by Natalie Voss
Much has been written through the centuries about the process of training horses, much of it specific to the type of work a horse is meant to do. In a recent webinar hosted by the British organization World Horse Welfare however, experts reminded horse owners that it’s critical to take into account the way horses learn and process information when setting up a training program for them, regardless of the job they’re intended to do.
Dr. Gemma Pearson, veterinarian and equine behaviorist, said that horses do not learn the way we do. As a species, they have what Pearson called “limited mental capacity” which isn’t to say they aren’t intelligent, simply that they learn best when complex tasks or situations are broken down into very simple steps where it’s clear what they’re being asked. Pearson used complex dressage movements as an example. Many of them start with a horse learning two different cues from a rider’s leg — speed up, or lengthen stride. It helps horses to feel the rider use different part of the leg for each request, so it’s clear what’s being asked. The same is true for rein cues, which can be broken down into different but related questions. As a horse’s training advances, a rider can combine these clear, well-learned instructions for more complicated results.