4 common horse training challenges

Tessa Nicolet tells you how to overcome obstacles to learning—and improve your partnership with your horse along the way.

Properly navigating challenges that arise when working with your horse can produce growth in your relationship. Too often, however, those challenges develop into obstacles that neither partner knows how to work through. Below are four common problems with which riders often struggle, according to trainer Tessa Nicolet:

1. Fear

The most common roadblock for horse and rider, fear can make learning next to impossible. “Either the horse [or] the rider has been through a situation where they had an accident or a close call,” she says. This can cause them to lose trust in each other. This isn’t always easy to mend, but Nicolet emphasizes that re-establishing trust is essential. Trust must be present before the learning environment can reclaim its rightful title as a positive place.

Tessa Nicolet says overcoming training obstacles can help improve your partnership with your horse (Kayli Hanley photo)

2. Lack of focus

This problem develops when a rider repeatedly enters the learning environment without a plan. “I see a lot of riders that end up stuck and doing the same thing over and over again,” Nicolet says. The horse eventually becomes disinterested. Progress halts because no new learning takes place, just repetitive drills devoid of fun or curiosity, she explains.  

3. Loss of fun

Fun is an essential element of a healthy learning environment. When it’s forgotten, problems arise. A loss of fun is often related to a lack of focus, Nicolet points out. “If we’re not working toward something and we’re bored, can you imagine how bored our horses are?” she asks. This can be dangerous for a horse and rider because the horse isn’t mentally engaged while working. Instead, he mindlessly moves his feet. When the unexpected happens, Nicolet explains, it can cause the horse to re-engage with his surroundings and respond with fear.

4. Lack of support

The fourth most common problem Nicolet observes is a lack of rider support. How much support is needed will vary, but if riders aren’t being safely introduced to new things on which to work, they can get stuck in what Nicolet calls a “repetitive loop.” “Having some kind of support group, be it an online network or be it a barn family … is really, really important for us as humans to learn and to bounce ideas off of each other and encourage each other,” she says.

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