Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pausing to Learn

Aaron wrote, told me words to the effect to put time between each obstacle so the horse can calm down, can you say it again and why?

Aaron, I can't remember exactly what I said but I'm sure it was in the context of this: lets say you take a horse up to an obstacle, not letting him back up or away, but cue him forward and push him over an obstacle. You may not really be achieving much especially when you immediately take him away onto another obstacle that causes anxiety or frightens him. I think you run the risk of over stimulating the horse. He may just be learning that he was justified having that anxiety.

Instead try taking him up to an obstacle, don’t let him give to his anxiety but don't increase it either by pushing him closer until he is ready. When he is ready, he'll look ready,.....body will feel less tense, head will drop, eye's will blink, ears will go from straight forward to moving around. If you talk to him an ear will turn back to you and he’ll look away interested in other things,’ll see and feel it. Then you can move him forward and repeat,...pretty soon he’ll be touching the obstacles with his nose and relaxing. Now here’s an important part – give him time to absorb that lesson, the lesson on learning to think rather than just reacting. Give the horse a break and he will learn. This is pressure release just a different kind of it.

After all I think the idea is not to get him over or through the obstacle just for the sake of completing an obstacle, because if he does it scared he won’t be learning much from it, nor will he be better for it. In fact, he may be worse for it. Instead, I'd be looking to allow the horse to learn that he can think through a scary situation and not have to just relax.

To give you an example of what not to do, years ago I was riding a horse back from the round pen, just after the Sun went down. On the way back to the barn, I detoured to a large water puddle thinking I’d get my horse to walk through it. Well, he didn’t. I was in a hurry and I made several mistakes: 1 – trying to teach a horse anything without having the time to see it through, and 2 – trying to push him ahead through that water puddle before he was ready to move forward. That puddle could have looked like a hole to China to him for all I knew. I didn’t give him any chance to get used to the idea. All I did was increase his anxiety and prove to him he needed to be scared. I just pushed him forward until he jumped the puddle. Even though nobody was watching I embarrassed myself and more importantly took some of that trust away between me and him.

I should have not attempted to cross that large water puddle unless I hard to time to work on it. I should have made it his idea to move forward, to and through the puddle, and given him the time to do so. Lastly if I would have done that, I should have paused to let his mind slow down and absorb that obstacle, then do it a few more times to build his comfort level and make him a more confident, braver horse. Kinda of a long answer Aaron, but hope it works for you.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that post, it's such great advice to keep in mind! I'm training a 3 year old filly and there are so many "obstacles" in her mind (just going through the arena gate for example) and it's easy to forget to reward her with some down time when she relaxes and goes where I want her to.