Want to help your horse be the best he can be? Here are some tips from renowned trainer Guy Maclean on how to train your horse to reach his full potential.
When you look back through the history of the horse, you will find that the most highly educated and reliable horses were the ones used in combat. They ranged from the powerful semi draft horses ridden by knights in shining armour, to Australia’s very own heroic Light Horse.
All these wonderful horses were known for their bravery and stamina, and although there is no doubt that breeding and heritage played a part in their quality, it had so much more to do with their training and the high expectations that were placed on them by the harsh reality of their times.
Every day, these horses were faced with life and death situations, live gunfire, treacherous battlefields to cross, hand-to-hand battle and so forth. These expectations called for training sessions that tested all boundaries. An unreliable or frightened horse meant failure, and failure on the battleground was often fatal.
Creating a well-rounded horse
Now that horses live in peaceful times, they are ridden more and more in stale situations such as sand arenas or barren paddocks. Although I for one am very glad that horses will never need to face the tragedy of war again, I can also see that their owners’ and trainers’ lack of expectations are allowing them to fall well short of their true potential. I have seen many high level horses in varied disciplines that excel in their chosen fields, yet they seem to mentally fall apart when ridden or worked out of their comfort zones.
I have also seen horses that can easily handle many mentally challenging situations, without being able to perform basic work such as a correct and supple canter circle. It is my goal as a horseman to develop a well rounded companion that can execute basic and high level movements under all sorts of situations. In all walks of life, it is the people who have the ability to look outside the box who truly excel.
In a world infatuated with tools and gadgets, I have always believed that the best tools in horsemanship are Knowledge, Compassion, Patience and Imagination. With these tools, many a fine horse has been formed. In wartime, the basic training involved work that resembles the now very popular discipline of Dressage, and this training was well understood before horse and rider ever broke the line of battle.
Start on the ground
My philosophy is much the same – attain correct and solid work and then put it to the test. I begin all my work from the ground, so this is where I first put my horse and his training under pressure.
Groundwork on uneven terrain
If I find my horse’s understanding crumbles under pressure, I just return to the drawing board and regain obedience on even ground, then return to the task at hand. It is useful to note that horses, just like humans, will learn from their mistakes; we mustn’t be afraid of making mistakes, but we should be aware not to make the mistake a habit. Habits, both good and bad, are formed from repetition, and therefore we should replicate over and over the same requests that have resulted in success, and eliminate the opposite.
Eventually, I can and do expect my finished horses to go anywhere under any situation.
Up onto the veranda with tarp on tail.
Please note that these pictures demonstrate horses at a high level in their training, and that none of this work should be attempted until correct basics are established and properly formed.
When I’m working with any individual horse, I focus on attaining the same balance, poise and athletic ability that he shows me at play in the paddock. Once I have forwards, sideways, backwards, canter circles, stops and spins, I set out to put him to the test.
Canter circle through a gully, where I expect the horse to perform the manoeuvre as well as he would on the flat.
Stop and stand on loose rein on a steep incline.
If I see a shallow body of water, I’ll do a working stockhorse pattern in it. If there are cars and trucks driving past my paddock, I’ll expect my horse’s focus to remain on me as I ask for a series of movements that require mental attention and physical brilliance. I have found that a horse’s mind is much like a sponge; it will soak up new information readily, and with access to continued “moisture” (in the form of knowledge) will expand and grow far beyond normal expectations. But if it is left unused, it will dry up, shrink and be of little use. As well as the physical challenges I put my horses through, I also expect them to be brave and obedient when it comes to pressures that expand the mind and emotions.
Quietway Sequel, with his three mates standing above him, at Equitana.
Throughout my years as a performer at major shows around Australia, I have been able to expose my horses to many weird and wonderful things. I have ridden them down sideshow alleys and worked them at night while fireworks light up the sky. I put my horses in these situations because they were my reality, and for me to be successful at my job, my horses and I have to excel in these pressure-filled moments. The respect and trust earned through times of hardship and diversity is unparalleled, and gives us a very small glimpse of the mateship that the soldier and warhorse shared.
My performances are designed to showcase the trust and mutual bond that can be shared between man and horse, from Quietway Hope and Sequel in their tarp act to Quietway Spinabbey’s fire act.
My horses show calm and willing responses that have been formed through thoughtful and caring training.
To not expose our horses to the outside world is to put them in real danger. Life itself is pressure, and the better we prepare for it, the better the results. The horse is a humble and respectful creature who looks for a leader to follow to safety; and if he’s not being led, he may choose to lead, or worse, may choose not to follow. It is my life’s goal to be the ultimate leader of every horse I work with. If we can be there for our horses in hard times, they will be there for us always. Just like a diamond is formed from a piece of coal put under pressure, so it is with the most highly trained horses.