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May 16, 2023 1 Comment
Have you ever been frustrated with your horse when it seems like he or she won't do something you're pretty certain they already know how to do?
Well... first of all, don't forget to add this to your reading list. "One thing you should never do with a horse." Now I'm going introduce an interesting phenomenon that most people have never heard of but most everyone has certainly experienced. The best way for me to introduce this wild feature about how horses learn is through a simple, memorable poem.
When it comes to doing things with horses, we often have this experience...
One, two, we can do!
In other words, we succeed, then moments later, when we ask for the same task, we fail. This can be one of the most frustrating experiences for people. Most often, when it happens, people second guess their leadership, often wishing they hadn't asked again. But fear not, this is not the end of our poem.
One, two, we can do!
Three, four... not anymore.
Five, six, now it's fixed.
Seven, eight... not so great.
Nine, ten, we're back again!
The poem, in its entirety, describes the natural peaks and valleys of concentration and success. When we dive deep into human learning, we see the same phenomenon. It seems we all grasp a certain part of success then fail to grasp it moments later. It's like our brains never perfect something until we've tasted all the imperfections. Horses are no different.
The important thing is to remember that learning has peaks and valleys and it's okay. It's best if you end on a high note, but not horrible if you have to go through a low note to get back to another peak. The point is, it's inevitable, so why be frustrated? Flow with the peaks and valleys, seeking another high point. Your horse isn't being a jerk, they aren't sticking their tongue out at you when you fail after you succeed. They aren't questioning your leadership. They are learning. This is a natural learning experience. Dig deep inside your own psychology and discover the same simple truth.
Now you're free, now you can guide your horse to success, through the failures instead of being upset by them. Once we learn the cycles, and they do differ slightly from the poem for each horse, we can optimize our horse's memory. In other words, sometimes, it's best to end on the first high note, but if you really want something to stick in and improve sooner, you can choose to go through a valley or two on purpose, knowing you can reach other high notes and end on that. By going through the valley, you make a stronger impact on the importance of the task. And our horses see us as someone who is persistent and cares enough not to end on a bad note.
But..., in case you do decide to go through a valley in search of another peak, be patient. Recently I stood next to the horse trailer with a student who was asking her horse to enter. She tasted some success early, then naturally, we entered a valley. Within a few minutes I could sense she felt like quitting. She felt guilty she'd asked for more. I kept encouraging her to stand her ground, calmly, don't escalate, don't make the horse feel bad, and don't back off. Be grounded and certain that this is simply a valley, and the peak is coming soon. It took about twenty minutes before the horse settled into the communication again and took that next step forward. Within the hour, she had her horse calmly standing in the trailer with all four feet. In that session we experience three or four valleys.
In the end, the horse was not upset, not sweating, not frustrated, and neither was my student. We experience true learning together, imprinting knowledge without frustration. In my world, I call that freedom. Free from the rules of the past and fear of being perfect. It's what progress should be about. Simple, relatable, and real.
I want you to remember the first two lines of that poem. It will take the edge off you anytime you need your horse to do something more than once. It will make you stand out as a leader in the industry. In my opinion, the leaders I trust the most, are the ones who calmly seek progress and never show frustration. It's like they trust progress is just around the corner in spite of the current display of uncertainty by their follower.
Memorize the poem and keep it close. Thank you for reading and please comment below.
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