In The Delta

In The Delta
In The Delta

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fear-free Horse Training by Neil Davies


Fear-Free Horse Training
Every Step of the Way


Neil Davies

We live in a Hurry Up Quick world, moving a million miles a minute.  We are inundated with information, a constant barrage of data, so much detail, in fact, that there isn’t really enough time to stop and think about what we’re hearing and seeing.

The result of all of this is that, understandably, it takes quite a bit of glitz to get our attention.  We want to be entertained – the more eye-popping the entertainment, the better.  And, because we are short on time, we often look for the quick fix.

And what exactly does this have to do with horse training? 

Go to any equine event.  Watch the “famous” trainers – jumping picnic tables bareback and bridle-less – causing the crowd to ooh and ah and wish they could do that; promising the fast and simple solution to all of our horse related problems.  Just buy their videos, books, special equipment, and you, too, can achieve miracles without putting in any of that pesky hard work. 

Then there are the contests – a group of these famous trainers get together and compete against each other to see which of them can “break” a young, untrained horse the fastest.  These contests generally take place in one day.  Think about it – one day to take a frightened horse that has never been handled and teach it to accept a saddle and rider.  On the surface, at the end of the day, it may look like they’ve succeeded.  But I’d really like to see how that horse behaves on day 2 or 3 or month 2 or 3.

I learned of Australian trainer Neil Davies’ new book Fear-free Horse Training Every Step of the Way from my friend Colin Dangaard, owner of The Australian Stock Saddle Company in Malibu.  Thank goodness for Colin who is pretty much responsible for introducing the Australian Stock Saddle to America.  I confess right up front to being heavily biased in favor of his saddles, wouldn’t ride in anything else, but that’s the subject of another story.

Fear-free Horse Training Every Step of the Way by Neil Davies is unique.  Why?  Because it tells it like it is.  There are no quick fixes, no tricks, no games in horse training.  Sorry about that.

On the surface, Mr. Davies’ training methods appear simple.  One step at a time, advance and retreat, repeat, repeat again. Keep the lessons short.  Don’t frighten the horse. 

The mantra is never frighten the horse.  That means no chasing the horse around a pen, no waving objects to “desensitize” this gentle animal. 

The basic tenet of Neil’s philosophy is teaching a horse to be calm and confident.  It is the foundation for all other training.   And it is achieved by teaching the horse that it is a pleasure to be with you.  Sounds simple, right?  No tricks, no games, no fancy special equipment – just a lot of good rubs.

The book is filled with photographs showing each step of the training process. 

Although much of his discussion addresses starting a young horse, I believe there is no reason you cannot begin again with your own horse.  The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert, a horse whisperer, or famous to follow Neil’s lead.  What you do need is patience and the ability to slow down.  After all, what’s the rush?  Hopefully, you are building a life-long bond with your horse, one that can only be enhanced by teaching without fear.

Which brings me full circle back to my early comment about our desire for eye-popping entertainment.  My concern is that people will not take the time to read a book written not to entertain but to teach.  It seems deceptively simple on the surface.  No one is jumping picnic tables.   But whether your goal is a quiet trail ride (me), a fast gallop in the Malibu mountains (Colin, again) or to one day jump a picnic table, you have to build the foundation.  Neil Davies can show you how to do that.

I do feel the need to address two issues that could potentially bias the American reader.

The first appears in Chapter 11.  Neil indicates that when the horse is relaxed and moving forward, he introduces a rubber garden hose 2 feet long to tap the horse’s rump.  He states that rubber hose is less severe than a conventional crop or stick.  I cringed when I read that so I ran it by several of my horse loving friends and their reactions were identically negative.  This may be a cultural difference.  In the U.S. we’ve all heard the stories about suspects being beaten with rubber hose.  I would hate to see readers turned off the book because of this.  I personally have never tested the rubber hose against a conventional crop but, after reading his book, it is obvious that Neil Davies would not inflict punishment or pain on a horse.

The second is found in Chapter 15, page 150 – “It’s very difficult to gain the confidence of a four or five year old horse that’s frightened of people, or has been left unhandled. There may be exceptions but mostly it’s not worth the effort…..” 

He does go on to state that it is irresponsible to leave a horse unhandled until it is four years old.  And with that, I agree.  However, for me, personally, I cannot accept the statement that it is not worth the effort to attempt to gain the confidence of an older horse that is frightened of people.  Yes, your job will be much more difficult.  But I have seen enough instances of what miracles can occur when a loving and patient rescuer is willing to put in the time with the older horse who has come out of a bad situation.

That said, I heartily recommend this book to horse loving people everywhere.  Go sit close to your horse and read it all the way through.  Better yet, read it aloud to your horse.  It can’t hurt.

Check out Neil’s website Fear Free Horse Training. com for details.