Training and more training

I am frequently asked about our training program for our therapy horses. Mostly people want to know how long it takes for a horse to become a therapy horse. The answer is not a short easy one. I'll try to  go thru a little bit of our process and try to answer the question. I choose a horse based on a color or looks, sometimes size, (smaller for kids events and taller if they will do bedside visits) or if a horse is looking for a new home. Once they arrive I look for several things, are they approachable, inquisitive, and are they of a sound horse mind. It is easy to forget that under all that cuteness is still a horse that thinks like a horse and has to be trained like a horse. We begin by going thru an evaluation the shows me how they react to stress, or pressure. They are usually a bit nervous since they are in a new place, away from their old herd and I am new to them as well. I want to know that the horse has not established as its first line of defense is to kick or bite. Once we make an assessment for that I like to see a horse that is a bit curious. Our training is built on rewarding curiosity in the horse. We try to reward the horses and let them understand new things are good because a reward is associated with it. Steps for introducing new things are very slow and each horse goes at their own pace. After some of the initial steps we work on basic good horse manners, a bit of lead work and some basic commands. The time to master these skills usually varies a bit from horse to horse. Some come with a bit of training and some we start from scratch. Our training never stops, horses need constant refreshing once a skill is learned. We are always going over the basics and then adding in a new skill. Just like people, some of the horses are quick learners and  some need more time. Our Level One horses have had enough training to start going out on very controlled visits with the public. Horses advance thru our levels as they acquire visit hours, training hours and advance in the level of difficulty. For example my Level One horses are not prepared to do a Reds Opening Day event because that is a more difficult visit so it requires hours and hours of more training to be able to deal with all they might encounter at such a large event. I would use my Level 3 and Level 4 horses. The time on average for a horse to start making simple visits is 4-8 months. The time required to become a Level 4 horse is 12 months or more of really consistent training. Of course all of the time is effected by how much you are able to get your horse out and do all the training that has to done. We are blessed in our therapy program to have trainers with many years of knowledge and also have a true love of our horses. Our goal is a well trained therapy horse but most importantly is having a horse that has been placed in our program correctly. All miniature horses can be trained BUT not all miniature horses will make a great therapy horse. Its our goal to pick horses we feel will love their job as much as we do.