Rethinking Early Training for Thoroughbreds: Incorporating Natural Horsemanship

by | 02.17.2014 | 12:41pm
Australians Dan James (middle) and Dan Steers, of Double Dan Horsemanship, are working with yearlings at Taylor Made and WinStar

Even in Nashville, Tenn., there are certain places you just don't expect to see cowboys, and the annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners might normally be one of them. In December, however, the five-day meeting kicked off with a keynote address from Buck Brannaman, well-known clinician and natural horsemanship practitioner.

Brannaman's presence signaled the continuation of a paradigm shift in more traditional segments of the horse industry.

The brief encounters that many veterinarians have with their patients may not seem like training opportunities, but Brannaman was at the conference to let veterinarians and horsemen know that not only are all experiences training opportunities for horses, they are opportunities to use natural horsemanship.

Natural horsemanship incorporates a horse's sense of herd structure into the communication between horse and human. Traditional methods, by contrast, tend to be based on cues that are more intuitive and convenient for the handler than the horse.

Brannaman was quick to point out that these training methods aren't necessarily complicated ones.

“As much as you'd like to anthropomorphize the horse … you have to understand that horses are going to process things one way: they're going to process things the way they see other horses, the way things work in a herd,” said Brannaman.

“It all comes down to the simplest thing in the beginning—the horse is constantly asking the question ‘Do I move his feet, or does he move mine?'”

By establishing themselves as the herd leaders, trainers encourage horses to feel comfortable obeying people and provide a safer environment for both horses and humans, according to Brannaman and other natural horsemanship theorists.

This notion of using natural horsemanship methods to address or prevent behavioral issues is common in some disciplines but relatively new for other segments of the horse industry. Until recently, the approach was relatively uncommon in the Thoroughbred business but has gained steam on farms and in training barns in recent years.

Natural horsemanship isn't entirely new to Taylor Made Farm, home base for Double Dan Horsemanship. Some 25 years ago, renowned “horse whisperer” Monty Roberts schooled the farm's managers and grooms on the best methods for horse handling. Since then, the Taylors have incorporated those cues into training for their yearlings.

“It's just a better way to deal with problem horses. If we have horses that are giving us problems we'll take them in the round pen to work them for a few days and mentally it just changes them,” said Frank Taylor, vice president of boarding operations at Taylor Made.

Australians Dan James and Dan Steers, founders of Double Dan Horsemanship, connected with the Taylors after the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky., and they've been working with the farm's sale yearlings ever since. After seeing their work firsthand, Taylor is confident that natural horsemanship methods will eventually be industry standard for training and breaking young horses.

The Dans expanded their influence last year, when they spent the autumn at Winstar Farm preparing 43 late yearlings for the track.

The process at Winstar began with ten days of ground work outside, breaking the conventional boundaries of desensitizing a horse to a saddle pad in the stall in just a day or two. James and Steers introduced the whip and taught horses about steering and forward motion by ground driving before giving riders a leg up.

The idea, James said, is to halt training or behavioral problems before they begin.

Dan James demonstrates long-lining with a young horse

Dan James demonstrates long-lining with a young horse

“Most of the problems I see that arise in horses I feel fall into two major categories— being truly obedient to the bridle, in any situation … and then also, really going forward. If you break that down, any horse that wants to buck, rear, run backwards: they don't understand they need to go forward,” said James.

James, who worked with Thoroughbreds and event horses in Australia, said the conventional timeline and methods for teaching young horses appear to work fine while they're on the farm, but once they ship to the racetrack, he often sees a different scenario. As exercise riders begin taking a stronger hold on horses' bits in preparation for higher-speed work, many horses become offended and escape the pressure by backing up and (sometimes) flipping over. A better foundation can prevent these hazards later, James said.

Another factor in a good start to early training is maturity. Upon client request, James ranks horses based on their physical balance and their mental attitude on scales between one and ten; the closer the two numbers are to each other, even if they are fives or sixes, the better he believes the horse will perform.

“The more educated the horse is, the more chance then he has to go out and perform, and I think there have been so many potential great horses who have fallen through the cracks, not due to a lack of ability but through a lack of knowledge,” said James.

Overall, James said that he and Steers have encountered open-mindedness when they make unconventional training suggestions to Thoroughbred folk.

“I think that with ‘old Kentucky bootlegs' it can be a challenge to step in there because you're confronted with, ‘Oh this is how my grandfather did it for the past 50 years,'” he said. “Fortunately, the people at Winstar and Taylor Made are progressive enough to allow us to come in and share.”

James believes, just like natural horsemanship practitioner Brannaman, that incorporating these methods into traditional Thoroughbred training programs will produce happier racehorses and sales prospects and also improve safety. After a year of successful natural horsemanship training sessions at two of the biggest commercial farms in central Kentucky, they are convinced (as is Frank Taylor) that the practice is bound to become more common among Thoroughbred operations in the coming years.

  • Old Timer

    This article funny for a number of reasons.

    1. Dr. Reid McLellan has been teaching these theory’s to grooms on the backsides for yearrrrrsss, through the Groom Elite programs. As an aside Dr. McLellan actually says a horse first determines if you are predator or herd mate first, then ask who is herd leader i.e. its a two step process not one. It is vitally important to recognize the significance of the former as much as the latter when dealing with horses.

    2. Cowboys have been breaking horses for eons in the mid-west circuits and still do. Best person to break a horse, a bull rider, period. But pretty much anyone from the mid west already knows that and implements it.

    Good luck apparently to the KY hard-boots or AAEP vets, but they should have already known about this, and didn’t need a supposed “expert” to come in from the outside to tell them. All they needed to do was look at whats already be going on for a longggg time within their own industry to find best practices.

    • Elliott ness

      Well the Irish have taken over Lexington and Ocala, now it’s time to scoot over a wee bit and let the guys from down under make some money.

      • Mimi H

        The guy from this country who started it all [as mentioned above] was invited to stay in England by the Queen.

        • Katesmock

          If you are referring to Monty Roberts, she can keep him. And he did not “start” it. If you want to point to those who brought it to the forefront, you can point at Tom & Bill Dorrance.

          • Alexa Pilcher

            … or Henry Blake …

          • Ladyofthelake

            I think Mimi might be referring to Buck Brannaman mentioned in the article or maybe the guy from Winstar? Just guessing.

    • fb0252

      interestingly i found Monte Roberts methods to be more cruel to the horse than traditional breaking. Roberts basically breaks the horse mentally. the horse doesn’t want to give in, but Roberts will physically exhaust the animal until it does give in. works, but I dislike doing this to a horse. i use Roberts only as a last resort.

      The traditional thump for misbehavior (never in anger), is something I think the horse understands much better, although if by “natural horsemanship” these folks mean adopting herd methods to horse behavior then that’s definitely the way to go imo. you make them your herd buddies, get on, and they want to behave for you in my experience.

      • Ladyofthelake

        That and also look at how horses make each other move in a herd- with short quick movements like bites, kicks, flicking ears, etc. They don’t make another horse move by leaning on each other to see who gives first like an arm wrestling contest. So NH practitioners don’t usually use constant pressure or pain when doing groundwork with a horse. I recently read some comments in a forum that was a few years old, where a lady said it was pretty common in equestrian sports to have horses that were great in the showring but a pain to handle on the ground & she was glad to see more equestrian people get into NH lessons as a way to have better behaved horses. I wouldn’t know how most eq. horses behave since equestrian is not really my thing but it makes for interesting discussion!

    • Susan Crane-Sundell

      While you may revere the techniques of bull riders, my experience with their “breaking” practices has not been positive.I lived in the Wild West and worked with horses where the old ‘cowboy” techniques are dying hard. The idea of dominating a horse by making him subservient to avoid pain and uncomfortable experiences is a controversial technique. Why do so many trainers believe that the avoidance of pain is the best inducement to achieving compliance? Not all social animals learn through avoidance theory. It is a component of behavior modification, but not the only one. The idea that social training for any mammalian species also involves nurturing and bonding and can be traced back to the early experiments of Harlow. Yes there is a pecking order in horse herds just as their is in corporations, but just as modern companies, such as Google, are finding that collaboration works better than domination, enlightened animal trainers are learning that establishing trust and partnership works much better than subjugation.Training is about nurturing and positive reinforcement more so than it is about correction and avoidance of painful consequences and exhaustion.

      • Old Timer

        Last time I checked bull riders don’t need to beat horses, they stay on. That’s the point!

        They keep going and don’t really care if the horses has issues, they just keep riding. No that doesn’t mean to a point of exhaustion.

        Sorry you didn’t find the right person to work with in the Wild West, because in the “Mid West” as I talked about, we do things differently.

        Did PETA put you up to this posting?

        • Susan Crane-Sundell

          You’re kidding right? PETA for all their pros and cons don’t spend a great deal of time worrying about horsemanship.Perhaps I’ve seen too many casualties of the old techniques. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but my experiences with animals used in rodeos has not been positive. I’ve been around horses and ridden since the age of 4. I learned English saddle equitation first.

          Not much of a rodeo fan. I detest some of the practices of rodeos. I’ve taken care of roping calves that have spinal injuries, horses that have festering sores due to the over zealous and continual application of spurs, horses with neck injuries, you name it; even sheep who had been used for mutton busting. I worked for a country vet in the wilds of Idaho and saw a great deal of mistreatment of horses. Mostly by people whose idea of horsemanship was domination. I’m not saying this is universally the case, but this is what I saw and spent many a night up taking care of these casualties, in addition to all the usual fare.

  • Anon

    This makes me think of a question I’ve always had regarding thoroughbreds & the whole lip chain thing. Someone told me that all t.breds must be led with a nose/lip chain. I could see this at the track maybe, but don’t understand why they still do this at farms with halters that are so loose around the muzzle then put a chain on their nose. At the boarding farm where I work there are 7 or 8 OTTBs, one of which is a stallion, and we only use halters with regular lead ropes. But then our halters are also more snug around the muzzle which makes it easier to control their movement through that. I was taught natural horsemanship methods from the beginning of my lessons, and learned that constant pressure on a horse’s face will aggravate it and make it dull (once the horse is doing what you want, release the pressure, but with a nose chain the pressure is always there). Sometimes I wonder if the lip/nose chain might actually cause unruly behavior, and it’s not just because of the breed or whatever drugs thoroughbreds are allegedly on.

    • Quilla

      Good points.

      I really do not like to see yearlings come into the sales ring with a chain over their gums. Remember seeing photos of Hansen in – what looks to be – an uncomfortable position.

      • Anon

        I’m sure it IS an uncomfortable position! Sometimes I wonder if there are just so many yearlings going through these sales that some of the farms where they grew up don’t take the time to handle them like they should, and just use a chain by default. With one of the OTTBs where I work, one day a girl was showing me how to do the nose chain just so I could learn it & as soon as we got it out, this normally calm horse went crazy shaking his head all over and she said “See he knows what this is and doesn’t like it!”

        • Susan Crane-Sundell

          It’s the same thing with a twitch. It should only be used on the most obstreperous horses to achieve necessary handling.Even mature horses can be taken off a twitch with patience and having more frequent and more calm handling. Deadening the mouth is a real concern and most horses can learn to walk calmly through many agitating circumstances if trained properly and patiently with a well-fitting halter. I had a 7 yr old Arabian mare that when we acquired her was always groomed with a twitch on her lip. It took a few months but with patience, a calm environment, and learning to move around her so that she was always shown what was going to happen next, she calmed down even after years of being a problem horse. Even stallions can be led safely without a nose chain if they’re handled properly and not hopped up on steroids. There’s nothing wrong with a little cotton wool for a young horse either. Mr. Stanco uses it with Princess of Sylmar and she is quite the champion!

        • reality check

          You have to understand the give and release of any chain use, over or under. Horses tend to move away from that sort of pressure. So under chin, escape is up. Over chin, escape is down. There should be enough room so as to keep light contact but no more unless of course you’re being dragged around. Chains are standard in the horse show pens but not really needed per se. It is a safety factor for many so if one has a come apart, you have a little extra if needed. Kinda like at the sales when people are buzzing around yearlings who’ve never been away from home. Chifneys are old school and useless in my book.

          • Anon

            That makes sense. I wasn’t so much criticizing the use of a chain over the nose or halter for more control, but when I see them put it directly across the horse’s gums it does kinda make me cringe!

      • snazzygirl

        When I was selling yearlings at auction, I would use a chain over the nose during the auction itself as additional leverage/control since young horses tend to become more fractious at the commotion. I never used a chain during sales preparation at the farm. Now the trend is to use chiffney bits at auction as a control method, which in my opinion would tend to deaden the bars of the mouth when continually jerked. When yearlings leave the farm (usually the first time) to go to auction where there is a lot of commotion and other horses, additional control is often necessary. So in that sense when I see TBs being lead to and from the paddock during a big race where there is a lot of noise and clapping and agitation from the audience, I can understand the leverage that can be provided by chain shanks or additional handlers. A few horsemen now use ear muffs on the horses or cotton in the ears to deaden the noise. So in one sense I can understand the use of chain shanks, but it should not be excessive. To be honest, I am surprised more onlookers aren’t kicked during a big race since they tend to swarm around popular horses. Two things make horses skittish and a bit crazy – wind and noise.

    • fb0252

      lip chain practioners are other than natural horse people, quite obviously. put a lip chain on yourself and have someone drag you around with it for 15 min and see how you like it.

      • reality check

        There is a time and a place for a lip chain. Most of the time it’s used when additional control is needed for safety. I don’t normally use one but if needed I can. One of the biggest problems with lip chain use is the person not knowing how to handle it. Light pressure while easing the chain back and forth across the gums causes an endorphin release. However most people do not know how to use it.

        • fb0252

          reality i’ve had race horses for 30 years. too long. unable to recall a time I needed a lip chain. my protest would be that lip chains almost seem standard procedure these days.

          • reality check

            Well I’ve been showing horses for 36 and worked in this industry for a couple of decades… at the end of the day, the action and result is in the hands of the handler, just like bits. Lip chains are useful for clipping ears, palping mares that want no part of it etc. I prefer them to twitches due to being able to release pressure or increase it as needed instead of one constant pain with no release.

        • Anon

          Aren’t endorphins being released because a chain across the gums causes pain in the first place??

    • Gadflies

      The nose chain does release pressure if properly attached. I’ve seen rope halters with multiple nose knots and a big bull snap under the jaw be just as harsh, especially with people who add that shaking the rope thing to their arsenal. JMO.

  • Bill Casner

    We incorporated “natural horsemanship” when we first started WinStar in 2000. We brought Pat Parelli and Martin Black riders in every year to start our yearlings. Kellyn Gorder was a Martin Black protégée and worked for us for a number of years before starting his very successful training career. The Double Dan team is only the latest team to be involved. We sponsored several clinics at WinStar with the iconic Ray Hunt, Craig Cameron, Pat Parelli, and Bob Duncan. The clinics were open to horsemen through out the Bluegrass and well attended.

    The cornerstone of “natural horsemanship” is creating trust by first recognizing that young horses are programmed to be in a self preservation mode–they are animals that are preyed upon in their natural state. The process doesn’t just start when horses are receiving their first lessons with a rider–it starts at birth. We at WinStar started the process with “imprinting” at the moment the foal was born by exposing them to a variety of stimuli from fingers in their ears to the sound of clippers to the crinkling of plastic, etc. This is a practice first introduced by a “cowboy vet” in California.
    The western horseman has often been denigrated by the eastern establishment and references to being a “cowboy” are not always used in a complimentary way. Wonderful horsemen come from all different disciplines and certainly the western cowboys have produced some of the finest most insightful horsemen in the world.
    Horses are one of God’s greatest gifts and if they are treated with respect, insight, common sense, and we gain their trust, they will willing do what ever we ask of them. They are amazing creatures and they have been an integral part of the advancement of the human race.

    • McGov


    • Steuart Pittman

      Amen. We need to get you to the Thoroughbred Makeover at Pimlico this year for sure, Bill. We are putting teams together headlined by major racing operations. October 4 and 5 is the weekend. We’ll be in touch about starting a team.

    • Tonto

      DR. Miller did well with videos that should have been self evident. Any animal that you wish to be ‘gentle’ has to be handled by humans at very early age- ever try making friends with a feral cat ? Wailing until a colt is weaned and weighs 800 pounds is a bit late to ‘make friends”.

  • Lexington 4

    The very term “natural horsemanship” was recently inducted into the GMIHOF (Great Marketing Ideas Hall of Fame).

    As such, it joins illustrious members from other business sectors such as Lifetime Achievement honoree MLM (“Multi-Level Marketing”).

    • Anon

      If you are a trainer as you have claimed in previous posts under this user name, why not tell us who you really are & then people will know who is spouting such nonsense about natural horsemanship. You would say that only if your horses were drugged to the point where they had to be “cowboyed” to death. Either that or your horsemanship skills are bad.

      • Lexington 4

        Good horsemanship is good horsemanship. And there are certainly lots of good things about the horsemanship falling under the marketing banner “natural horsemanship”. I don’t have big problems with it.

        I am just pointing out that using the term “natural horsemanship” shows some pretty shrewd business savvy as it makes people such as YOURSELF think everyone else must be doing “unnatural” training. That is where your line “You would say that only if your horses were drugged to the point where they had to be ‘cowboyed’ to death” comes from. Ignorance. And responding to marketing.

        • Gadflies

          Agreed, it’s a historic form dressed up as something new; there have always been humane horse handlers who put the animal first and paid attention to its nature. And there have also always been abusive people. Those of us like Lexington 4 and myself who are tired of the NH movement are, in part, aggravated that they paint anyone who isn’t them as somehow abusive and ignorant. This is not the case.

          • reality check

            Zipping my flame suit. I could not agree more. You can always tell when it’s new to a certain group or person. Most other disciplines have seen it and are not fans. The followers are the most strident of any I’ve ever seen, just as you stated. What’s lacking in the horse industry in general is HORSEMANSHIP and teaching horses. It starts from day 1. You can go to the yearling sales and easily see which farms handle their yearlings and which don’t. Or better yet, work the sales. That’s an eye opener. Halter them to go out, take off to come in, groom, pick feet, lead, back, move over… all things any baby can learn in his/her first two weeks. As for under saddle, more time needs to be taken to teach them to do more than just accept a rider and basics enough to go around the track. After all it might save their life and that of another horse/person some day. I hear all the time with many of these off the track horses, they know how to go fast and turn left. Are they horses or NASCAR Cup cars? Look at the TB trainers – many have never even ridden a horse. A stop watch and a vet does not a trainer make in my book. All most NH people peddle is trying to teach people to read their horses. That doesn’t come in a 30 minute video. It comes with years of watching and learning from real horsemen not selling dvds and carrot sticks… and from learning from your own horses. Not everyone can read animals. The majority don’t, won’t or can’t. Example… I can’t imagine why Fido who we’ve had since he was 8 weeks old just bit little Jimmy… well he’s been licking his lips and giving you every possible sign that what was happening to him was not okay… but you chose to ignore it. Horses are a blessing and an amazing gift to our lives. We need to do a better job teaching and caring for them. I guess if it takes the NH crowd to point that out, so be it. I strongly prefer the methods that teach bending, flexing and impulsion, etc. I hope one day, it will be seen through and the simple, intrinsic art of true horsemanship returns.

          • Anon

            I’ll give an example of some ignorance I saw once at an auction in Lexington. I noticed a guy (a bidder) who kept strutting around the auction ring with a book in his hand as he stopped several horses to poke around under their necks, I assume to see if their lymph nodes were swollen. So to reward this one horse for standing still, he smacked it on the neck a couple of times, which spooked it & made it start to rear up. I guess he didn’t know that you don’t reward a horse for GOOD behavior by smacking it on the neck, that’s how you would reprimand it (ie, mares nip their foals on the neck or rear to keep them in line). Even I would’ve known better than to do something that stupid, and I haven’t been handling horses for 30 years like everybody else.

        • Gayle Meyers

          That is the most annoying thing about the “natural” horsemanship enthusiast: they have the misinformation that all other disciplines are cruel and that they are the only ones who understand their horse. Usually, I have observed, the casual acolyte of NH is the most dangerous to those in a stable around them as they have no idea how to manage their horse. And I agree; one MUST buy the dvds, the lead rope and the saddle pad first before one can understand NH, right? ;-)

          • Lexington 4

            Oh, yeah. Gotta get the right hardware to go with the DVDs.

            I think the next generation should be dubbed “soul bonding” horsemanship. That term should impress consumers even more than what “natural” horsemanship does. (Yeah, don’t tell me… someone is already using that, probably…)

            But it’s only for the people who really take the time to teach their school ponies how to behave with lots of gentle handling and caring attention and peering deep into their souls. It’s not for the mean ol’ horse racing guys.

        • Anon

          Since the main idea of the article seemed to be that “natural horsemanship” is apparently not that common in the world of thoroughbreds, please explain what the difference is between NH and the way horses are raised/trained in the world of horse racing and breeding? To me NH basically means not forcing a horse into submission through brute strength or unnecessarily cruel methods of restraint. It doesn’t have to mean a guy in a cowboy hat using loose reins & a rope halter & trying to hawk his DVDs.

          And I don’t think all horse trainers are evil, in fact I’ve found that the OTTBs I’ve handled are some of the most polite & well trained & easiest to handle out of most of the horses on the farm, so somebody somewhere must have done a good job with them. I’ve been told by people in KY that I needed to get more experience handling T.breds before I would be qualified enough to get a job there because “thoroughbreds are different and harder to handle.” Well I don’t think it’s just the breed since the ones I’ve handled are great. So apparently there is a disconnect between the behavior of OTTBs no longer racing & the t.breds that still are. Any horse can grow up to be a basket case if not handled at a young age as mentioned above by the guy from Winstar.

  • Katesmock

    We have a small farm in Kentucky and my husband starts all of our horses and clients horses using natural horsemanship. We are friends with Martin Black and Buck Brannaman and always find it somewhat amusing that they ship them in to do something that a “local” guy has been doing for a long time. Charlie and Amy Lopresti use these methods also and I would have to say that they have been pretty successful with it so far. :-)

    • Wendy

      psst – George has been great with my OTTB. Wish the weather would break so I could have him out again.

  • Bob Duncan

    It was encouraging to read that Buck Brannaman
    spoke at the AARP conference and about the breeding and training farms where
    natural horsemanship is being employed. From my experience dealing with gate
    schooling and ‘problem horses’ at racetracks for 45 years, the need is stronger
    than ever to teach natural horsemanship to every person who handles
    thoroughbred racehorses. There has been
    a significant shift in the industry over the past 20 years, however much more
    needs to be done. One example is Quality
    Road. Twenty years ago, he would have been
    inaccurately labeled a rogue and mishandled after his unwillingness to load at
    the Breeder’s Cup and further mishandled as time went on. Instead because of
    the knowledge and practices we have learned from clinicians like Buck and have
    been employing at the NYRA gate for the past 20 years, he came back to New York and was turned
    around easily. The difficulties for the
    horses are not only at the gate. Because of a lack of understanding by handlers
    throughout the backstretch, issues that could be easily corrected or avoided
    turn into battles or reasons to add equipment, or use unnecessary restraining
    devices. Who knows how many good
    racehorses do not reach their potential due to a lack of understanding on the horsemen’s part? If horsemanship training was required in the
    licensing process for everyone who handles a horse, we would have better horses
    and safer stables. It would not be hard
    to implement through a conditional license to start, a basic training course
    and a competency assessment before a license could be renewed. If handlers
    throughout a horses life in racing could relate to the horse in the correct
    way, many ‘behavioral problems’ would not exist. The result would be better
    racehorses with more longevity on and off the track. The horses would be less stressed, and healthier.

    • Olebobbowers

      Bob, love the tact you employed throughout the decades you were head starter in N.Y.. I broke as many as 120 yearlings a year as Manager/Resident Trainer at several facilities here in So. Cal., as well as galloping horses for eon’s. I came up under several HOF Trainers, and even recall working alongside your Dad when I wintered in Columbia, S.C. loping for Max Hirsch. Your Dad had a string under his care that he also wintered here. You’re prolly familiar with my brother Charlie Rose, he galloped Alydar, etc. I came across an old photo in a scrapbook of your Dad enjoying a cigar in the barn area in Columbia that I would love to send you! Just email me at [email protected] with ur address if you want me to send it. BTW, you were a great starter. I admired watching you charm them in rather than grab a buggy whip, etc..It had alway’s been my method of choice when it worked.

  • Tonto

    The level of horse ‘inexperience’ of racetrack personnel and veterinarians is breathtaking.
    For some of us ‘natural horsemanship’ is telling us wheels are round. for others it is ‘gee whiz ‘who would have thought it ?
    The older generation of horsemen are gone, the new bunch are not giving the horses credit for their exceptional memories and abilities to learn a job ..”This horse doesn’t know much .Answer: who would he have learned anything from ??

    • Alexa Pilcher

      … and to my mind the most antiquated and counter-intuitive exercise of all in attempting to teach the young racehorse the lesson of winning, is the repeated whipping down the stretch, …continuous punishment while they are doing exactly as asked, possibly undoing a lot of the previous work done up to that point in their lives by others trying to teach them to stretch out for the wire…. makes no sense, …not to mention how bad it looks too ! Put the whips away, once and for all, … there will still be a winner, and even superfectas, etc., filled by happier horses ridden by better horsemen ! ..betting will not come to an end ! Then, to continue with that notion, later in that same stretch they slow down, the whipping stops, so there’s the reward for slowing down… well, in the mind of a simple and uncomplicated animal it is. So, the results are potentially the complete opposite of what you’re trying to teach them. So maybe some of them are inadvertently learning the lesson to slow down to make the whipping go away ? It’s all back to front, animal trainers say you must try to ‘be’ that animal to anticipate a logical response. But, as always with racing it’s been done that way forever, so why change now … that particular part of training a racehorse to win, by force and fear, will go on… for now. There is no doubt that kinder and gentler will win out in the end… otherwise we’ll be boo’ed into history and join other animal sport that seem unbelievable to us today. The riders who do ‘get it’ are not allowed to by the rules, so it has to be all whips, or no whips. Ok, I’m done !

    • Ladyofthelake

      Or as a guy I used to take lessons from would say, “I help horses with people problems!”

  • Sandra Conner

    this is too funny.. I have been breaking horses the same way for over 30 years. Sam Cronk and his family have been educating young riders about this way of breaking and training horses for over 50 years. I guess I need to go to a country were I have a different accent.

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