The Good Trainer

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I recently attended a fascinating clinic given by Stuart Mah, a seven-time U.S. international dog-agility-team member and 12-time national championship finalist. It was one of the best seminars I’ve ever attended, and I came home with a much deeper understanding about training animals.

I’m a beginner in dog agility, and the clinic was geared toward competitors in the Excellent (think FEI) division. When the class began, I immediately realized I needed to find a common ground in order to relate to the information presented. It didn’t take long for that to happen.

Mah explained that when a dog is driving forward from one obstacle to the next and you know a turn is coming up, you have to warn the dog so he can prepare for it. You can’t just throw out a command to turn and expect an immediate, smooth transition. Hmm. This sounds familiar. The handler need a cue that warns the dog something’s about to change, Mah continued, such as saying ”easy” or slowing down yourself. Wow, I thought! A half-halt. My confidence began to grow.

We learned that dogs who bark on course are likely expressing their frustration at the handler. The dog is telling the handler he’s not getting enough information and he’s confused. Oh, my goodness, I thought! That’s Jerry, the lesson horse, telling me through his head tossing that I’m not giving him commands he understands.

Admittedly, riding Sally is (usually) easier than controlling my crazy Papillons during agility practice, but much of the problem for all of them is actually me. A good trainer gives consistent commands, communicates clearly and builds confidence through praise. Like you, I’ve always known that, but it was really driven home hearing it in a new environment.

While we’re thinking about training, we’re excited to announce that John Strassburger, former editor of The Chronicle of the Horse, and his wife, Heather Bailey, have joined us here at Horse Journal. John is our performance editor, and both these trainers will help us bring you stronger training and competition-related articles, plus more product field trials.

Our Expert Corner continues to expand, and the article in this month’s issue is with Dr. David Granstrom, a world-recognized authority and researcher on EPM. His explanation about how this disease is best diagnosed and treated will be invaluable to you if your horse ever contracts it. There is virtually no guaranteed way to prevent your horse from the danger, and there are many bogus remedies floating about. Putting off proper treatment could jeopardize your horse’s life.

We’ve got more experts set to talk with us, and the list of products in field trials continues to grow. If you have a particular thing you’d like us to look into, we’d like to hear from you. Our July article on ending annoying barn habits brought us many suggestions of additional problems that need workable solutions. You’ll hear more in upcoming issues.