The Six Secrets of Training Successfully

Sarah was think­ing.  “I’m not sure I real­ly know what I am doing here” she thought to her­self.  “I’ve nev­er real­ly taught a horse to piaffe before”.  “I guess I will just start and see how it goes.”  So Sarah got her horse out and start­ed try­ing to get the horse to show some steps of small trot while work­ing from the ground.  The horse has no idea what she wants and soon becomes scared and frus­trat­ed.  Sarah then became frus­trat­ed her­self.  “Why can’t the horse just try” she mused.  “Why does he have to make every­thing so dif­fi­cult?”

While Sarah con­tin­ued the inner dia­logue she became so frus­trat­ed that she start­ed doubt­ing her­self.  Then she became angry at her­self for even try­ing.  “I’m just not good enough to do this”.  “I don’t know why I even try.”  “I suck.”  She thought.  Mean­while while Sarah was los­ing con­fi­dence, so was her horse.

Now Sarah start­ed get­ting mad at her friend Beth who sug­gest­ed Sarah start work­ing on piaffe.  Beth obvi­ous­ly didn’t know what she was talk­ing about.  There was no way they were going to be ready for the big clin­ic next month if she at least couldn’t get some half steps from the ground.  “Arghh.”  She felt exas­per­at­ed.  Her horse looked at her with mis­trust.  “What a great way to start my day” she said as she gave up and led her horse back to the barn.

WHOA, Let’s try over.

While this exam­ple is a hot mess, I bet each of us has expe­ri­enced this frus­tra­tion at some lev­el before.  Here’s how the piaffe les­son should have gone…

Sarah was think­ing.  “Beth real­ly thinks my horse and I are ready to start piaffe train­ing.  I won­der what all is involved?”  “I’m done my barn chores so let me get out that video she lent me and read the piaffe chap­ter in my new book” Sarah says to her­self.  “Wow this looks like lots of fun” she thinks as she does her research.

Then she is remind­ed of a great sem­i­nar she went to about the C’s of Suc­cess and starts fill­ing out her pdf from the lec­ture.  Down load it here: 6 Secrets of Train­ing



(What do I want? What are the steps for teach­ing it? What exact­ly am I look­ing for? Do I under­stand what I am teach­ing? Do I know how to teach it? Do I need to research or con­sult a coach?)

Sarah is find­ing out these steps in her research.  If she finds she can’t do these steps on her own she will see that she needs help.  Oth­er­wise, she gets a very clear idea of what she wants from the horse in les­son one to les­son fifty. For instance, the first step might be just get­ting her horse used to her work­ing along side it on the ground or get­ting it used to the whip.  If the horse already knows that, the first step might be just get­ting the horse to raise a leg when touched with the whip.  The sec­ond step then might be get­ting both hind legs to lift alter­nate­ly and then she can start adding some for­ward momen­tum.  This C will help you fig­ure out your train­ing plan.


(What exact­ly do I want my horse to do? How do I break it down into lit­tle steps so he/she under­stands? How should I be ask­ing so that the horse under­stands? It helps in this stage to write the steps down and think about what you will do if the horse doesn’t under­stand any one step. Think about how you will make it eas­i­er or where each les­son will stop so you don’t over face the horse.)

This is where Sarah will write down all the steps she think her horse will need to start the idea of school­ing piaffe from the ground. These ideas come from past expe­ri­ence and from research.  This is also where Sarah might list where her horse may have trou­ble and what to do about it.  Like what step she will back up to if prob­lems arise.   Sarah will also come up with a plan of where to stop each day.  Now Sarah has a idea of how to clear­ly explain to the horse what she want and it’s writ­ten down for her future ref­er­ence.


(Prac­tice until the horse has an under­stand­ing of what I want by using reward based train­ing to sig­nal when the horse has done cor­rect­ly. Don’t leave this step until the horse shows clear under­stand­ing.)

This is where Sarah and her horse will spend time and ener­gy going through the steps above and gain­ing pro­fi­cien­cy at each step.  Mak­ing sure she has a good way to reward the horse when he makes the right move or choice.  This phase will go a lot faster and with less stress if she imple­ments rewards in the train­ing.


(Now it’s time to chal­lenge how well the horse knows what you are ask­ing by ask­ing in oth­er con­texts. Ask in dif­fer­ent places in the ring, in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments, at shows, at the train­ers etc. Ask with dis­trac­tions like oth­er horses,windy days, strange nois­es from the trac­tor out­side. Or even ask for more of the same to increase the chal­lenge like more steps of piaffe. This is real­ly where you set the horse up for fail­ure with­out mak­ing it so hard that the horse los­es con­fi­dence but helps solid­i­fy what the horse knows)

Once Sarah’s horse knows what she wants from the ground, she may up the chal­lenge by ask­ing in the out­door are­na, at the train­ers or while school­ing at a show.  This may involve ask­ing for more steps or while oth­er things are going on that may dis­tract the horse.  This is the time for Sarah to real­ly solid­i­fy what the horse knows in all sorts of cir­cum­stances so that she can move to the next step of con­fi­dence that will give her the boost to start piaffe work under sad­dle.


(this is the last steps that grows as the horse suc­ceeds in his lessons and is able to do them in var­i­ous envi­ron­ments with mul­ti­ple dis­trac­tions. Going back to com­pe­tence train­ing when need­ed and chal­leng­ing the horse to solid­i­fy the les­son.)

This is the final step where Sarah and her horse start to real­ly become con­fi­dent and strong in their abil­i­ty to piaffe togeth­er.  Prac­tice and a will­ing­ness return to the steps of com­pe­tence and chal­lenge will real­ly build con­fi­dence for both of them.

*many thanks to Susan Gar­rett for her ideas on suc­cess in train­ing.  it is her work that inspired this arti­cle as she talks about 5 C’s in suc­cess­ful dog train­ing.