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Martha Grimes


SMART training

The SMARTIE method of assessing equine training methods.


A bewildering array of equine training methods has flooded the market over the last decade, so many if fact, that many horse owners often become frozen with choice, not sure which method or trainer to follow or believe. Every equine magazine extols the virtues of a different trainer, every course a different way of horsemanship. Many of people have tried a number of different methods with varying degrees of success, and end up finding it difficult to choose which avenue to follow for the best of their horse.


Run through the following headings and use SMARTIE to guide you to your answer about a method or trainer. Be honesty and take time to watch and listen. Ask other people for their experience of a method or ask people you trust to talk about what they really feel about a trainer or method. Don’t rush your decision, take your time.



Ask yourself, is the method of training simple to understand. Firstly, and most importantly to the equine, are the activities of the trainer consistent and easy for the horse to understand. If you watch a training video with the sound turned off can you understand clearly what the trainer is asking the animal? Not just generally but can you tell what specific behaviour by the animal is being punished or rewarded and why? Simple training makes it easy for the equine understand what is required, if you where the horse could you understand? On a second level does the trainer over complicate explanations of the work. When listening to the trainer is it clear on what principles and practises the training is based? Are there areas of contradiction or confusion that make you feel uncomfortable? Does the training method require lots of specialist equipment and training aids or special training areas. Smart trainers keep it simple.



How is the animal predominately motivated to achieve the desired goal? This is a difficult one, and to truly make this observation the correct scientific definitions of Punishment, Response Cost, Negative Reinforcement and Positive Reinforcement are required. By understanding how the animal is actually being motivated to perform, the observer is better able to decide if the training is suitable for them and their equines. Some trainers rely on pressure or avoidance of pressure to motivate the animal to behave, others try to reward good behaviour, some do a little of both. Do not blindly trust the trainer’s words, a good trainer will be happy to be challenged and questioned about their methods. Watch, understand and make up your own mind. Many trainers use punishment and negative reinforcement but disguise them as positive, good and rewarding for the horse; these areas of deception can cause confusion, resentment and greater problems later on. Does the method motivate the animal in a way that you are happy with or that you believe is suitable for your equine? Smart training motivates the animal with positive reinforcement for work well done.



Is the process of learning clearly broken down into small steps that make learning easy to achieve? One of the most vital elements of smart training is that the method insists on shaping the behaviour of the animal involved. This means that the final desired behaviour is broken down in to small, safe, achievable steps that allow the animal to learn easily. These steps might take the form of slowly increasing time that the desired behaviour is performed, or increasing repetitions or time exposed to a scary object. Often shaping happens by accident or without the real knowledge of the trainer. In a smart method, the trainer will always deliberately break down behaviours to achievable steps and ensure they follow the rules of shaping.



Are specific goals created for the animal in training? Without an accurate goal how will the results be measured? To put it another way, if you don’t know where you are going how do you know when you get there? Who during training is given credit for achieving the results, human or horse? Does the trainer celebrate and take credit for the results achieved or do they give the credit wholeheartedly to the animal for its’ ability to learn and to solve the problems it faced? In a smart training programme the equine achieves the results and therefore receives the credit.




Is there an emphasis on how quickly things happen or how fast training can be achieved? Long lasting changes in behaviour take time. Imaging one of your own habits or fears that you have tried previously to change, how long did it take? Did you succeed first time? Where the animal does change its’ behaviour quickly, ask why and ask who gets the credit for this quick change, human or equine? The trainer can create the environment for change but the change its’ self is fully the responsibility of the animal. Time should not be an issue and the animal should not be under pressure to perform at a predetermined rate. Smart training methods allow as long is required for the behaviour to be changed or created.



Does the training method take into account the individual nature of the animal and the human? Each equine/human pairing produces a unique relationship that requires flexibility and acceptance of individual nature. Obviously to create a method of training there must be some guidelines and structure, however if this structure is to rigid and can not accommodate individual behaviour differences and learning styles it may well produce clones not individuals. A smart training method has structure but allows for the individual nature of equine and human participants.



Training your equine should be enjoyable, if the pressure to perform or achieve certain standards removes this enjoyment, ask is this really for you? Is there room in the training method to simply enjoy being with your animal? The training should also attempt to create enjoyment for the animal too. Rewards, such as scratches and food, breaks during the lesson, relaxation and short simulating sessions that are understood easily, help increase the enjoyment. If the training results in battles, dominance or restriction neither the equine nor the human will enjoy the training. It is not just enjoyment of the end result such as riding freely around the paddock but the journey to the goal that must be enjoyable. Smart training is enjoyable for equine and human.


Having evaluated the truth behind the trainer’s words and actions, you are more able to listen to your intuition and trust yourself to follow or walk away.


© Ben Hart 2005


SMARTIE assessment form



Is the method of training simple to understand?



How is the animal predominantly motovated?



Is learning broken down in to small safe steps?



Are specific goals created for the animal in training?


Is there an emphasis on how fast training can be achieved?


Does training take into account the individual nature of the animal and the human?



Smart training is enjoyable for equine and human.



How do you feel?


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