Learning From Horse Trainers

Posted November 4th, 2008

Every now and then it pays to be reminded of basic principles and I got a reminder of this from an unexpected source a couple of days ago. I found myself reading an article giving tips in horse training techniques. The article caught my eye because some of the tips could equally apply to the way in which we train people.

I am not for one moment suggesting that horses and people are the same but that we can sometimes learn from the way in which other professionals work.

There were six main ideas that I liked because they reminded me of the importance of treating participants in the right way in the training room. I thought that I would share these with you whilst at the same time giving my take on how these techniques might also apply to people.

1. Warm the horse up both physically and mentally before starting.

Anyone used to training people will be aware of the importance of icebreakers and energisers. It seems that trying to go straight into a difficult training session without an initial warm up is not productive for humans or for horses.

2. Plan your training sessions carefully.

This is common sense whether training people or animals. It is also important to have a back-up plan in case your approach does not work on the day. We all have off days and we all learn in different ways, so we need a plan that caters for this.

3. Give simple cues.

Keeping cues and instructions simple makes perfect sense. We own a dog and I know from training him that confusing or difficult instructions do not work. The same applies to people. The simpler the instructions and information we supply the easier it is for them to learn.

4. Use positive and negative reinforcement during training

Feedback is important and it needs to be well balanced. If all of our feedback is negative we cannot be surprised if the people we are training lose heart. At the same time feedback that is 100% positive is no use unless justified.

5. Recognise when the horse is trying to make a correct response and give small rewards.

I’m not suggesting that we give a lump of sugar to people when they are doing well. But well placed words of encouragement can be their own reward (e.g. Well done. You’ve almost got it). Anyone who is used to training others will be well aware of this.

6. Know the lesson you are trying to teach and be persistent with that lesson.

This comes back to knowing the purpose of your training and making sure that everything you do is aimed at meeting that purpose. If both trainer and trainee are clear about lesson objectives and are persistent in meeting those objectives then success can almost be assured.

Of course, horses are not people. However, consistently applying these simple ideas must surely apply to training in just about any context.

This article was written by Karl Halliwell who is one of the course designers for Trainer Bubble training resources. Visit Trainer Bubble today to find out more about our Train the Trainer course materials.


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