Train to Win - Off the Track Presentation

Saturday morning I attended a retraining off the track horses presentation by Jonna. It was a free event, and we advertised it to everyone who might have been interested. It was quite well attended with about 30 people coming to see what it was all about.

Jonna started with a presentation on the theory of what he does, covering basic handling to ridden, and what we are always trying to achieve: self carriage. He answered questions and also asked quite a few questions. it was very interesting to hear the discussion between racehorse trainers, and more recreational riders. The discussion went for 2 hours, and I was riveted, it was fascinating and really helped me to look at the bigger picture of my own horses training and to focus a bit more clearly on a way forward.

After a short break we went out side to see Jonnas work in practice.

It was truly eye opening. Jonna did some fairly basic groundwork with each horse and then hopped right on. Fearless! Some of the horses were very amped and threatening all sorts of shenanigans. Before Jonnas butt even hit the saddle he was testing the horses stand. If the didn't stand he used the reins to halt or step them back (while half on board in some cases) and either continued mounting if they stood, or started again from the ground if they continued to move.

Once on he let the horses walk around, or jog, whatever they were comfortable doing. Only difference was, they HAD TO BE IN SELF CARRIAGE. Horse wants to jog? It can jog in self carriage. Horse wants to trot, no worries, but self carriage.

All the while Jonna was testing if he had stop and go, and was sharpening the horses to the response. Each horses response was shaped in a very particular way, usually by asking for the transition on the same place in the arena, until it was light. Once it was light Jonna would change the context by asking for the transition in a different place. This really tested the horses understanding of the aide.

It was incredible how quickly each and every VERY green horse calmed down when they understood what was expected of them, even the ones who were rearing.

Jonna also demonstrated operant conditioning to the whip. This is something we do with our horses a second nature, so I was floored when so many people said they had never thought to use the whip in such a way. the horse Jonna demonstrate.d it on didn't go off the leg. In the saddle, he tapped the whip behind his leg using quick, but not hard taps. As soon as the horse took a step forward, he stopped. The idea is to be annoying, and gradually increase the pressure. First time it took over 30 taps. Second time it was about 15, and each repetition needed fewer taps.

It was a truly fascinating presentation that highlighted what we should strive for in our training, and how it can be applied to off the track horses. The main take away was that self carriage is the main focus always. If horse wont walk, self carriage at jig, then focus in transitions. Once the horse settles walk, add transitions, then check self carriage self carriage.

After the horse is consistent in one context, change the context (position on the arena, etc). Test responses by doing nothing. Jonna literally did nothing and the horses would go backwards, rear, whatever. He would correct them, and do nothing until they did nothing. Doing nothing was definitely the hardest things for the horses

Jonna loves horses, and is hugely compassionate. Every time a horse got something right he was
 genuine in his joy and praise and he was so happy with how the horse did.

The whole aim of the presentation was to start to introduce some very basics of groundwork and self carriage as the norm in race horse handling


  1. What a cool seminar! Jonna sounds like a great teacher too - of both horses and riders. Some of his concepts sound a lot like the guy I’ve used for help with ground work and trailer loading, and it really works!

    1. Yup, all horses want are clear boundaries. It's when things get confusing for them that they get really worried.


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