classical Training 

For any disapline

Training scale - Just a tool
Competitive dressage training in the U.S. is based on a
progression of six steps developed by the German National Equestrian Foundation.
This system is arranged in a pyramid or sequential fashion, with “rhythm and regularity” at the start of the pyramid and “collection” at the end.

The training scale is helpful and effective as a guide for the training of any horse, but has come to be most closely associated with dressage.

Despite its appearance, the training scale is not meant to be a rigid format. Instead, each level is built on as the horse progresses in training: so a Grand Prix horse would work on the refinement of the first levels of the pyramid, instead of focusing on only the final level: “collection.”

The levels are also interconnected. For example, a crooked horse cannot develop impulsion, and a horse that is not relaxed will be less likely to travel with a rhythmic gait.

Suppleness is the key.

Classically Trained.....

This training pyramid is good start to understanding why classical training for any athletic endeavor is important. Even trail riding.

Like a  ballerina or a classical musician, they can perform interpretive dance and a musician can play Jazz or country music after classically trained.

If you learn and practice the classical moves for a horse you can ask that horse to do many things. 

A well trained horse will never goes to the slaughter pens.