Training a miniature horse:
Repetition, repetition, repetition, consistency, consistency, consistency, and patience for horse and owner alike; that is how to train a horse.
As children, we learn language in order to communicate. Our parents teach us language usage by word association, word consistency, and word repetition. Like children, a horse must learn our language and vice versa. Obviously, horses do not verbalize as we do, so they must learn through repetition and consistency; the same words for the same actions and situations. To become proficient, this training must be daily or every other day until the skill or action is learned.
If you will begin your training for 5 - 10 minutes a day, you will be surprised how quickly your horse will catch on. Start with an easy task, and then build up. You may start with something as simple as asking the horse to walk along side of you and stop when you say “whoa”. Praise the horse if the task is done well and walk a little more, then repeat the same process. If the horse hasn’t responded positively, ask him to do the task again until he is doing what you have asked. When the horse has finished the training session, ask for a simple task that he is able to do then put him back in the stall or give him some turn out time. Always end on a positive action.
Stick to one new task until the horse masters it. Move on to a new task only when the earlier training is memorized and performed successfully by the horse. The following day you should ask for that task, if done well, add another task and continue to build his understanding of your words and body language. Remember that horses naturally pick up on nonverbal cues so you will find your horse is learning your body language in addition to the verbal cues.
Just like children, or adults for that matter, horses will test your limits. Minis are very smart so if you reward for positive behavior, which may be with your voice tone and a scratch on the neck or an occasional treat, they quickly learn that it is easier to do what you ask of them. Rarely do I find one that doesn’t respond to positive reinforcement.
Many times training problems arise from lack of understanding what is being asked of them or fear of a new situation. 99% of the time, the horse truly wants to do what you want him to do. Rarely, if ever, will you find one that is just looking for a confrontation.
One of the biggest challenges is not to spoil the miniatures because they are so cute, friendly, and small. Remember, some of the things they do as foals are cute; once they weigh 200 - 250 pounds it isn't as cute and may become dangerous. We had a sweet client that just couldn’t resist allowing her mini foal to rear up at her and place his legs around her neck, never dreaming that this would become a big problem as he matured to 250 pounds of testosterone. Remember, it is much easier to keep from developing bad habits than trying to break one.
If you have miniature horse shows close to you, go and observe what the winning handlers are doing as far as show style. Not all trainers show the horses respect but if you watch, you can see the difference in the way the horses respond. It is wonderful to see a horse show well because he likes and respects the handler; it is not fun to watch a horse trying to show in response to fear.
Truly, training a mini is no different than training any other animal – body language, consistency, repetition, and tone of voice is the key. I’ve been fortunate to have a natural rapport with animals so training is easy for me; hopefully, it will be for you too.
Here is an informative article from the publication The Horse, I couldn't agree more! You may also find the article on line at TheHorse.com, a publication well worth the cost which is available in magazine form and eNewsletters.