Psychology of Equine Learning
Remember that any time you want to teach your horse a new concept, he will try a lot of responses, and many of them will be wrong. But if you punish him or tell him he’s wrong every time he gives you the wrong response, he will stop trying—that’s trouble. The right answer will never come and I can never reward. You need your horse to try. The more he tries, the sooner he will get the right answer and then you can reward him.
Think of this while you teach the pirouettes or any new concept. As long as my horse doesn’t know the right thing for sure, he can make as many mistakes as he wants. If he definitely knows exactly what you’re asking for, and you’re sure the mistake is not on you, then you can correct your horse, but you have to be sure that the mistake is not yours and the horse is not misunderstanding you. A lot of mistakes happen because the horse is misunderstanding the rider, and it’s our responsibility to be clear.
Morten Thomsen was educated as a Bereiter (a licensed instructor/trainer) in 1979 and then worked for various stables in Denmark and Germany. In 1984, he started his own dressage stable. He has ridden in Olympics, World Games and European and Danish Championships. In 2007, he and his wife, Sarah Arvé Thomsen, built new facilities where they train and sell horses. A large part of Morten’s time is spent traveling to give clinics and train some of the world’s best riders, including Hickey, Catherine Haddad, Sue Blinks and Ingrid Klimke of Germany (dressagearve.dk).
Chris Hickey is head trainer at Hilltop Farm and has shown FEI-level horses successfully for many years in the United States and Germany.
This article was originally reprinted in the February 2013 issue of Dressage Today magazine.