From decades of working with dozens of horses personally, and hundreds more via instruction there are several basic principles that are obvious...
Often a horse's intelligence and generosity are underestimated or simply unnoticed, and when this happens respect for the horse is usually less than it should be.
We start from the position that there's much more to each horse than you initially see. We educate the horse so that we're able to more thoroughly communicate and continue to learn more. In the process we discover more fully who they are, and they let us know what they want to do.
We're looking to produce world-class athletes, but whether they reach that level or not, they will be happy well adjusted, knowledgable individuals.
At the beginning all our horses learn many of the same lessons I teach to other riders. I refer to it as "the A,B,C lesson". Essentially, it's teaching the horse what aids are and how they should respond to them. The analogy is you start with the alphabet, which then allows you to construct and use words, then sentences and eventually paragraphs full of nuance.
It's always surprising how many horses muddle through without a coherent system of communication, or understanding what the objective is... they're far smarter than that.
Once we've got a basic system of communication we continue to build on it and while we add more vocabulary, we're able to help the horse understand how it should use itself. It's the basics of flatwork, and it has very little to do with posing in a frame that a dressage judge may find pretty.
From the start, I'm assessing the horse in terms of physical strength and the ability to use their body in certain ways, the mental speed and what tone or approach is most effective in helping the horse comprehend.
The goal at this stage is for the horse to enjoy working properly at an appropriate but high level of output... I'm not wanting a lazy trail horse after all.
Most horses need a few weeks of consistent high performance (relative to the horse of course) to establish not just an optimal way of going, but also a work ethic and confidence in themselves and the partnership.
Everything has a 'forward' focus, physically engaging the horse as much as possible, which in turn helps develop the mental focus.
Along the way, we're getting more nuance in the aids and learning to compound things, such as let's go forward and side-ways at the same time while carrying ourselves in a solid frame.
This stage also goes a long way to cementing a trust in the rider that everything is always fair and achievable.
There's always glitches with training, but if the system is methodical and closely monitored, more often than not, they can be foreseen and in many case eliminated. Worst case scenario, they're addressed immediately and don't develop into anything more. The fact is these glitches will often give you more insight into the horse and priceless training opportunities if they are used wisely. Learning from mistakes on multiple levels.
Additionally, we start popping over obstacles, actual jumps and fences using the language we have developed and the same direct and simple approach.
I developed an approach that recognizes the intelligence of the horse and applies the education they have so far. They enjoy jumping because they understand what they're doing, they know how to use themselves properly and they are tuned in to suggestions.
Horses ride out on trails, and other venues outside the farm, attend schooling shows and learn that it's really not a big deal. When they're ready, they start showing at an appropriate level and then only move up when they are ready. This isn't because they have done X-number of shows or have won this thing... it's when there is more to be gained and very little being risked by seeing more.
Progress will be what it will be, but I prefer the exponential curve and I'm patient enough to wait for things to take-off.
Why try to put a round peg into a square hole? Either something snaps or the whole thing falls apart when it gets rattled. Different disciplines require different strengths - in terms of technical skill and physical ability, and in regard to aptitude and attitude.
With the facilities and expertise to assess and develop horses, we routinely find that each horse is fairly clear about what they want to do. That said, some may need the occasional nudge, or time and consistent work to show all of us what they want to do.