Training Takes Hard Work, Not Stuff
by Mark Bolender
Magic for sale! I have a Mountain Trail video that will make your horse perfect on every obstacle. I’ll sell you this magic bit to give your horse the perfect head set. How about this magic training halter that will make your horse lead perfectly? Look at this saddle pad—it fits like magic and your horse will work much better. Hurry! Buy this stick with a string before the supply runs out; it’s truly magic when it comes to horse training. Magic horse for sale! This horse does everything perfectly.
We humans are funny, impatient creatures. We love our horses but we would love them to be perfectly trained and become world champions by tomorrow! Since that doesn’t seem to happen we are always looking to purchase the magic halter, stick and string, perfect bit, saddle, training DVD, or find a clinician who will end all problems. The bottom line? There isn’t any magic, and anyone who tries to sell you “magic” is a fraud.
The only magic I know of is hard work and persistent horsemanship. To find magic we need to humble ourselves, study the horse, and begin to understand that this majestic animal is not human. Its ability to read us far surpasses our ability to read it. When we train horses to navigate obstacles we must understand that their instinct says this may be dangerous and should be avoided at all cost.
Recently, while teaching a clinic in Pahrump, Nevada, the majority of horses were scared of the water pond and water box. I was not surprised, since most of these horses had only seen water in a bucket or water trough. However, with persistent coaching and encouragement every horse conquered its fear of water. When it was over, each horse took the time to play in the water. Was it easy? No, it was hard for the owners, myself, and the horses, but our goal was the betterment of the horse. When we were done, every horse was happy.
Much of training comes down to timing with pressure and release, plus the horse must believe that you are above them in the pecking order and trust that you will protect them. At this same clinic, I was asked to demonstrate how I train a horse to cross the swinging bridge. There was a horse there that had never been exposed to the bridge and was scared to death.
I first established my Bolender Bubble and then asked him to step a foot up on the center of the bridge. He did, and when the bridge moved he immediately drew back. I held my ground and asked him to try again, which he did. Even though he was shaking, he held his foot on and soon placed two feet on. I asked him to try again and he jumped up and over quickly. He looked to me to see if he was in trouble and I assured him everything was fine. There is no discipline needed as long as the horse tries.
Soon he was stepping up and over in a calm manner. When I attempted to send him from the center of the bridge to the end of the bridge he would not go, even though he was standing on the bridge. At this point I changed up my normal plan and took him to look at the end. This seemed to reassure him enough that he soon was able to go halfway to the end.
At this point he was locked on to me and was trying to please—even though he was scared. In short order the horse was calm and walking over the bridge. By forcing this horse to address his fear, I was able to have the horse become bold and confident. There was no magic involved, just good old-fashioned horsemanship.
Trainers need to strive to understand the mind of the horse, know how much pressure to apply, and when to allow the horse to think it through using his intelligence to overcome fear of the unknown.
Happy Trails and Bolender Blessings
Mark Bolender is the nation’s leading expert in Mountain Trail, Extreme Mountain Trail, and Competitive Trail. He’s a three-time National Champion and one of the most popular trainers in the country. Today, Mark’s unique style of horsemanship has made the Bolender brand synonymous with these disciplines.
Mark has written for numerous national magazines and authored the popular book, Bolender’s Guide to Mastering Mountain and Extreme Trail Riding. Mark and his horse Checkers hold the sport’s all-time highest honors. Checkers was distinguished by becoming the 2020 Breyer Horse.
Mark and Lee Bolender founded the International Mountain Trail Challenge Association (IMTCA) to promote these sports. Today, the IMTCA trains judges, coordinates activities, and maintains certifications around the world.
Mark owns and operates Bolender Horse Park in Washington State. Mark has also designed and built Mountain Trail courses around the world.