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April 26, 2022 7 Comments
Imagine you're going to ride or play with your horse today. Think of the things you want to do... Practice responses to your legs or hands or visual aids, try that new obstacle a few times, practice trailer loading, liberty training, getting that trot circle better, teach your horse to lie down, get him used to the tarp or saddle, teach him to stand better for mounting, transition work, and for most of us, that's just the beginning.
Horse lovers dream up a million things to do with their horse. I think that makes our unique industry so beautiful and artistic. Of course the challenge is prioritizing your tasks and, more importantly, sticking to one at a time.
Horses don't multi task well. I'm not so sure humans do either, yet for some reason we keep trying to get it all done at once. DON'T BE THAT WAY! Your horse survives on minimal information repeated often. Not maximum information stacked on all at once. Let's take loading in the trailer as an example.
For many people the prospect of getting their horse in a trailer is all too easy. For some it's daunting. The horse can be extremely emotional. But the reason it's daunting is because trailer loading is all too many tasks chucked into one. As with anything, the big task can be broken down to smaller tasks, and achievable results can be within your reach every day.
Loading a horse in the trailer requires three things. 1. Calm, responsive energy, lined up at the gate. 2. Calm, responsive energy with each step forward into the trailer. 3. Calm responsive energy inside the trailer. Each goal should be tackled without pressing for the other. One thing at a time.
Number one is simply asking your horse to face the trailer, lined up, ready to go in but not going in. In this position the horse can learn to be curious about the trailer, stretching his nose out and investigating the edges. It won't work unless he is lined up, but it's so simple, so effective, and I'm always shocked how few people know it and avoid trailer loading. It's completely safe and normal to play with step one for days and even weeks before attempting step two. The problem is when you watch a support video you think you have to do the whole thing on day one. You don't.
I wish I could give you this advice. Watch every support video in sections, not as a whole. It's okay to get the overview by watching the whole thing but go back and watch for the step by step functions of the video. Pause the video, identify the step, then give yourself permission to take hours, days, and weeks to accomplish the first step. I mean... what's the hurry? Education with horses should be enriching in every step, not utilitarian. The last thing you want to do with your horse is tell him to "get over something," so you can go have some fun without the burden of his inadequacies.
Instead, look at the inadequacies, label a few smaller steps to achieve the big goal and practice those steps with massive rewards and little distraction. Don't do what most people do. Don't fall into the trap of getting it mediocre then immediately jumping to step two. Don't get distracted by some other thing that also needs your attention. Don't buy into the, "my horse is bored," trap. Stick with one task, broken to a simple form, and repeat, reward, repeat, reward, repeat until your horse says, "I get it. It's easy, I trust you, I'm happy. I'm calm and responsive."
When you finally get to that stage, then at another step. Everything can be broken down, including flying lead changes, vertical flexion, lying down, rearing up, dragging logs, saddling for the first time, half passes, spins, water crossing, you name it. Each goal can easily be made into fun, achievable goals. That's what I call, "Putting the FUN back into fundamentals."
Here's my challenge to you... in the comments describe a goal you have and the first broken down step that you will commit to playing with until it's going well.
I'll start. I want my new rehab horse to carry a kid safely. He can be a bit explosive under saddle in new areas, so it's gonna take some work. My first step I'm going to work on, for as long as it takes, is to get him to perform a basic walk, trot, canter on the ground in a brand new space. Once we get that I'll choose another new space and get the same results. Before long I should see the progress I need to see to build on from that.
What's your one thing you're going to play with? Please comment below.