Because horses are individuals and because sensitive, complicated horses are a world unto themselves, pretty much every gold standard for training has at least seven caveats when applied to my specific horse. And it's hard for me to admit that, because like or not, pretty much everyone who's anyone at training horses likes to take it upon themselves to explain to me why I am Wrong and Bad and what I am doing will Ruin My Horse.
|um but great saddle pad. Thanks JenJ!|
Bear in my that my absolute favorite quote about horse training is this: "Any behavior a horse offers is just information about how he feels. The only thing that makes that information good, bad, or indifferent is the importance we put on it."--Mark Rashid.
|almost a year ago|
On our first hard schooling ride outside the other day, Courage and I were once again flailing and leaping across the arena. (Because trotting and changing bend. Omg.) And instead of just responding to it, I found myself feeling like a failure. I could see these ticker tapes running through my head simultaneously:
1) FORWARD is ALWAYS the ANSWER
2) DON'T LET HIM GET AWAY WITH THAT. YOU'RE TRAINING HIM TO DO IT.
3) MAKE IT UNCOMFORTABLE FOR HIM TO DO THAT.
4) JUST KEEP DOING THE THING THAT SET HIM OFF UNTIL IT'S NOT A BIG DEAL ANYMORE
Right? All of those things are good general training principles. Forward is a great thing. Giving up at critical moments is piss poor horsemanship. Not addressing undesirable behaviors frequently makes them worse. Desensitization is the root of domestication. We can all agree on those things.
Well, all of us except Courage. Who remember, is sensitive, complicated, and outweighs me by a thousand pounds.
|not afraid to express opinions|
|no sense doing this faster|
That's more along the lines of "hey depressed people have you tried NOT BEING DEPRESSED? NO? WELL LET ME MAKE YOUR LIVES MORE SHITTY SO YOU APPRECIATE HOW RELATIVELY LESS SHITTY THEY WERE BEFORE".
Right? Like it might sort of work, but the person doing it is definitely an asshole and you don't ever want to see them again.
So back to Courage. He flailed and leaped extravagantly across the (very large) outdoor arena. I got him pulled up with the help of the fence. Instead of kicking him forward and making him rodeo it out or jamming him back to trot and trying to provoke him to flail again, I calmly turned him around, walked off, and repeated what we were doing but at a slower gait. Over and over and over, to show him that he could do it. I rewarded him for trying, and he rewarded me by trying harder.
And then we trotted a small circle and trotted down the long side each direction, did a downward transition, and called it a day. It was the best quality trot I've had all year. I didn't re-address changing the bend at the trot. I didn't get after him for flailing. I didn't move on and push for more.
I'm not the be-all and end-all of horse trainers and I know that. All I can do is what works for myself and my sensitive, complicated horse. In my world, that means it's so much more productive to take a deep breath, slow things down, and explain again from the beginning.
If he's not getting it, doesn't that reflect more poorly on me as a teacher than on him as a student?