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July 06, 2021 1 Comment
Don't quit too early! Don't quit on just any, one good note. If you do, you're at risk of frantic feet and mindless responses.
Quit on good notes, yes, but quit on the right mental space for the horse, not just mechanical movement.
People can interpret the saying "quit on a good note" to mean quit on the first good note you get, like the first sign of relaxation on a windy day, but it shouldn't mean that. It should mean quit when the horse actually begins to understand and carry a happier mindset. If you quit on the first good note you see, you may be fooling yourself to believe your horse has got the idea of what you want. But if you persist, and stay in that space, you'll find a deeper truth.
Often, horses give you what you want, but when you ask a second time, they revert to resistance. That resistance doesn't mean you should have quit sooner, it means you did the right thing, digging for a real response. It tells you, your horse isn't in the right mental space yet.
People can sometimes be afraid of drilling the horse and therefore, they are quick to stop early, but its not a drill when you ask a second time, its just a question about your horse's mental state.
Side note: if you ask and succeed once, then twice, then maybe even three times, you should certainly not ask again, because at that point it becomes frustrating to the horse. But quitting early, after just one success, and not testing for a true response, leads to what we call the "one and done" horse.
Confident "one and done" horses need to expand their focus patterns to more than just a few minutes, to be calm minded in spite of boredom and frustration. Scared "one and done" horses need to chill out related to the experience, so doing it more than once is fantastic for them too.
Also, you have to know the difference between quitting and pausing. Expert horse trainers always pause on a good note but they don't always quit. The pause is a type of release from pressure. Long pauses can even feel like a reward for good behavior to the horse. But quitting usually means you're done for the day. I know it's semantics but semantic communication is helpful to clear our heads and engage our leadership skills. Better definitions equal better results from clearer leadership.
Here's a great example to bring home the idea of pausing instead of quitting. Let's say I'm teaching a new horse to load into the trailer for the first time. Let's say after an hour of approach and retreat, and pressure and release, he finally steps into the trailer. That's a good note to quit on right? Not according to what I'm talking about here. To be clear. It's okay to quit then, but not ideal, it's better to pause and come back in a few minutes, and for a few important reasons. The long pause will give the horse the recognition of his effort and encourage relaxation. Quitting will do that too but it may also leave you puzzled when tomorrow comes around and your horse doesn't respond how you hoped. Horses that do things only once are short on attention span. You may find that when you ask tomorrow for the same results, that you never even got real results at all. I hope you can see that it's time to grow that attention span.
To clarify... if my horse goes in once and I pause, then ten minutes later I ask him to go in again with the same patient, kind demeanor we expressed before, and he fails to go in, or worse, resists all or any suggestions I have for him, what mistake did I make?
A) I should have quit on the good one and come back tomorrow
B) I didn't make a mistake. Asking again was the right thing to do. Its normal for the horse to question the second time you ask at this early stage.
If you answered (A), don't worry, we all answer (A) in the beginning. But the reason we should answer (B) instead, is one hint to what makes a trainer masterful.
Here's why... If I ask my horse to go in and he says yes, then we pause for a long time to reward him, then I ask again to see if he's okay with the process and he says no, did he really understand anything about the whole experience? Worse yet, did he learn to be relaxed around the trailer or just move his feet frantically?
You see, if you said you should quit on the first time he goes in, because now you've gone backwards in your progress by asking a second time, you're fooling yourself. Because, if a horse can do something once but not twice you're in trouble. It means he didn't understand the first time. But if he can do it once, pause for ten minutes, then do it again, he will be truly showing understanding of the mental space he should reside in. And that means you don't have to wait until tomorrow to find out that you ended on what felt like a good step but your horse learned nothing.
Summing it all up. End when the horse is in a good mental space. Don't end just because the feet did what you wanted for one brief moment.
Sure it will take some patience, and persistence, and repositioning, but if you stay, you'll find you have what it takes to be a leader that guides the horse with elegance and mastery, rewarding mental calmness and good behavior.
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