When training therapy horses, I use the same techniques I use with any other horse that will allow us to form a connection while still maintaining mutual respect. I find it most effective when I remember these 3 things:
ONE. An important component in training a horse for any discipline is to give the horse the confidence it needs to express itself safely with humans. Safely means free from physical harm, not just for the human but the horse. This is the first step in helping to keep the horse mentally and emotionally feeling safe when working in training sessions - and then during equine assisted therapies and activities (EEAT). I always make sure to work toward fully acknowledging the horse and what is best for them, and that they always take away something positive from each experience. And it never hurts to try to have fun!
TWO. I always work toward a deep understanding of each horse: Their behavior, herd dynamics and body language. In selecting therapy horses, a common trait to look for is a low flight response; meaning a horse that doesn't easily spook or shy away from certain situations. It is important for people to take the time to step back. When evaluating and training a horse for anything, we need to make sure that what you may perceive as a flight behavior, or 'spookiness' could be the reaction of an intuitive horse horse who just hasn't been made to feel safe. Sometimes, it is the response and past experience with humans that have led to this behavior. I find that the fastest way to cure a spook is simply allowing and encouraging the horse to think for himself, reassure the horse, and ensure that the equine is rewarded for doing so.
THREE. The thing that might be most important in training horses, especially for jobs like EAAT, is to have an understanding of the difference between a projection of human traits and emotions, and true equine behavior. They are horses and we love them because they are horses. If they thought just like us and reacted to things in the same way we do, they wouldn't be nearly as mysterious and majestic, which is what makes them so amazing!
Understanding the basics of natural horsemanship and herd dynamics provides a solid foundation to be able to communicate with horses and to get the most out of them. It's not about flexing your muscle and trying to overpower them. Instead, it's all about the relationship and connecting with them in perfect harmony.
Thanks for reading my blog, and feel free to share your experiences!