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Am I Finished Yet? Continuing Horse Training By: Steve SikoraSteve Sikora Horse Trainer

How long does it take to finish a horse? This is the question that I hear quite often. While it seems like an easy thing to answer, I feel that my horse is never finished. It could be said that a reining horse is finished if it were to win the futurity, in that case the answer would be three years. Or if we are talking about a trail horse, it may be considered finished when it crosses water, doesn’t spook when a deer jumps up and keeps perfect footing on thin steep trails.

Why then would a horse never be finished? To me finished means that there is no more to learn, no more to experience, it means the end. If I am not improving something on my horse, I am loosing ground. When I ask my horse to do just a little better transition, we are both moving forward. By accepting whatever my horse does, and it may have done it pretty well; I have given up on moving forward, and I can only then move backward. Each time I ask any horse that I am riding for something, I want it to be a little better than the time before. By constantly raising the bar, the horse will keep improving. Age does not matter when teaching a horse, horses can learn well at any age. The limiting factor in the level of performance is the horse’s health, and I would not ask a horse that is physically unable or would be physically compromised to do more than would be healthy. This would not stop me from asking the horse to make a better turn that is off of the bit with a soft neck.  I once bought an eighteen-year-old Arabian that was “hard mouthed” and had not been out on trail or loaded into a trailer in a long time. She became a great trail horse and would go anywhere I wanted off the bit and fluid in her movement. She had just been given up on. They felt she was too old to change. I never did get her finished, but she became a good friend until she died in an accident at twenty-one. 

 I have never seen a horse that has learned all that it could. Just as I have not learned all that I
can. This is not to say that you would want to teach every horse everything all at once. When training to show in a particular discipline, often it is better to stay with elements that will help in that discipline so as not to compromise the horse’s consistency. What we can do is to take a horse that was thought to be finished as a rope horse and make it a good trail horse. It may take time as it may not have had spook work done or been out on trail before, but the journey is what makes it fun. I have recently worked with a horse that had been trained to be a reining horse, her new owner wanted to take her out on trail and found her to be very nervous. While the show ring was very comfortable for her, the trail held many items that to her were frightening. She is becoming as confident on the trail as she has been when showing; all she needed were the tools to get there. And while she was considered a finished horse, this new work has offered her new challenges and helped her grow emotionally.

Each day that I work with horses, I learn something new. I am not yet finished. The horses teach me about themselves and guide me to new ways of helping them to learn. What was considered the best way yesterday might not be the best way today. Taking the time to help yourself by attending clinics and demonstrations will help you learn more. Constantly learning new techniques and improving the way you work with your horse will get you both to a higher level. Maybe even a level of communication that you previously thought was only possible if your horse was finished.

Steve Sikora is a clinician and trainer located in Chandler, AZ. Steve may be reached at
602-625-1961, through his web site at or
emailed at

Another article by Steve Sikora you may enjoy.
Way To Go By Steve Sikora Using Your Legs for a Light Responsive Horse

Contact: Stephen Sikora
15805 E. Lonesome Lane
Chandler, Arizona 85249
Phone: 602-625-1961

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