Foundation vs. Specialization

What is the difference between foundation and specialization? In our world, the foundation would be the education you receive from kindergarten to High school and specialization would be your college education up to the career you pursue. In the horse world, the foundation would be a horses’ basic education on the ground as well as ridden. The specialization would be the event the horse is trained to do, for example, cutting, reining, jumping, dressage, trail, pleasure, etc. The most common issue in the horse world is putting the specialization before the foundation.

A good foundation, in my opinion, would be a horse that is mentally and emotionally balanced first, then educated with the basics second. I use groundwork to achieve the mental and emotional balance. A horse that is scared, nervous, pushy, disrespectful, defensive, etc. will not be balanced and continuing the education without fixing the balance issue will result in a roadblock down the road also known as a “problem horse”. The groundwork serves to get a basic handle on a horse. When you have control of speed, direction and redirection you gain the horses respect as well as their trust. To balance a horse, you must balance 2 things, your sensitizing and desensitizing. You want a horse that is responsive and relaxed. Initially, when you get them responsive you see anxiety. Then you desensitize to relive the anxiety, but then the horse will lose the responsiveness. Therefore, lots of transitions are required to achieve a balance of responsive and relaxed.

The ability to get a horse responsive and relaxed will then translate to the ridden work. The basics can then be started under saddle. The same principles are applied when starting the ridden work, the horse must be responsive and relaxed. To me, the basics under saddle would be a horse that can bend laterally off slight pressure from the reins. They should move forward at all 3 gaits, walk, trot and canter. The horse should have the relaxation of being on a loose rein while the responsiveness to maintain the desired gait. The horse should be able to softly and responsively yield his hindquarters and forequarters. The horse should be able to back up softly with some energy in his feet. With these tools, now you can go on to teach a horse the job he needs to do. All things we need horses to do revolve around those basics. These are the tools that ultimately build your house.

Most problem horses are problematic because they are missing pieces to their foundation. When I get a “problem horse” to work with, I don’t address the problem, I go back and figure out what the horse needs to complete the foundation. Most of the time, its the majority of the foundation that needs to be laid down, and along the way you have to replace a bad habit with a new “good habit”. Rehabilitating a problem horse, typically takes more time and effort but it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Its our job to teach the horse in the way the horse understands rather than teaching the horse the way we understand. Once you have the tools and the understanding in how horses tick, you can achieve great things!

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