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March 05, 2019 1 Comment
People say frustration and boredom are the same things... they are not! Frustration can stem from boredom but so can all kinds of other emotions. A person can get anxious when they are bored. They can get curious when they are bored. They can become responsive and detailed when they are bored. So to say that boredom is a bad emotion is like saying happiness is a bad emotion because it can lead to ignorance or complacency.
It's time to stop labeling boredom as a harmful emotion related to training horses. The reason I say that is, all too many students of natural horsemanship have been told a lie that if your horse is bored, it's because of you're not a creative trainer. They've been told the lie that drilling a horse is bad because it leads to boredom. They think it will turn their horse into a mindless robot. But the truth is drilling (practicing) with a horse can lead to perfection and beauty and safety. They've been told a lie that horses need to be happy all the time or you're not doing your job as a leader. But the truth is horses are like children, they need discipline and focus as much as anyone. Happiness is a byproduct of a balanced overall experience.
The truth is, a bored horse can be a very calm, safe horse. This is desirable! Horses are quite happy to sit around for most of the day and do nothing. So why do people assume they need constant variable stimuli? And when a horse starts reacting when you're drilling or practicing a concept, it's not because he's bored... it's because he's frustrated by the amount of effort required for the number of rewards given. That's something you can easily adjust. Or he's confused with the signals you're giving and is reacting adversely, but you can be sure it's not because he's bored.
By now, some of you are wondering how a horse isn't bored if you keep drilling a task into your practice. You'd be right to be wondering that, but remember, boredom isn't bad. Frustration, pinning his ears, confusion, etc., can be very bad but don't get confused yourself. Pinning his ears isn't boredom, it's frustration, usually related to the number of rewards given for the effort expressed.
All this means one simple thing, semantics are important! The way we define a situation is important. To say boredom is bad often leads a trainer to overstimulate a horse causing frustration and confusion. Horses need repetition, they need simple, easy drills that make sense. They shouldn't be told to switch from one concept to another so quickly.
By now, some of you are thinking, your horse is different. You think he likes lots of stimuli. You're probably right. Lots of horses are high energy types that like constant change. But that doesn't lead to a good partnership. Giving into the rapid changes in your horse's focus, for the fear of boring your horse, is a recipe for disaster. To make sense of this, just think... "Do I really want a highly distractible horse that can't focus?" If your answer is "no," and it should be "no," then why would you constantly indulge in his whimsical focus patterns? Why wouldn't you invite a little more focus and just a little bit more boredom?
When boredom leads to frustration, balance it out with more rewards, less pressure, or more patience, but don't switch subjects. You'll only be training your horse to be unfocused and anxious. Stick with the subject at hand until you get the responses you want, then move on.
In summary, don't be afraid of boring your horse. Be afraid of teaching your horse to be unfocused. Think about yourself. There are times in the day where your routine is boring, but it's also what leads to a balanced calm lifestyle with predictable futures. It's exactly what you want from your horse. There are times you need to add variety for sure, it's the spice of life, but don't get caught thinking you need variety all the time, you'll only confuse the horse and spend years wrestling, a distractible, unfocused, undisciplined horse. You'll look back and see no progress as the years go by.
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