Around the Water Trough

Think Outside “The Plan”

By Will Kupec, Sugaree Ranch


Will helping a client through an obstacle.

Will helping a client through an obstacle.

It happens every time a horse gets dropped off for training. It has gotten to the point that I can tell it’s coming. The owner turns to me as I look over the horse and says, "What is your training plan?"

My response, which usually makes them turn their heads sideways is, "I don't know yet."

This isn't because I do not know what I am doing, it is the simple fact of I don't know the horse yet. When I started out training full time, I would hear some of the great horsemen refer to the term "Cookie Cutter Training." At the time I had no idea what that meant. I can remember the day that changed. I bought a little mustang named ‘Wichita’ that I began working with consistently. Every tactic I tried didn't seem to be working. I had been training all these horses and here comes this little bay horse who I couldn't get working for me. We worked every day and each day seemed like an uphill battle.

Will working with a young horse over an obstacle.

Will working with a young horse over an obstacle.

I remember talking to my friend about ‘Wichita’ and he said something that clicked, "you are trying to get him to do what you want, but are you giving him what he needs?"

It dawned on me that very moment that I was trying to fit that horse to my program and not fitting the program to him. That next day I approached Wichita in a completely different manner. I didn't plan what we were going to work on, instead, I made up a plan as we were working. From that moment on I started viewing horses as individuals. I hear it all the time, "that horse won't make it in this discipline." I always wonder, was it explained to that horse in a way he can understand?

We as humans all learn differently. Some of us can pick something up in an instant, while others need some time to grasp it. Horses are no different. It is up to us as riders to figure out how our horses learn and explain things to them in a way they can understand.

For example, cutting horses learn and move completely different than Warmbloods in dressage. I have worked with many siblings and each one has completely different personalities and you have to ride and train them specifically to their learning style. Some horses you must be overconfident, while others you have to learn to relax. I truly believe that in order to be a good rider, you must be able to adapt and change depending on the horse you are working with at that time.

Will teaching a horse to work cattle.

Will teaching a horse to work cattle.

There are many ways to figure out a horse’s personality. With anything though, it all comes down to how much time you work with them. It would be hard to determine a personality by leaving them in the barn. I usually determine how a horse thinks by taking them out to the arena and introducing them to groundwork. What happens when I apply pressure, will they handle it well or will they get nervous?

Everyone has their own style of horsemanship. I always say there are 20 different ways to do something and 19 of them are right. Don't stick to a script. If it feels right and you think it might work, try it.

You might start trying your idea and think "the horse isn’t responding to this tactic, let’s try a different route." That’s when I go back to the drawing board and think of something else to try. One of the greatest things about working horses is that no matter how much experience you have, there is always room to learn and improve with each horse you work.