Tom Dorrance (a legend in the natural horse industry who's sadly not with us anymore) said, "Prepare to a position before you make a transition." What did he mean?
Consider loading a horse into a trailer. Picture the horse standing inside the trailer, calm and relaxed. That position is what Tom would call a "transition." It's called a transition because the horse was outside, and now he's inside. So if being in the trailer is the transition, what does Tom mean when he says prepare to a position BEFORE you make a transition.
What Tom is saying is... being in the trailer is the end result, but there are steps that must take place before you get there. You must teach the horse to first stand in a position in front of the trailer, ready to go in but not in yet. He's saying... don't be the type of horse owner who only asks the horse to go in the trailer. Be the kind who asks the horse to get ready to go... then go.
When I take my daughter to our famous daddy/daughter breakfasts I don't ask her to get in the car two minutes before we leave. I ask her to get ready to get in the car ten minutes before we leave. Does that make sense? I hope so because it's one of the foundation principles in horse training.
If you want to teach your horse to go sideways, to open gates, to train skills like a canter lead, half passes, piaffe, spins, etc., all of these tasks have pre-task positions that must be taught and rewarded before you complete and execute the end result.
Take sideways for instance. You don't want to start pushing sideways across the arena from point A to point B if your horse isn't even willing to stand in a position that's between point A and B.
How about cantering? Would you just kick your horse into a canter without first asking him to raise his awareness to you and raise his energy? Wouldn't you want to choose your lead and prepare for that lead by shifting his hips or lifting his shoulders to one side? If you can see the position that prepares you for the end result (or transition) you will become more like Tom, or more like your favorite horse trainer who inspires you.
One last thing. I'm going to give you a secret mastery tip that not many people know. Here it is...
Secret mastery tip:
The most important thing about positions is... you need to end your training session by either resting in the position or easily accessing the position you want so that the next day will start easier. How you end matters. Take trailer loading for instance: Some horse owners make the mistake of teaching a horse to load into a trailer then exiting the trailer in a flurry. When they come back the next day, the horse doesn't remember the position. What I like to do is exit the trailer, then ask my horse to stand in front of the trailer one last time, even rest there for a minute, before I head back to the barn. This teaches the horse to remember the position before the transition and it makes my next time out ten times easier.
Sideways is no different. If you end, or rest in a sideways position between point A and point B, you'll have better luck next time. Don't be like a novice who gets a few steps of sideways then allows the horse to swing around into a new position. Find a way to rest and reward the horse in position. The only exceptions to resting in position are for fast-paced activities like cantering. For that, you would just want to be sure you can get to the position easily a few times before you finish for the day.
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Thanks for reading and stay safe with your horses.