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What is the Rarey Technique?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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The Rarey Technique is a system for handling horses which have become vicious or wild as a result of abuse or poor handling. It uses gentleness and a calm environment to teach the animal that humans are not harmful, and when it was developed in the 19th century by John Solomon Rarey, it attracted a great deal of attention. One version of the Rarey Technique can be seen in the film The Horse Whisperer.

There has been controversy over the best way to train a horse for centuries. In both Ancient Greece and Rome, for example, there was some debate about whether gentleness or brutalizing techniques were the most effective, and the debate continues, although gentleness appears to be winning out. Animal behaviorists have suggested that punishment and brutal techniques are not effective training tools because they teach horses fear more than anything else, while gentle techniques encourage trust and cooperation.

Rarey was an early proponent of gentle training techniques, and by all accounts he was an accomplished trainer. With horses who had not experienced trauma, Rarey advocated a gentle, slow moving technique which focused on building trust between horse and trainer, gradually working up to the moment when the horse was ridden, and always staying calm and respectful. For horses which were difficult to handle, Rarey developed the Rarey Technique.

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The first step in the technique involves tying up one of the horse's legs, so that the horse cannot balance on it. As a result, the horse quickly becomes tired, making it easy for the trainer to encourage the horse to lie down. At no point in the Rarey Technique is the horse forced to do something; the goal is to get the horse to relax. Once the horse lies down, the trainer sits on the animal to immobilize it, and then starts handling the horse.

The trainer may run his or her hands all over the body of the horse, for example, while talking in a low, reassuring voice. Some trainers also expose the horse to various objects. Because the horse cannot fight the handler or run away, it tends to slowly calm down; essentially, the Rarey Technique involves hypnotizing the horse. After an extended session of being handled, the horse is gently allowed to rise and it is rewarded; Rarey claimed to be able to calm a horse after one session, although sometimes multiple sessions are needed.

People who practice the Rarey Technique have noted that the horse often forges a strong bond with the trainer, although it can in theory be handled by anyone after it has been gentled. A major advantage of the technique is that it does not require brute strength, so people of all ages and physical conditions can use the Rarey Technique to handle animals. The important thing is to remain confident, projecting a positive, calm, friendly attitude throughout the session.

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