by Wil & Beverly Howe
Wil Howe Ranch Newsletter, Winter 1999
We feel that a horse’s mind is the most important feature when looking for a performance horse. It is hard to train an animal that does not possess a natural willing disposition. The more difficult the event the horse is being trained for, the more submissive and giving temperament is required, thus making the training experience in preparation for the event easier and more pleasant for both the horse and rider.
When I choose a performance horse, I try to find what I call a "dumb athlete"--a horse that doesn’t ask "Why?" He just tries for you and keeps giving his best under the pressure of work.
A smart horse isn’t necessarily an advantage, as some might think, because they will soon figure out the game and are subject to spend more energy resisting and "cheating" than actually executing the task being asked. A horse with a naturally tolerant, trainable attitude but lacking in ability, due possibly to conformation, may very well out-perform a horse with superior athletic ability, but who has what I call a "bad mind"--an unwillingness to learn or low acceptance level.
A true champion is an individual with a combination of a good mind, desire, and correct conformation, which will allow him to have that natural athletic edge.
In my training program, I train the mental aspect of a horse first and let the physical take care of itself. But without a trainable mind, you might as well be afoot!
Remember, pressure come in all forms. It may be the pressure of show competition, keeping a cool head on a narrow trail on the side of a mountain, or in a parade with unexpected commotions. The requirements of an obedient, well-mannered horse are all the same: well-broke means well-broke, no matter where you are.