Dogs, horses, humans—we’re all malleable, but never more than as youngsters. Our early years are so terribly critical. It’s why the folks who take Thoroughbreds off the track, or who fetch neglect cases from the auction, and make them into good citizens in sport disciplines are really so extraordinary. It’s much easier to teach something well the first time than it is to install it as an after-market add-on.

As a horse person who generally has had enough money to get nice young things but not nicely trained things, this has worked out fine for me. I was never someone who started babies, but even getting them at 3 and 4, and immediately thinking about turning nicely, adjusting nicely, taking my big ol’ leg and big ol’ seat, and generally fitting into my program and my style from the beginning means that becomes their native tongue. They are imprinted into my way. My way works well for me, and thus far has produced lots of horses that are both good at dressage and good at life. These horses also seem to do well in their next homes, even ones with people shaped differently than me, or who ride differently than me. That’s lovely. And I’m not unique in this—most dressage trainers follow the German Riding System of leg-seat-hand because it works. Most trainers install things like ground manners and standing at the mounting block and going away from home like a good boy instead of like a feral beast because most trainers don’t want to die.

Read the rest at The Chronicle of the Horse!