Learning Styles

We all know that there are different learning styles for people – visual, aural, verbal and kinaesthetic – but do horses have different learning styles?

I enjoy working with horses, and learning what makes them tick so I can get the most out of them.

Some horses can be shown a new movement, they do it, and then you can perfect it for the rest of the session. Others need to stop and study the question, before  attempting it. Others get stressed over a new concept and need to be drip-fed the concept.

I`ve worked with one interesting cob recently, and it`s been quite insightful as to how his brain ticks. Now I feel like I can tailor lessons so his rider gets the most out of them.

We`ve had problems with the rideability of the arena, given the weather conditions, so instead of ridden lessons we`ve done some in hand work. When they bought him last year and tried lunging him, he just turned to face them, not understanding. Now, however, was the perfect time to teach him.

When we first tried to lunge him a few months ago he did trot out on a circle, but was quite tense about the whole thing and stopped at the first opportunity to stop and face me. This time, we decided to take it back a step.

Seeing as the horse was clueless about lunging, I presumed that he had been long reined in the breaking in process, so just after Christmas we took the long reins up to the frozen arena, and attempted to long rein.

This, the horse understood. He set off straight away, walking purposefully and responsive to the reins and my voice. We had a play with the long reins, walking circles and changes of rein. He was very happy with this arrangement, so towards the end of the lesson I stood to the side, and we made a step towards double lunging.

The horse had accepted these baby steps, so we started the next lesson with the long reins but rapidly moved onto the double lunging. I needed a lot out outside rein to keep the horse out on the circle, so this lesson was spent teaching the horse that he needed to subscribe a circle around me, without stopping, and without turning in. Through the session the outside rein was needed less, and became the emergency “Quick, he`s turning in – stop!” so that he learnt there was no point trying to turn in. Again, this was baby steps but we both felt that the horse was less anxious and understood the concept.

The following week we progressed to double lunging but with the outside rein becoming obsolete. We didn`t do too much because there was a feeble attempt at snow on the ground. We finished that session with some in hand turn on the forehand.

Last week we started when we had finished the week before, and when the outside rein was obsolete again we tried lunging with just one rein attached to the cavesson. One of us needed to start him out on the circle, but once he was walking, with the lunger in quite a driving position, he walked a circle around us quite happily. The lunger had to be on red alert to notice the slight falter in his stride that preceeded him turning to face them, but he definitely seemed to understand the concept of lunging. This horse seems to be quite sensitive, and although appears confident; he seems to lack confidence in new things. The idea needs to be introduced, and then left for him to mull over before trying the exercise again.

Changing the rein will take some practice, but now that the weather is warming up it will be interesting to introduce trot on the lunge.

We saw this learning style in this horse when we introduced turn on the forehand to teach him to move away from the leg. Under saddle the first time, he got very tense and tried to run through the bridle. However, after a couple of tries in hand he seems to be happier with the movement, so again I’m looking forwards to revisiting this exercise under saddle. I`ll introduce all new concepts in this trickle feeding way, and I think it will greatly help his education.

Can you think of any horses who have slightly quirky learning styles, and how would you manage this?


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