Saturday, 31 March 2012

Repeat, Refresh, Refine

Horses learn very quickly.   According to Dr. Robert Miller they learn faster than any other domestic animal.  They are also the most perceptive of all domestic animals.  Communicating with horses should respect these qualities.

Most training programs utilize the principle of repetition as a method to be followed to elicit the desired response from our equine partners.  Depending on the clinician the number and cycle of repetitions varies widely.  I have often heard the that exercises should be repeated 7 times for 7 days in order to attain the required level of performance.  Dr. Miller says that horses require 3 repetitions in order to retain a response.  He also tells us that we need to repeat the exercise in different places to make the lesson general to the horses environment.  As I have said before there are no right or wrong answers only different answers.

In my opinion repetition is easily overdone.  For we humans we call this NAGGING.  Believe me horses feel the same way when we ask them to do the same thing over and over again.

The best advice I have had from a clinician is that we should always leave something for tomorrow.  We should not try to do everything today.  The most important thing is that we stop an activity on a positive note for us and for the horse.  The key principle here is that release teaches.

One important thing to ask your horse for is lateral flexion.  There are various methods for doing this depending on the clinician you follow.  My experience is that the initial progress is slow until the horse understands the pressure and the required response.  Because it puts the horse in a vulnerable position there is natural resistance.  Take time to  allow the horse to understand this and yield to the pressure, and don`t try to get it all in one session. When you see the horse needs to stop do it at a point where the horse has given even a small amount and reward the effort.

Once you have the horse giving the flexion easily and consistently don`t keep doing it just because you can.  It will bore the horse and can even make them resent the act. The refresh part comes at any time you are with the horse. Just ask for the flexion on each side.  If it is given readily go on to something else.  Normally this begins with the horse in a halter and lead. 

Refinement may come with the introduction of a bridle and bit if you choose that.  Whatever you choose you begin to ask for quicker and softer response.  Ultimately the horse will give lateral flexion at liberty with complete softness.

I have found that this process is effective and maintains the horses spirit, dignity and interest.  In my early stages of being with horses the over use of repetition resulted in boredom, bad attitude and resistance.  Knowing when to stop is critical.  You can follow this pattern with any response you ask your horse to give.  The better you get with it the softer and more willing your partner will be.

Bob had been asked three times to put his back feet on the pedestal.  If you look at him you will see he is bracing, his ears are down and back and he is swishing his tail.  It is time to stop, but only after he makes even a slight effort.  In this case when he let the rope go slack we moved on to somehting different.  Fifteen minutes later he went back and put his feet on with no resistance.

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