Quiet Riding

Equestrian Book Reviews

Book Review

Western Training
Theory & Practice

Sundance, the horse.
If…I can convince a reader or a trainer (and every rider is a trainer) that there is an easy, soft way to train a horse, and that the trainer who uses the least amount of force is the best, then I have at least given that rider or trainer a decent start toward becoming a horseman.

In Western Training Theory & Practice, Jack Brainard emphasizes the importance of observing, analyzing, and waiting patiently for progress when working with a horse. As a breeder and trainer, Brainard must be tempted at times to rush the training process to maximize profit. But Jack Brainard is, above all, a horseman who cares about horses. He is also practical. He writes: “…the longer you wait to start riding a young horse, the fewer soundness problems he will have later on.” Brainard wants his horses to have long, active lives.

Brainard is a man with vast experience in many areas of the horse industry. These include ranching, breeding, training, competing, and judging. He has carried a judge's card in six divisions of the American Horse Shows Association. At the time he wrote Western Training Theory & Practice with Peter Phinny, Brainard had experience judging Paints, POAs, Appaloosas, palominos, mules, draft horses, and NCHA cuttings and NRHA reinings.

Brainard says, “Anyone can force a horse to perform exercises…”, but that isn't his method. He stresses: “…to become an accomplished trainer and horseman, one needs to be a student of the horse.” He adds: “…the true horseman continually looks for better ways to communicate with his horse….” He explains that “communication requires listening, ’listening‚ to his horse.”

The rider or trainer should concentrate on getting the horse to “understand” what he wants rather than forcing a certain movement of the horse's body. “…in every training session you have with a horse, you will be working with his mind trying to communicate with him. If you can get your idea across to your pupil, his body will take care of itself….” Again, “…a horse will try to get along if the teacher is considerate enough to explain what needs to be done.”

In order to explain what you want to the horse, you must have his attention. Brainard puts it this way: “It's important to know where your horse's attention is focused so that you do not force him to do something he is not prepared to do, and end up scaring or fighting him.” This is difficult if you are constantly pulling on the horse's head. Brainard explains that “A horse must position his head in order to focus his vision….”

A good rider and trainer must consider his horse. Brainard puts it this way: “Continually work to develop greater and easier ways to communicate the task you want your horse to perform. And above all, have respect for your horse.” This includes considering his physical condition. “Don't ask a horse for hard maneuvers when he is tired.” And, “Trainers should pay attention to any indication of soreness because the horse is telling us that he has a problem and that something needs to be done before it reappears in a much more acute form.”

Stress is another factor to consider. “To achieve a good and positive learning attitude in a horse, a trainer must constantly try to keep his horse in situations where he is not stressed, uncomfortable, afraid, mad, or agitated.” This does not mean you should never push a horse to improve. It means that you should do it in such a way that the horse remains calm. “At almost every stage and training level, the horse's mental attitude and willingness to learn are perhaps the most crucial factors affecting long–term success.”

While Brainard prefers a well-formed horse, he is not obsessive about conformation. “Give me a nice-minded, coordinated athlete, and I'll worry about size and conformation later.” But, he adds: “…structural soundness is important even in horses without exemplary conformation.”

Any horse can be improved, but only to a certain state. “However coordinated your horse, you can help him to become a well–schooled individual. Trouble will result, nevertheless, if you ask a horse to perform beyond his innate ability…. ” In other words, every horse should not be expected to be a top athlete, just as every human being is not capable of becoming an Olympic performer. Use training to help your horse become the best he can be, but don't be upset that he is not the best there is. “The rider must comprehend the natural limits of what a particular horse can do.”

Regarding the bit, Brainard points out that “A bit is a device used to help communicate our ideas to our horse and to be able to feel his communication to us.” He adds: “I am a firm believer in snaffle–bit training and in taking the time necessary to teach the horse to perform proficiently in the snaffle. Only when the horse is calm and comfortable with the various maneuvers should he be moved out of the snaffle.” He stresses proper schooling over equipment. “…a harsher bit does not produce a better stop; good basic schooling will produce the best stop.”

Brainard takes a positive approached to horse training. “I know that there is always a positive way to solve whatever dilemma I am facing; there is always an effective way for my horse and for me, and my job is to find it.” He adds: “I feel that we must form a partnership and a friendship with our horses; we must trust one another, and we must not violate this trust.”

Partners must consider one another's point of view. “I think that the best approach any of us can take is to always be willing to learn and to realize how much we can learn from the horse.” We must pay attention to our horse. “Pitifully few riders give the horse even a hint of consideration when they issue their cues or wishes, let alone study their horse's reaction to them.” Brainard advises: “When a trainer issues a cue, he must study the response from his partner the horse. If we watch the horse, he will tell us if he understands what we want.” Paying attention to our horse's reaction will make our training easier. “I have to believe that the majority of problems would never have been problems at all if the trainer was more observant.”

Jack Brainard does not claim to be a self–made expert. He advises continuously being open to learning better methods. He reveals his level of study by quoting authorities such as Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance in the field of Western riding as well as Waldmar Seunig in the realm of Dressage. Still, he has learned much in his years of raising, training, and showing horses. Western Training Theory & Practice is one method of sharing this knowledge.