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October 17, 2018 4 Comments
Does your horse need breathing space? By Don Jessop
How do you know when a horse needs a break?
In my twenty years of experience training and teaching in the horse industry, I've begun to notice an important pattern. One that I feel any horse enthusiast could benefit greatly from. I call this pattern, "the rest window."
The word window describes a specific amount of time in which a specific task can be repeated. Repeat the task too early and the horse feels trapped, claustrophobic, or criticized. Repeat too late and the horse forgets what you're even doing in the first place, causing you to start the whole process over.
Most trainers are smart enough today to realize that a horse needs a break, and rewards for their effort, even if they don't perform perfectly. Horse trainers who don't realize this, are stuck in an old version of the horse industry I call "horse slavery." It's a big nasty phrase that describes all too many horse trainers of the past, and some in the present. We know horses need breathing room! But how much breathing room? How big is the window?
Imagine you just asked your horse to canter two circles on the ground in preparation for riding. You know he needs a break and reward for achieving the task, but you also know that you must ask him to canter again, and soon because he simply didn't perform in a manner that would set up for safe riding. Perhaps he bucked or pulled on the line too hard. Before you ask him to go again, you must ask yourself, "How long do I wait before asking him to canter again?
Answer: no less than 30 seconds, no longer than 120 seconds.
Remember every horse is slightly different, so no answer is absolutely perfect. Horses need just enough time to feel like you recognized their effort, but not too much time to forget about the job at hand, and this window between 30 seconds and 120 seconds, is nearly perfect for the average horse.
Some horses are quicker, and some are much slower, so feel your way to success on this topic. But never forget... your horse has a beating heart and brain that sends all the same chemicals through the body that our brain does. That means she experiences all the same emotions. Science has shown us that horses have the brain of a four-year-old human child. I think it may be more like a two-year-old human child, but even still... the emotions are present. Which means our training must be considerate of those emotions. Your horse does need room to breathe and think, just like us.
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To your success,
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