In many ways, modern horses have life easier than did their ancestors. Hoof-care, dentistry, pristine shelters, and excellent feed and supplementation are but a few of the perks for a horse of the present era. However, when it comes to the psychology of training, it is arguable that the hardworking, old-time ranch horse had it better than the show horse of today.
Most colts nowadays are enclosed in a 4-walled environment and asked to move in ways they never would at liberty. They’re told to trot or lope, lap after lap, going nowhere and with no purpose. Riders teach horses to side-pass, arc and flex, and to turn around and around, and try to train through any obstinacy as it arises. Although all horses in the process of becoming broke sometimes challenge training, modern riders face many struggles rooted in this plain fact the horse today sees no apparent reason for his movements other than that his rider requires him to do so.
For the working horse of yesteryear, all the demands the rider placed on a horse made sense in a form-to-function way, for he had a task-oriented job to which every maneuver related. As soon as a colt was accepting of a rider aboard, the colt was out on the range for a long day’s work. He was lined-out toward a destination and along the way learned to steer left and right, and to stop and back while controlling cattle. The everyday task of navigating a sage-covered hillside offered a tremendous training session for the green mount. He learned to neck-rein while working his way through the brush; every rock in they way became another opportunity for his rider to teach the colt proper steering. In a timely fashion, the horse came to associate the rider’s cues with a job, which gave the colt a purpose, a reason to comply.
In contemplating the mentality of such a horse’s equine counterparts today and the demands placed on them, a sense of compassion and empathy is surely due contemporary horses. Most modern horse trainers never have an opportunity to train in a working-ranch environment. With horses nowadays confined to arenas, it is imperative that each horse’s learning process be made as stress-free as possible; an environment must be cultivated that allows him to relate his riders demands to a reason and to receive a reward for his compliance.
Al Dunning is credited with 32 world-championship and reserve-championship titles. The knowledge and passion he shares in his clinics, videos, and lessons have molded not only average students, but also some of today’s most successful professional horse trainers.
Dunning’s ability to reach people comes from his love of horses and out of respect to the mentors in his own life.