When training my horses, I really want them to be with me and take part the game we’re playing. Of course you’d need to be consequent when educating a horse, but if the horse really likes to ride and likes to work with you, it is so much easier and so much more fun for both.
First of all it is important to vary the weekly workouts for the horses, so that you won’t just do dressage training in the arena seven days a week. In a typical week my horses do high intensity dressage training in the arena three times. Then they’d have one or two days just jogging, simply to keep them supple between the high intensity workouts. One day with only walk-training. Mostly I do that in the arena because I really want the horse to focus on the job – we’re not just walking casually around with long reins and a little chitchat – no, I really want to improve the walk.
The two last days is used in the forest with a canter and maybe a bit of bucking, and then one day entirely off.
Of cause it’s not like 100% percent the same for every horse, but this is pretty much how I like to do it. And I can definitely feel the different when the horses have rested; they’re much happier and ready to work.
So this was a roughly week schedule of varied training day by day. What I find much more difficult, is to keep the horse focused and motivated during a normal high intensity training. It is important to keep the horse focused and offer it diversion, even though you’re just training in the same arena as always.
First of all it’s important to praise the horse, when he does just a tiny little thing correct. If you are just correcting and correcting all the time, without giving the horse a clue, about whether he is doing something in the right direction or not, when you will pretty fast kill he’s will to work. So every time your horse does just a little thing right according to what you asked him to do, when praise him or give him a little touch on the neck. Pretty soon he will find out, that it means he is doing something right, and my experience is, that it will make him try even harder.
Another important thing is to vary whatever you’re doing in the arena, during your workout. Even though I’m quite a fan of working on the big circle, it’s very important that you don’t just ride around and around. If you really have to stay on the circle for a long time (which is sometimes necessary), then make sure that you’re changing tempo, gaits and rein. The less you vary the more bored both of you get. Therefore try to implement tempo changes, smaller circles, change the placement of the horse's neck (go from normal high in the neck, bring him deeper and then higher again), and then simply change rein. Even small changes will maintain the horse’s attention on your aids and by that make it much easier to make him do whatever you ask for.
One last thing which I find essential for a positive training, is to give your horse realistic assignments. Every horse has got its’ strengths and weaknesses. An example could be my own top horse, Atterupgaards Cassidy, he really likes to do the one tempies and I can almost feel him smiling, whenever I allow him to make the 15 one tempies on the diagonal. I want to use this, his strength, to commend him after we have made something that he is not that funned of, in this case piaff and passage. He has developed enormously on this point, but especially in the beginning he had a hard time understanding what I wanted him to do. Therefore we often did some piaff/passage work and whenever he did a good job, he was allowed to do something he is very good at: one tempies. In that way we tried to make him more confident when practising his weaknesses.
This also applies when working with younger horses – try to only give them tasks that they are ready to handle. If they get too insecure when training, nothing good will happen. Therefore try to mix the training, so that it varies between something the horse finds easy and difficult, in that way you maintain a confident, happy and motivated horse.