Should there be a right way / wrong way with our training?

Mark explaining at a horsemanship clinic

Mark explaining at a horsemanship clinic

When training horses your mindset generally determines how the lesson will unfold.  Sometimes to keep your calm, consistent outlook, you may have to have a few motivating and guiding words floating around your head.

Most of the time, the words I think about to keep my focus and my judgements fair and consistent are: Why?What happened? What’s needed? & How can I help?

There is a term I hear a lot around horsemanship – “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard”.

This phrase – if used right – can be effective but if it becomes the mindset of the lesson things can deteriorate and we run the risk of making education uncomfortable and in some cases can shut the horse down.  Rather, education should be something that we use to relay, soften, build and trust, and better the body function of the horse.

One particular lesson where I see an abuse of education is float loading.  I will use this as an example of a mindset.

When teaching a horse to load I commonly see horses getting shown that it is easy at or in the float and hard away from it.  This is done to an extent that the float becomes a safe escape for the horse.  But what is the horse escaping from? The person and their education.  This happens purely because of the lesson mindset.  And with this approach, subtle tries from the horse may get missed.

So, the other way to look at this lesson is: I would like to see my horse near the float and close to it or in it.  I will give it plenty of mental space for it to assess and relax. If it pulls away from the float I first ask why (it has a fear of the float); what happened (it pulled against the lead, braced in the head, neck and jaw and went backwards); what’s needed (more work on soft forwardness to lead cues and more time near float to become comfortable); how can I help (show the horse how to soften, become more forward, and not brace to the halter, work around the float and stand near it until the horse feels more comfortable with it).

The main key is that as soon as the horse tries and softens to the lesson we soften and reward no matter where we are in relation to the float.  Education is just help. Once the horse understands and its focus is with us we just continue what we were doing by going back to the float.

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