"Every time you ride, you are either training, or untraining your horse." Gordan Wright
Our training philosophy
"Calm is the answer" has become a little motto out on the farm. I love it! No matter what happens as long as the horse ( and rider) give calm as the answer then all is good. Our horses and riders on the farm will always be rewarded by a calm attitude to learning new skills.
We've been lucky to have some amazing trainers working with us since 2007 and have been able to get a feel for what works and doesn't for our horses. Every horse is very different so they are given the time each one needs to learn new skills. Slowly does it. There is not just one way of training them. Lots of common sense, natural horsemanship, dressage, TTouch, Connected Riding principles/techniques all work together to make sure the horses have a good foundation in the basics. We go to clinics when we can to learn a few more tools to stash in the toolbox that might come in handy one day.
In 2009 I had the opportunity to go to Holar, in Iceland to do an international summer course there on the icelandic horse. There is not one " icelandic method" of training. Training and riding methods are still evolving. At Holar back then they were teaching us a mixture of classical dressage, natural horsemanship, gait training and to be honest a big dose of the basics. We had to work hard on our own bodies and riding skills in order to help the horses too. Icelanders spend a great deal of time when they can training the young horse out in nature where an unexpected encounter can turn into a learning experience. It's a beautiful way of training.
Because we're interested in riding and selling horses as pleasure riding horses we try to introduce the horses to as many things as they might encounter in the real world as possible. Cars and trucks are just normal when you live by the highway and the horses are trained on the farm driveway where there are always vehicles coming and going. A trip to the beach, ponying out another youngster or a fun day with the local riding group all adds up to easy training experiences.
We now outsource most of our training to Australian horse trainers as I don't feel it's necessary to have a gaited horse trainer start our horses. Learning to be a riding horse is more important as are the basics of speed, direction and control. I choose trainers who teach the horse to become confident and train the horse so other people can ride them with ease.
What about tolt? The gait training comes much later when the horse has his balance under the rider and can work on collection without confusion. As long as the trainer does not discourage the natural gaits, but instead encourages the horse to learn the difference between the cues for walk, trot and canter the gaits will come along naturally with time. Its ok for a horse to offer a mix of gaits to start as long as it is going in the right direction and speed the rider asked for. Once the horse is a little better trained we can start preparing the horse for tolt little by little and putting those signals for tolt in place. Its not rocket science and not a set formula as every horse is so different in it's abilities - so sorry no magic tolt button you press that you get it every time the same way with each horse from day one. That's somehow the magic and beauty of the icelandics extra gaits. It's a special learning curve we go on with each horse and once the tolt comes for that horse a HUGE grin usually appears on the riders face. The satisfaction of getting it and finding the special sweet spot that you've been aiming for is so worth it!
We've got young children, so for us safety and manners are very important. Taking the kids out to paddocks with 20 colts and geldings keen for a cuddle wouldn't be very pleasant if we didn't expect that personal space will be respected. The kids & horses know the "chicken dance" - to back away when the little ones ask the horses to do so. Biting and kicking at humans is just not a very Icelandic horse thing to do anyway so is rarely a concern when you make sure the horses know you are there.
Our horses are not started under saddle until they are 4 years old. They might have had a fair bit of groundwork etc beforehand but they have to be physically and mentally ready for riding. They are normally given a break after the first training too, as long as they need but usually 3 months. Sometimes they are begging for us to pick them to go do something at the gate - which I think is a great sign that we are doing an ok job at engaging them as we work!
Having grown up and farmed all types of animals, working with the horses has been lots of fun & not as different as one would first imagine. We've learnt how to safely handle a big group of horses when husbandry work needs to be done, and slowly, stress free as possible we get it all done. Its always a source of amusement that our horses happily load themselves into the cattle race for drenching.
The whole business/farm is very family and socially orientated. With the horses their mental and physical health is very important to us and we approach interacting with them with respect and concern as though they were a good friend or valued family member. Our aim is to then match them to an owner so that a long term partnership can be strong and rewarding for all.
Thanks for taking the time to read this! Amy