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July 11, 2022 4 Comments
Simplify your day with less on your plate. I mean your horse's plate. When I started training horses a million years ago, I joined a natural horsemanship program. I loved the program in many ways and still do.
Many moons ago. There came to be a game we played. It was called 7 games in 7 minutes. We had to demonstrate all the techniques we knew in less than seven minutes and as fun as it sounds... it also created quite a bit of tension in the horses when asked to perform. Why? Because asking a horse for too many things all at once is confusing.
Here's what we know about horses. They think, emotionally, like a four-year-old child. Distracted, anxious under pressure, confused easily, etc. Imagine being in preschool where... on day one you learn about the "ABC's" only to find out that on day two you have to remember them and recite them perfectly plus learn you times tables or else there will be no lunch break for you, or worse, severe berating from your teacher. Can you imagine that kind of pressure? Believe it or not, we inadvertently put our horses under that kind of pressure all the time.
We put them under pressure because we often forget that just because a horse can "do" something, it doesn't mean they actually "get it," or have "learned it." So, when you do you know if a horse really learns? It's easy to think they learned because... when you ask, they respond. But do they really know it?
Luckily, it's easy enough to find out. Take the rope off, take the bridle off, take the fence away. Take away the strings on the puppet and see if the puppet still performs. It's a crude illustration but it lends to the truth about deeper learning not just surface learning. When we played seven games in seven seconds we were playing with a puppet on a string. Really, all we were testing for is how good the puppeteer is, not how much the horse understands and is okay with.
Again, sorry for the crude illustration. All I want to do is suggest that a horse learning can be just as enriching as a horse doing. A lot of the value horse people get up front is in the satisfaction of maneuvering a horse through space and time, but master trainers look for something more, something magical. In the human world, we call it "understanding."
But to accomplish such a worthy task requires a few special skills. Namely, don't stack on the tasks all at once. Learn in layers. Learn something so well that you can perform without any extra support from a stick, rope, bridle, fence, saddle, you name it. Then, only then, add the next layer.
Let me give you an example. Imagine the task Piaffe (generally known as trotting in place). A good puppeteer will guide the horse to move off the bit, and leg and stick, and fence, and whatever tool to start dancing in place. A master horseman will break the task down to the smallest form and truly teach the horse each piece, slowly stacking them together over a long period of time until the horse responds, not out of fear of not responding but out of true understanding and willingness and even happiness because the task is so rewarding and even, if done right, autotelic. Autotelic means the task itself becomes the reward. In the case of piaffe, the smallest, earliest step has nothing to do with the legs and more to do with the balance of the horse shifting. So, teach the balance shift, then the next part and the next and the next until finally, you have a horse performing in peak mental and physical condition. Who doesn't want that? I know I do!
So back to the beginning here. Too many tasks, stacked all together can be confusing. You may be able to manage it because you're a great horse manager. I know lots of great horse managers that call themselves trainers. But what about the horse's experience? How much does he/she actually absorb in the managing process? I think it's kind of an important question, don't you?
Food for thought... Learn in layers. Be okay with slower progress and find the value and enrichment in your experience with horses based more on their understanding and less on their feet and body moving mechanically through space.
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