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Can all horses be trained?

May 16, 2017
Charles Wilhelm
Charles Wilhelm

Can all horses be trained?

For over 30 years now I have specialized in working with problem horses and starting colts. I do have horses here at the barn that are shown in Western Pleasure, jumping and reining cow horse events but the thrust of the organization is colt starting and dealing with problem horses. I used to believe that all horses were trainable but after working with horses for many years, I have changed my mind. As my work became more known and I became a more popular trainer, I was asked to work with horses that exhibited more severe behaviors. Most of the horses I have worked with come from California but I have been shipped horse from Texas, New York, and Virginia. There have been a variety of kinds of problem horses including stallions that couldn’t be led much less be in a stall with a person. As the word got around that I had a high percentage of success with this type of horse, and how nice the horses were once I finished with them, I got more what people call “rogue” horses. This type of horse is normally just an uneducated horse.

Every horse has a different potential for training. Some horses are easy to train. I’ve had Mustangs that I was able to take out on the trail by the second ride but I have also had Mustangs that took two months of work before I took them on the trail. I have had domestic horses here at the ranch that took even longer than that to get out on the trail because their flight instinct had to be dealt with first. Every horse must be evaluated based on its individual background, previous training, physical, mental and emotional health. So, what I have found after years of working with hundreds of horses is that there are a small percentage of horses that cannot be trained.

Some horses just belong in a bucking string. People don’t like to hear that but today, bucking stock is well cared for, fat and sassy, only worked once or twice a week and it is not really a bad gig. I speak with tongue in cheek but just because you don’t get along with your horse or you are having training problems doesn’t mean the horse can’t be trained.

Truly, there are some horses that just don’t like humans on their backs. I have also worked with a couple of horses that had mental defects. One client told me that her horse had a major artery collapse and oxygen deprivation occurred at birth. I worked with the horse for a week and it was coming along but then after two days off, I had to start all over again. After a month of this I had the client take the horse home because there was never going to be improvement and the horse should just be a pasture or companion horse. I’ve run across a couple of horses like this where a physical or mental impairment prevented learning.

There are other horses that have issues but are trainable and, with the right rider, one who is confident can be a good mount. I usually expect basic training for most horses to take around three months, but for some horses it may take 4-6 months before the “switch in their mind flips on.” I have two horses here now that would never sell. One is my personal horse. He is a high maintenance horse and I have to work on maintaining his training on a regular basis. We get along just fine, but with someone else who was less confident, the horse would not work out. Most of my clientele are older and they do not want a horse like this. It is important to match the horse with the rider. Otherwise, the rider may get hurt and the horse will get a bad reputation. Unfortunately, I often see the mismatch of horse and rider.

It doesn’t matter that I can ride the horse; the owner must be able to ride the horse. Clients want me to do all the riding and training but in my training program here at the ranch I have a couple of trainers, as well as my office manager, and we all ride the horses. Using multiple riders teaches the horses to be more tolerant and forgiving. If other people can’t ride the horse, how is the owner ever going to be able to ride the horse? It is good to have a relationship with your horse, but the horse will be safer and more pleasant to be around if it is accustomed to a variety of riders, veterinarians, and farriers.

Out of the thousands of horses in this country, there is probably one or 2 percent that I would say cannot be trained due to medical, mental or emotional problems. We need to train the mind and the emotions as well as the physical part of the horse. If we do not capture the mind of the horse, we can’t control the emotions. If we can’t control the emotions, it is difficult to train the physical part of the horse.

Some horses may be more difficult than others to train, but I believe that most horses are trainable. We just need to be patient and consistent in our actions, and be willing to follow through. It takes years to develop a finished horse, but it is worth the effort and as you continue to work with the horse, you will develop a better relationship with your horse too.

Charles Wilhelm