Training Mythunderstandings:
Intensity and Activity

by Ron Meredith
President, Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre

Never do anything to frighten a horse to gain control. Swear pressures or avoidance pressures can create activity in an animal but activity should not be mistaken for learning. A high level of activity can sometimes limit the amount of learning. If a horse is reacting to frightening situations, it is not responding to your aids.

Many people think that a horse isn't working very hard if the horse isn't reacting in an "active" way- trying to avoid a punishment that will surely come if it doesn't perform correctly. Avoidance situations create more activity than approach situations. An avoidance situation is stronger in that it creates more reaction. You create about five times as much negative feeling with an avoidance situation as you can create positive feeling with an approach situation.

People often use avoidance pressures because they stir the horse up so much and so quickly and these so called trainers think that activity indicates learning. It does not, necessarily. So whenever these people come to the end of their knowledge about how to enforce training positively, they often resort to avoidance pressures. That means pop that sucker, jerk him, jab him. Jabbing, jerking or excessive spurring are not going to produce a high level of trust in the horse.

Calm concentration teaches the horse more than frantic confrontation. The mental effort of straightening things out in his own mind and then repeating that effort over and over is the important part of training. And that's working pretty hard work. You don't want the horse to do anything from fear because if does, you're going to get the wrong result.

What you want to do first when training a horse is to get rhythm and relaxation first, to keep that rhythm and relaxation throughout the training session, and to gradually build up the amount of energy that is used while you are working.

If a horse has been enjoying himself throughout his training and then something happens that frightens him, it takes the fun out of the game for awhile. As soon as he gets back to playing the game with you and feeling like he's got some input again, he'll be alright. A good trainer will notice when the horse stops having fun. This is not unusual during any training program. The horse may lose its sparkle, even get a little depressed.

If you are the kind of person that believes in breaking horses rather than training them, then this horse version of the blues is what you're looking for--you want ten times this. Because most people think that a horse that walks around with his head down, appearing clam, is really doing right. But that isn't necessarily so if there is no spark. Spark is what makes winning horses.

Don't get greedy and force your horse on the days when he loses his spark or seems a little bit depressed. There's no good reason to push. If you do, he'll be doubly disinterested or depressed tomorrow. When your horse loses interest in the program, you have to back off your training schedule and help him find something to be interested in again. I'm not saying that you should stop working a horse every time everything isn't going right. I'm saying that you should never get so hung up on procedure that you forget about the horse's input.

You should always be thinking about progress. At higher levels of training and when you are more in the horse's mind you can sometimes push harder than you can with a young horse. But you don't want to create a situation that's anything other than fun for the horse. You want him to do everything with enthusiasm because without enthusiasm you are not going to get any rhythm and relaxation. You should always give your horse two to three days off in a week to rest mentally and physically. Those days do not necessarily have to be consecutive.

Activity drive builds from three to five days. That means with super horses like finished cutting horses or grand prix jumping horses or grand prix dressage or whatever, you want the work cycles to be within the three to five days as much as possible. You never want to skip more than three to five days. But you always want to have some one or two or three day breaks for the activity drive to build back up. Activity drive is what keeps these horses really enthusiastic about what they're doing and it is satisfying for them to spend their activity drive.

Horses are willing to put so much energy into a moment but because of the way their digestive systems work they have a limited amount of energy at any one time. So you have to either teach them to monitor it out or you have to get them in better and better shape. Horses can put out energy at a tremendous rate but not over a long period of time. They function more like a capacitor than a battery.

Everybody thinks that the healthiest thing for a horse is to be running around out in a field. But if you have a well-trained, tremendously valuable horse, you want to give it the actual best care regardless of cost. In this case, YOU will control 90 percent of its exercise. You don't take a horse to a very high level of athletic capability that he doesn't understand, let his activity drive build up and then turn him loose. He'll hurt himself.

If things are going really well for you, the horse should appear as lazy as you ask for and become as energetic as you ask for. No change in his actual excitement level. Most of the time, changes in the excitement level come from being frightened or uncomfortable or insecure. Changes in activity level should occur relative to the whole situation that you establish as trainer.


Meredith Manor is an equestrian career college dedicated to preparing students for hands-on, equestrian careers as trainers, instructors, equine massage therapists, stable managers, farriers and more. If you want a career with horses and are considering attending Meredith Manor, request an information packet to learn more.



There is no other program in which you will work as extensively on your riding skills, teaching skills, training skills and over all education than Meredith Manor.
Bill Disbennett: 2002 Riding Master VI Graduate