Friday, August 14, 2009

Festina lente

German: Eile mit Weile
English: Haste without Waste

If ever there was a maxim that applies to horse education, this is it!

What is a horse owner's first question when sending a horse for starting to a trainer? A wise trainer will reply that it takes as long as it takes, because it depends on the horse.

Haste in training usually leads us to not giving the horse enough time to be OK with things or to skip necessary steps altogether. We miss the little signs that should tell us the horse is not OK, and consequently we push the horse too much mentally. We can also push a young horse too much physically. But I believe that the horse's mind is the most important thing. He needs time to learn new things. Familiarization with new signals, objects, situations, learning the 'correct' response and then refinement is what are involved in the learning process. If we skimp on any of those steps, the learning process isn't happening the way we wish. Or maybe even worse, the horses learns something we don't want him to learn, for example that a situation is scary and he should bail out, simply because we haven't given him enough time to look at and digest the experience the first time.

Once we've created a problem by rushing through steps, then we have two jobs instead of one. Before any more learning can take place, some unlearning has to take place. Once a horse has learned that stepping onto a board is scary, you have to break down all the fear barriers in his mind first before anything else can progress. Only then can you ask him to engage his mind and give it a go.

So instead of asking him to put all four feet on the board in one session, allow him to get used to the hollow sound of the board, and maybe end the session when he touches the board with one foot. Next session he might put his weight on it. He may even volunteer the other front foot. And so on. And in a matter of a few short sessions, each of which will be a few minutes, he will confidently walk onto and stand on the board.

Is that not a better investment of your time than pushing him hard to get all feet in place in your first session, which he will probably not manage anyway? And next time back, he looks at the board with suspicion because last time he was near it, you put a lot of pressure on him. So it takes nearly as long as the first time, and he won't be keen on the idea even next session.

So what took longer?

Oh yes, I've been down both roads. And I can honestly say that in the end, taking the time it takes, takes less time than not taking the time it takes. He, that was fun to write and if it's not a tongue twister, it's close to a mind bender ;-) But you get the idea.

I see this in working with horses all the time. The youngsters which come for starting vary enormously in the time they require to absorb and be OK with various things. And there are times, even now, where I could tear my hair out thinking we are not progressing. But we go one little step at a time. Some days we even do less than the day before, because that's what the horse tells us he's happy with. We quit when the horse is OK, and because of this, in due course, usually very soon, the day comes where you know you can ask more.

Because the horse is always OK, you have solid foundations which you are building on. So when you get to what I call a sticky spot (let's say: a scary dog out of the bushes the first time you take the youngster out on the trail), the horse only has to concentrate on that, because he is OK with everything else. If your foundations are insufficient, this is the time you'll know about it. If your horse props because of the dog, and he's OK, he won't mind that you also make a little involuntary move in the saddle, and your reassuring hand and voice will calm down the rest of his unease. But if your horse isn't quite OK, then maybe the bounce he starts which bounces you in the saddle is just enough reason to go into mental meltdown, and next thing you are right in the middle of a western moment.

So take the time it takes with your youngsters, they will thank you for it. You will thank yourself for it, too.

Festina lente.


Georgette said...

So true! Wish you'd post more often. Miss my babies (a mix, an Arab, and a Thoroughbred) and would love to read more!


cy said...

Hi Georgette,

Hey, I didn't realize you were a horsey type, too. So you don't have your horses any more?

I'm lucky, I live on a farm and I'm surrounded by furry critters, especially of the equine variety.

I'm sorry I don't post more often. I work with horses most days, but between having my head full of them and martial arts training, I never seem to have the energy to post. You may call it slack :-)

Sometimes I feel I have nothing to say as surely, it has all been said before??? But usually I have plenty to say (big mouth syndrome) only I don't write it all down.

I will try and post more. In fact, I had some ideas for new blog posts the other day, maybe I'll get my lazy butt into gear and write them down.

Oh hell, I'll do one better and say something about the Arab mare we have in work just now. How's that?

Thanks for your feedback.