The Six Secrets of Training Successfully

Sarah was thinking.  “I’m not sure I really know what I am doing here” she thought to herself.  “I’ve never really taught a horse to piaffe before”.  “I guess I will just start and see how it goes.”  So Sarah got her horse out and started trying to get the horse to show some steps of small trot while working from the ground.  The horse has no idea what she wants and soon becomes scared and frustrated.  Sarah then became frustrated herself.  “Why can’t the horse just try” she mused.  “Why does he have to make everything so difficult?”

While Sarah continued the inner dialogue she became so frustrated that she started doubting herself.  Then she became angry at herself for even trying.  “I’m just not good enough to do this”.  “I don’t know why I even try.”  “I suck.”  She thought.  Meanwhile while Sarah was losing confidence, so was her horse.

Now Sarah started getting mad at her friend Beth who suggested Sarah start working on piaffe.  Beth obviously didn’t know what she was talking about.  There was no way they were going to be ready for the big clinic next month if she at least couldn’t get some half steps from the ground.  “Arghh.”  She felt exasperated.  Her horse looked at her with mistrust.  “What a great way to start my day” she said as she gave up and led her horse back to the barn.

WHOA, Let’s try over.

While this example is a hot mess, I bet each of us has experienced this frustration at some level before.  Here’s how the piaffe lesson should have gone…

Sarah was thinking.  “Beth really thinks my horse and I are ready to start piaffe training.  I wonder what all is involved?”  “I’m done my barn chores so let me get out that video she lent me and read the piaffe chapter in my new book” Sarah says to herself.  “Wow this looks like lots of fun” she thinks as she does her research.

Then she is reminded of a great seminar she went to about the C’s of Success and starts filling out her pdf from the lecture.  Down load it here: 6 Secrets of Training



(What do I want? What are the steps for teaching it? What exactly am I looking for? Do I understand what I am teaching? Do I know how to teach it? Do I need to research or consult a coach?)

Sarah is finding out these steps in her research.  If she finds she can’t do these steps on her own she will see that she needs help.  Otherwise, she gets a very clear idea of what she wants from the horse in lesson one to lesson fifty. For instance, the first step might be just getting her horse used to her working along side it on the ground or getting it used to the whip.  If the horse already knows that, the first step might be just getting the horse to raise a leg when touched with the whip.  The second step then might be getting both hind legs to lift alternately and then she can start adding some forward momentum.  This C will help you figure out your training plan.


(What exactly do I want my horse to do? How do I break it down into little steps so he/she understands? How should I be asking so that the horse understands? It helps in this stage to write the steps down and think about what you will do if the horse doesn’t understand any one step. Think about how you will make it easier or where each lesson will stop so you don’t over face the horse.)

This is where Sarah will write down all the steps she think her horse will need to start the idea of schooling piaffe from the ground. These ideas come from past experience and from research.  This is also where Sarah might list where her horse may have trouble and what to do about it.  Like what step she will back up to if problems arise.   Sarah will also come up with a plan of where to stop each day.  Now Sarah has a idea of how to clearly explain to the horse what she want and it’s written down for her future reference.


(Practice until the horse has an understanding of what I want by using reward based training to signal when the horse has done correctly. Don’t leave this step until the horse shows clear understanding.)

This is where Sarah and her horse will spend time and energy going through the steps above and gaining proficiency at each step.  Making sure she has a good way to reward the horse when he makes the right move or choice.  This phase will go a lot faster and with less stress if she implements rewards in the training.


(Now it’s time to challenge how well the horse knows what you are asking by asking in other contexts. Ask in different places in the ring, in different environments, at shows, at the trainers etc. Ask with distractions like other horses,windy days, strange noises from the tractor outside. Or even ask for more of the same to increase the challenge like more steps of piaffe. This is really where you set the horse up for failure without making it so hard that the horse loses confidence but helps solidify what the horse knows)

Once Sarah’s horse knows what she wants from the ground, she may up the challenge by asking in the outdoor arena, at the trainers or while schooling at a show.  This may involve asking for more steps or while other things are going on that may distract the horse.  This is the time for Sarah to really solidify what the horse knows in all sorts of circumstances so that she can move to the next step of confidence that will give her the boost to start piaffe work under saddle.


(this is the last steps that grows as the horse succeeds in his lessons and is able to do them in various environments with multiple distractions. Going back to competence training when needed and challenging the horse to solidify the lesson.)

This is the final step where Sarah and her horse start to really become confident and strong in their ability to piaffe together.  Practice and a willingness return to the steps of competence and challenge will really build confidence for both of them.

*many thanks to Susan Garrett for her ideas on success in training.  it is her work that inspired this article as she talks about 5 C’s in successful dog training.