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Foundation Training ©

During the third century B.C., Alexander the Great, who as a young man commanded vast armies and conquered the Persian Empire, became one of those individuals first recognized as a very special horseman. As a young boy, he trained the great stallion, Buchephalus, when his father's trainers had given up on the horse, and, did so with a gentle hand. Alexander, a pupil of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, had been educated on the basis of human ideals and logic. The story of the fiery Bucephalus, tamed by Alexander when all others had failed, is important in that he incorporated vision and tact in lieu of force. The horse was afraid of his own shadow, yet out of all the horsemen in the entire kingdom of Macedonia, only this small boy was able to understand him. Alexander was perhaps one of the most notable examples of striving to understand and work completely within horse's nature. He didn't use a lariat, a round pen, a whip or a lunge line to create an unbelievable level of trust, communication and partnership with Buchephalus.

After all is said and done, there are two, and only two distinctly opposite paths of interaction between horse and man. One uses restraint, absolute control, negative force and comfort/discomfort. Our Western heritage, unique to the entire world, has possibly contributed more than its' share to this widely accepted practice. When horses were cheap and plentiful, it was expedient to "break" them. Bronc busters were generally regarded as a notch above the rest of the ranch hands but often ended up as a "Remudero" long before their expected retirement age. But respecting and holding dear the traditions of a very special era of the history of the horse does not mean that we must blindly accept the training methodology that era used.

William Cavendish perhaps exemplified this mind-set when he stated: "A boy is a long time before he knows his alphabet, longer still before he has learned to spell, and perhaps several years before he can read distinctly; and yet there are some people who, as soon as they get on a horse, entirely undressed and untaught, fancy that by beating and spurring they will make him a riding horse in one morning or a dressed horse in a week. I would fain ask such people whether by beating a boy they could teach him to read without first showing him the alphabet. Surely, they would beat him to death, before they would make him read."

While the philosophical beliefs and insight of Foundation Training go back thousands of years, only recently has this simple method of combining one of the horse's strongest instincts with true freedom of choice into a "hands on" format been available. It does not require a round pen, halter, lunge line or any type of restriction. In fact, optimum results can only be obtained in a large open area when the horse is completely free to choose whether to accept the lessons presented to him or not. In twenty-five years, I have never had one refuse a lesson. Unlike "clicker" training that uses treats, FT utilizes not only positive imprint (approval) on an instinctual level but also negative imprint (disapproval) through the use of verbal/hand cues and body language. This gives the teacher an extensive vocabulary to communicate and greatly enhances the ability to shape the relationship between them. FTX focalizes all the horse's attention on the "teacher" while enhancing the horse's awareness to verbal communication instead of his natural use of and receptivity to body cues. At no time is any type of physical punishment or intimidation used with the exception of self-defense. The following comparison may shed some light into the philosophical differences between our present day, traditionally accepted methods of "training" and what is called Foundation Training.

In the first scenario, a masked stranger jerks you out of bed from a sound sleep in the middle of the night, ties your hands behind your back and drags you to a cage you have never seen before in your life. You have no idea where your family is or the motivation of the stranger's actions nor his intentions. Judging from his demeanor and actions to this point, you have a very dismal, uncertain view of your immediate welfare. He turns you loose (still with your hands tied behind you) and returns shortly with a whip forcing you to run around the cage. He speaks a foreign language so you do not always understand or do exactly what he wants you to do. Occasionally, the bite of the whip when you make an honest mistake turns your fear and apprehension into utter frustration and terror. After doing this several times, he then puts a piece of metal in your mouth with short ropes attached and has a midget climb up and sit on your shoulders. You are unaccustomed to the additional weight and feel very clumsy and vulnerable. The midget speaks the same foreign language your kidnapper did that you STILL do not understand but through the jerking bite of the sharp metal in your mouth and slapping you with the whip, he "teaches you" to do very illogical, strange and sometimes frightening little dances.

In the second scenario, a stranger knocks on your door during "normal" hours, hesitantly explains (he does not speak English very well) that he is new in the neighborhood and invites you over for supper. He IS a stranger, and, as such, your mistrust of ALL strangers makes you feel a little apprehensive. But you ARE hungry and the sample he has brought with him convinces you to accept his invitation. When you arrive where the meal is being served, you are very politely (almost apologetically) asked to wash your hands and face before sitting down at the table to eat. As the meal progresses, you are almost casually informed that it is considered proper at the stranger's house, to sit up straight when eating and never talk with your mouth full of food. The requests, though very sincere and firm, are made in such an extremely gracious manner that it seems a very small price to pay for such an enjoyable "feast." As the weeks and months go by, the visits and the "feasts" become an everyday part of your life and the "stranger" becomes a true friend to be valued and trusted. You actually look forward to his visits. You also find that you and he have developed a third "go-between" or "bridge" language that enables both of you to converse with each other quite easily and comfortably. One day, at supper, he mentions that he has to carry a midget to a friend's house and asks if you would help him. You have never done anything like this before but because of the trust you have in your friend, and his assurance that you can do it easily, you willingly agree to help. At first, the unaccustomed weight makes you feel uncertain as to whether you can carry the midget or not, but with the reassurance from your friend, your apprehensions soon disappear. In time, your balance and confidence carrying the midget on your back grows and it becomes a normal, accepted part of your life. While carrying him, the midget asks you to do some of the little "dances" that that you have learned before at mealtime and even some new ones. You also find that the "bridge" language you developed with your friend is quite an advantage when learning to do the little "dances" and makes it much easier to learn the new ones. In fact, because the stranger becomes so ecstatic and showers you with such praise when you do them correctly, you soon share a sense of accomplishment and thoroughly enjoy becoming extremely proficient at doing them.

It is obvious, even to those who have never touched a horse, which of these two scenarios would be more be likely to produce the highest level of trust and communication and effect a true partnership with the horse. That same scenario would also effect the ultimate level of horsemanship that is not a horse and rider functioning in conjunction, but a separate living entity unto it's own, living, breathing, functioning, working, playing, as one.

The Foundation Training Exercises, (FTXs) were developed by Chuck Mintzlaff of Hutchins, Texas. He operates an Early Intervention (immediate response) Equine Psychotherapy program designed specifically to help severely abused children reorient and regain their lives. The horses used in the program are the only five in Texas certified by Delta Society for Animal Assisted Therapy and they are naturally, Foundation Trained. The program has served several thousand children and maintains an injury free ten-year safety record. The clients learn not only in depth history of equine/human relationships and care of the horse, but complete "hands on" groundwork as well as independent mounted interaction riding the horses For further information, he can be reached at (972) 225-5800 or

~ Antoine de Pluvinel ~

"It never fails that someone who does not work with consideration either destroys his horse's gentleness or teaches him incorrigible vices."

"I concentrate mainly on exercising his mind and his memory, in such a way that I achieve what I want: so that it is the horse's mind which I work the most: the mind of the rider must work perpetually as well, in order to detect all kinds of opportunities to arrive at his goal, without letting any movement passunnoticed, nor any opportunity unused."

"But in so far as the perfection of an art lies in the knowledge of where to begin, I am very well advised in this regard, to teach the horse his first lessons, since he finds them the most difficult, in searching for a way in which to work his mind, rather than his thighs and shanks, while being careful not to annoy him, if possible, and not to rob him of his spirit: since it is to the horse as the blossom is to the fruit, which, once withered, never returns."

Behold the horse, in all his glory and majesty.
His mind so childlike, curious, mischievous yet innocent.
His heart so pure, untouched by the avarice of man.
His body so virulent, quick to act.
His spirit needing only freedom to flourish.
And his soul touched by God in a special way,
to aid the endeavors of man.


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