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March 09, 2021
Imagine needing to collect wood for your fireplace before winter comes. You, being the woodsman you are, drive to the hardware store and purchase a chainsaw. When you bring it home, you find you're quite happy with the saw's performance. It cuts like a dream and work goes by without a hitch. After an hour or two of using the saw, you notice the performance waning, but you keep on cutting because you've got a job to finish. But the performance of the saw continues to fall and you become frustrated with this new saw that clearly isn't as good as the hardware store promised. So you drive back into town and take the saw with, ready to give "what for" to the store owner. When you arrive and begin your clever complaint, the store owner quickly interrupts you and asks if you've taken time to sharpen the saw blade. Feeling like a fool, you apologize and ask for help to sharpen the blade.
In the analogous story above... you are you, your saw is your horse, and the blade symbolizes the signals you use.
Imagine wanting to ride your horse all summer and enjoy the fulness of nature. You, being the horseman/horsewoman you are, drive to the barn and saddle up your horse. For days and days, you are quite happy with your horse's performance. He moves like a dream, responding to every request. After a few days however, you notice your horse's performance waning, but you keep on riding because you've got a full summer to embrace. But the performance of your horse continues to fall short. You feel him getting sluggish, and dull, and you become frustrated with your relationship. Clearly the trainer you hired didn't live up to his promises. So you call your trainer and begin to explain how unsatisfied you are with your horse's performance, but as you start complaining, your trainer quickly interrupts you and asks if you've taken time to reinforce the signals you use. Feeling like a fool, you apologize and ask for help to sharpen those signals.
Question... When you ride, are you using signals or training signals? And... what should you be doing? I don't mean to give you a leading question. It's a question I want you consider deeply. I believe that even the best trainers are sharpening the signals pretty regularly. Perhaps even every ride. But most riders, even great riders, take days off training and simply use the signals like you would use a saw. However, most trainers worth their salt, know that every so often you have to stop riding around and start sharpening the blade. A few days of refreshing the cues and reinforcing the aids always yield great results.
When's the last time you dedicated a couple sequential training sessions to sharpening your horses responses to hand or leg yields? Sideways or circles? Backward or forwards? Shoulder yields or hindquarter yields? Standstill or stopping cues, etc.? Are you stuck in a loop of simply using your horse, or are you willing to practice building up the communication between you and your horse?
Here's are three areas where most people fail to sharpen their saw blades and even inadvertently cause the blade to become dull quicker than normal.
1. When getting on your horse, you allow him to walk off without correcting the behavior. A good trainer would correct the horse, even get off and bring the horse back to the block, then get back on, again and again, until the horse's standstill cues are set well.
2. When asking for for walk, trot, or canter, you accept the gait even when the transition to the gait was poor and dull. A good trainer would slow down and ask again and again until the transition is correct, and only then allow, the horse to stay in the gait.
3. When riding in the arena, you don't ask your horse travel straight ahead on a narrow track. A good trainer consciously practices hand and leg cues to move the horse's shoulders, hips, and nose back to a predetermined track, to reinforce straightness and prepare for upper level maneuvers.
There's more, so much more. Would you like to dive deeper into how you could sharpen the saw? Would you like to learn techniques specific to you and your horse? Join me in the Mastery University and get one on one support. Your first consultation is completely free.