How to Train your Dragon (or not)

One consistent theme shines through when competitors are winning at a high level. 


Their trusty mounts have strong personalities and/or some quirks, all of them, usually pretty long lists too! 


Lists of things they must have or can’t have.  When the needs on the list are met, they will slay the barrel pattern for their rider with all the fire and fury of a mythical Dragon.


I follow a blog writer called Mark Manson.  He swears a lot and has a pretty strong opinion, so I feel like we would be BFF’s in real life, you know if I lived in New York and I actually wanted that to happen.


His latest release on his blog was “What is the Best Way to deal with your Demons” and he says in his article – “The best thing about a person is also usually their worst thing”.  This applies to horses too.


If you try and fight or eliminate the “negative traits” you think you have in a horse, you are also eliminating the good part of those “negative traits”. 


Every facet of a personality or character has 2 sides.  Not really good vs evil, but more like used for the good or not used for good. 


I have a saying that the pendulum will always swing equally both ways, so if you feel love very strongly, you are going to feel hate just as strongly. 


Great for the people you love but not so great for the people who are going to suffer the wrath of your hate if it gets out of hand.


Stubbornness can be seen as a negative personality trait.  Stubbornness when applied to a project or problem can be an amazing trait, as you will exhaust all possibilities and won’t want to give up.  Stubbornness can be frustrating if a person can’t see the light because they are fixated on the dark and too stubborn to move their head.  It can go both ways.


If you have any experience training people in a workplace, the ones who question what you are teaching them, make the best employees in the end.  It can be frustrating at the time (especially if your ego gets involved), but the people who aren’t afraid to question a process or policy and need to know why, will always make better decisions and have better production. 


Their inquisitive nature makes them look deeper than the surface, this is the same thing with a horse.  They are also the hardest to keep around.  They don’t stand for bullshit and can smell a rat from a mile away.


Listen up, or you may forever be holding your piece.


When is the last time you tried to tell someone something important and they wouldn’t listen to you? 


How mad did that make you?  Did it perhaps bring out your inner “Dragon”?


Good horses tell us a lot and ask us a lot of questions, IF we will listen. 


Horses with strength of character will question you when they feel like something isn’t right or doesn’t feel good for them. 


Sometimes they will question you just to make sure you are 100% sure on your thoughts. 


The problem is most often as riders, we take it as a blow to our ego, that they are “talking back” and feel like we need to train it out of them, get them “listening” or submissive.  


Regardless your level as a trainer or rider, it is easy to get stuck on the path of what we WANT TO DO versus what bio mechanics say THE HORSE SHOULD DO.


We live in a muddled world of barrel racing messages right now. 


Our industry is filled with clinicians teaching methods that they don’t use themselves, endless videos and articles with no foundation or ability for repetition because it is opinions based with no core content. 


One common theme does come up and it is that very rarely is a horses bio mechanics and conformation taken into consideration when we ask our horse to move or do a maneuver. 


I have yet to read one article that tells you to take the horses conformation into consideration before trying the task.


I feel when we do not listen, a bond of trust is broken and that is emotional damage.  We have a missing link in our partnership and resentment can often fill in that place. 


I personally would pick damage a vet, osteopath or chiropractor can fix any day over emotional damage. 


The human eye can’t see how deep the emotional damage has gone or where else it is manifesting.  There are no x-rays or ultrasounds to show us when or if it is repaired.


Maybe your horse is acting like a “Dragon” because they have one of those great personalities and quirks that can take you to the next level, but it won’t be there if you “train” it out of them. 


Learn to listen, to play to their strengths and find training tools for their weak points that will raise them up and build them, not tear them down.


If you haven’t read our article “Bred the Same <> The Same Horse”, sometimes our ideals of what our horse should be doing are tied more to their bloodlines then their conformation and that can be a detriment in itself. 


The Horse released an incredible article in 2015 called “Learned Helplessness” and it is a very important read.  “The ultimate goal in horse training is to end up with a horse that is responsive, safe to be around, and enjoys his work.”


Responsive is not the same as Submissive.


Make sure you are striving for the Responsive.  Find the tools and moves to get your “Dragon” responsive, but still have that firey awesomeness they need to excel in one of the most competitive horse sports industries.

Originally published on The Take Time off the Clock site Feb 10, 2019.