This post is going to pick up on yet another thread of patience; honestly assessing our progress. I will assess or evaluate my progress with my horse on a regular basis and use this feedback to adjust my training strategies. As anybody who pays attention to their horse knows, they are incredibly sensitive animals, they can feel a mosquito land on their butt in a windstorm and they are brutally honest in their feedback. If you rushed something in your training, resistance will show up in the horse. If you got frustrated and angry at your horse, you might see a fear response. If you were too harsh with the bit or crop, then tension will be on display. Horses are also very forgiving and you can fix most of these issues if you can honestly assess yourself. This is where the patience comes in.
In my day job that pays for my horse addiction, I teach 7th grade Social Studies and coach Football and Wrestling. There is a lot of spillover in teaching kids and horses, and spillover in the purpose of assessment. I use formative assessment to get feedback in order to adjust my teaching. When I teach a new concept or skill to my students and they don’t understand it as I have presented it, I have to recognize that and adjust how I am presenting or teaching. I will dig into my teaching tool kit and come up with more ways to teach it so more of my students will understand. This can be a tedious and time consuming process but one that is necessary to effectively teach and reach all of my students. Sometimes I come up with the effective strategies; sometimes I shamelessly pirate strategies from other professionals. I make no claim to being a creative genius; I stand on the shoulders of giants. I view my horsemanship the same way.
Teaching or training (no difference) a horse is much the same concept. If my horse signals confusion, tension, resistance or anxiety then I need to adjust what and how I am asking. I might just take what I am asking and cut it in half. If it is still too much, then I cut it in half again and again until I get understanding or a try. So often I hear ‘stupid horse’, or ‘he should know this, we have been over this a hundred times before’. Horses never forget, but today is a different day in many ways than yesterday. Whenever I work with a horse I tell myself that I need to ‘work with him from where he is at, not from where I think he should be’. If that means that I need to spend 15 minutes reviewing shoulders-in from the ground, then so be it. Or maybe I have to jump off his back and work on a hind-quarter release part way through a training session. This extra time you spend will pay dividends in your relationship with your horse which is why I start every training session or recreational ride with 10-15 minutes of ground work. Ground work done properly helps to communicate to the horse your expectations and intentions much better than hopping on their back. It gets them in work mode and some horses need that preparation physically and mentally. Bottom line is that I have to honestly evaluate myself and my effectiveness with the horse. Another way to think of it is to view the horse as an evaluation tool for your communication and teaching skills. If you don’t get it right the first time, so what? Change it and move on, don’t get stuck and don’t beat yourself up over it. Be patient with yourself.
To truly and effectively train a horse and make lasting changes, it takes a lot of time and a lot of perfect practice. Most of us don’t have the time that the ancient masters had to work with horses on a daily basis, so our training is going be a lot more incremental. It might be downright ugly at times but I encourage you to keep at it. Persistence will pay dividends in the long run.
One of the training tools that I use with every one of my horses is a garrocha, which is Spanish for pole. A garrocha is a 13’ long pole that the Spaniards traditionally use to work cattle (instead of the lariat). I don’t use it to work cattle but I do use it to help teach bending, circles and lateral flexion. There are a lot of traditions in the proper use of the garrocha and while I respect and honor those traditions, I have modified its use somewhat. The reason for this seemingly random divergence in the article is to give you background for a video link. This brief video shows me riding a Trakehner mare, Fancy, that I was training. This mare struggled keeping her focus on her rider. Often times what was being asked of her by her rider was met with resistance in the form of bucking, tail swishing, ear pinning, and generally the mare being unhappy. Saddle fit, tack and mouth issues were ruled out first. It took me several weeks for this mare to accept the garrocha and actually listen to what I was asking. Even after all that time and effort it looks rough, but I am pleased with how far Fancy progressed and I know that I made a difference in this mare. Some folks might look at this video and find a lot of faults, of which there are plenty but without knowing where we came from and our goals, that wouldn’t be a very realistic or fair critique. So I offer this to you as encouragement and an example of patience and careful assessment. Celebrate the success, honor and reward the try and learn from mistakes and setbacks. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh90LY9Fwdo
Thanks for reading