The American Saddlebred
Exploding The Myths
Part II- Training
by Cheryl R Lutring
This article is not a 'How To Train A Saddlebred' feature: I am certainly not qualified to write such a piece. However, in my years of campaigning my five-gaited show mare, Rare Visions, here in the UK, I have been asked a number of questions over and over again about how Saddlebreds are trained. It is a puzzle to me how people who one minute profess never to have heard of the breed, in the next breath are asking about things they've heard with regard to training tactics!! However, it appears that often they are muddled, and are confusing things they've heard about other breeds. Anyway, as little is done in America to forestall the gossip and misunderstanding, perhaps it is time someone out of America made an attempt to clear the muddied waters a little!
I approached some of the difficulties in my first Exploding the Myths feature for Joy of Horses, so will continue and expand the items from there, but have to say that there are as many ways of training Saddlebreds as there are people training them. I only seek to offer a general description of the mainstream approach.
Myth No.6: Saddlebreds are forced into an unnatural outline and way of performing.
Answer: A young Saddlebred destined for the show ring will display all the right physical qualities as a weanling. The few that do not show those desired attributes will most likely be sold off to the hunter/jumper market - just as will a Thoroughbred who shows insufficient speed for racing! (In fact such Saddlebreds are competing very well at regular disciplines but their identify is not being acknowledged).
Compare these silhouettes:
In this way it is pretty certain that only the Saddlebreds with the right breed standard conformation and attitude will become the archetypal Saddlebred Show Horse.
The Saddlebred, although patient and amenable, will not respond well to being 'forced' into anything. It is essential that his persona in the ring is happy and eager - anything less and he will not win - and forcing him will undoubtedly ruin that. At no time in its life does the training of an ASb revolve around endless drilling, or brain-deadening routine. He is taken from his stall and worked for 15-20 minutes if he behaves well and does good, a little longer if a problem has to be sorted out. The rationale behind short training sessions is that the horse will keep his alert and animated attitude and not become down-trodden and bored by the repetition involved in long sessions. Disciplined alertness is the aim, not servile dullness.
Myth No.7: Well very odd methods must be used to produce that posture and motion.
Answer: Motion is inherent in them; so is high neck carriage - being the result of conformation rather than training. Often the anti's can be heard saying "who wants to ride a horse with his head in the air and his eye on the stars", well up-headedness in the Saddlebred context does not mean a star-gazing head carriage: they have superb flexion at the poll and look straight forward through their bridle to where they are going. Training simply enhances these virtues - just as the schooling of other breeds makes their trot more balanced, their jump more controlled etc.
Obviously because the required end result is different to that of a hunter type, so must the approach to his education be different.
A young show Saddlebred is often first introduced to his craft by learning to be an in-hand horse. Adult Saddlebreds are not traditionally shown in hand, but are as weanlings and yearlings. At home the youngster will be taught to lead from the headcollar in the normal way; then he will be taught to show himself off in trot. This is done on a long lead line with the colt allowed to prance around some distance from the handler. They are taught not to barge in front but to remain parallel with the handler. A second handler is allowed in the ring with the 'entertainment' - this can be a white bag on a whip, a streamer in the hand, a 'clicker' device held like a castinet, or anything that at home has been shown to interest the colt. On seeing, say the streamer, the horse will perk up even more, flag his tail, stretch his neck up, prick his ears, concentrate his wide eyes on the streamer. This look is what the Saddlebred world is seeking - and will be the mainstay of the show horse image throughout his life. Please note the horse is not frightened by, or struck with, this device - it is merely waved (or clicked) about some 20 paces in front of him. Tossing a shower of talcum powder in the air works for some horses.
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