4 Things to Remember Every Time You Flat Your Horse

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Whether you’re in an intense jumping lesson with your trainer or casually hacking on your own, we teach our horse every time we sit on it. What’s important is that we use this super power for good! It’s just as easy to train your horse bad habits as it is good ones, and these often happen when we flat on our own. 

Proper flatwork is key to success in any discipline, and it all starts with the basics. That’s why we asked trainer, Margaret Clayton, for her insight. A skilled trainer for top riders on the A circuit, she knows how to develop the winning mindset—for every ride.

Here are Margaret’s top 4 tenets for every ride. 

The Goal is To Train Horses to Respond to Lighter Aids, Not Stronger Aids

Have you ridden a horse that’s dead in the mouth or takes an act of god to get to trot? It’s not fun. While it’s important to be fit enough to achieve your goals, you shouldn’t have to go to the gym until you have the strength of a bodybuilder just to halt or get your horse in front of your leg. If your horse isn’t listening, focus on your technique, not your strength. Learn to use lighter aids, and teach your horse to respond to them correctly.

Horses learn from the release of pressure

Fundamentally, our aids work by the application and release of pressure on different parts of the horse’s body. It’s important that riders learn to release this pressure as soon as the horse starts to respond to it. The release is the horse’s reward. Look for opportunities to release pressure faster and more often throughout your ride. As you increase your awareness of this process, you will improve the communication between you and your horse.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Reward More Than You Correct

Whether it’s an animal or a human, positive reinforcement has been scientifically proven to be the most effective teaching method. Horses are more sensitive than we often give them credit for, and they typically want to do a good job. Each time your horse gives a bit more, acknowledge and praise their try. Repeat the process until you’re where you want to be. Results don’t happen overnight. Even if it’s not your best ride, don’t let yourself get hung up on what’s going wrong. Handing out more praise than discipline will let your horse know when she’s performing correctly, and help build a better lasting relationship with your partner.

Focus on the process, not just the end result

Want to lengthen your trot? Leg yield? Counter canter all the way around the ring? Those aren’t things that you’re going to get right the first time you ask. Instead, make it about the journey. Are you riding better? Is your horse performing better? Are you getting closer to your goals? If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track. Keep up the good work!

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Margaret Clayton is the owner and trainer of Palladia Farm LLC in Libertyville, IL. Her students have won numerous championships and year-end awards on the Illinois Hunter/Jumper Association (IHJA) Circuit, the USHJA Zone 5 Championships, and USEF National Horse of the Year Awards. They have also qualified for and ridden in the USEF Pony Finals National Championships, the USEF/Pessoa Hunter Seat Equitation Medal Final at Harrisburg, and the ASPCA Maclay National Championships.