Balance is a common word with horse trainers. Most of the time it’s used when referring to how a horse can use their body most efficiently. I think it can go further into the training aspect, as well as, the horseman and showman side of having a balanced and complete program.
I start with a balanced feed and farrier program that I have confidence in. Both are equally important to me. The quality of the feed will help to balance a horse’s overall look, the way they act, and their level of health. Depending on what a horse is being used for will help to determine the type of feed and the quantity to feed. Performance horses burn a lot of calories, so looking at the macros available in the feed is something that can be considered. Having a good farrier has allowed me to build a solid program without any nagging issues that can delay progress. The phrase no foot, no horse is a real thing. If a horse in my barn goes lame, I lose money and the owner loses money. It’s important to have a good farrier that knows my program, and, together, we make decisions that will best fit each horse.
As a trainer, I must make sure the horse is fit enough for the job at hand; that the horse understands what work is; and that I’m not “going away” until he makes an effort to improve. It’s my job to balance what and how I ask for things based on what I know about the horse’s past experiences, age, temperament, environment, distractions, the owner’s wishes, and whatever the end game might be. Available footing or even the gender of a horse may change the way I have to treat them. It’s about balance.
A horseman’s perspective is similar, but can go further, yet. The best way I can describe it is like this, always train the weakest side. This means whatever isn’t working well, work on that. It’s a horseman that recognizes where he is at in a program with a particular horse and can make the judgement as to what is important and what can wait. Such as, what has to improve now, or what can wait until spring versus what to work on over the winter. During a conversation with another trainer I respect, I said I was having trouble getting a certain horse to spin to the left as well as it did to the right. He just laughed and said, “welcome to my world.” It was encouraging to me, because I thought that I had a flaw in my program that I hadn’t been able to fix. What I took from that conversation was that we all struggle with the same things. That’s okay, if we recognize the imbalance and do everything we can to overcome it.
How do I balance the showman side of my program? It is not that complicated to me, because everything that I have said, so far, still applies. However, it is easier to make more sense of it after taking horses through each part of the process. In the show pen, judges look for balance in several ways. Balance in a pattern involves consistent and even speed, symmetrical circles, and utilizing the arena correctly. Balancing the showman side involves the train smart, show easy mentality; putting in good work at home, so the show pen is easy. This balance transitions to all disciplines and styles of horses. A horse that is pushing on the bridle looks like it is pushing on the bridle, is not pretty, and doesn’t look balanced.
Balance can entail more than just correct body position in horses. Horse training involves the mechanical side – right rein, left rein, legs, etc. – but when your mind can wrap itself around balance in its entirety, you can go from a mediocre horseman to the real deal. I will always be working on it.