I recently posted the following on the Remote Coach Facebook page.
Training a horse SHOULD take time. Too often I hear of people with a ‘solution’ that will ‘fix a horse in no time at all’. That’s not a solution – it’s a band-aid. The real ‘fix’ involves correct training with time for your horse to grow muscle, strength, understanding and confidence. Time, which also enables us to deepen our own understanding of both the training scale and our equine friends.
We now live in an age where things happen fast. We have email instead of letters, downloads instead of going to buy the CD or DVD, we can check what our friends are doing by visiting Facebook instead of calling them and if we do call we use the mobile phone in our pocket. Most things we think we need are at the touch of a button at our fingertips.
I’m a big fan of the new technology but I’m also glad there are some things that haven’t changed. We can’t necessarily learn any faster than we used to. Sure, I can listen to my law lectures over the internet and only have to go on campus for exams but the actual learning of the information in front of me still takes as long as it used to, believe me!
As far as I’m concerned this is the way it should be. Knowledge and learning should take time and with that time comes solid understanding. It’s no different to training a horse. One of my pet peeves is the trainer who claims ‘I can fix that in two rides for you’. Of course a talented rider and trainer can absolutely fix or ride through some issues in this time, sometimes through true horsemanship but sadly, sometimes, through a short cut or a band-aid approach. The next worrying part of this equation is the animal is handed back to an amateur owner who doesn’t have the same skills or understanding as a professional rider and unless the time’s taken to teach the rider how to reinforce the new learning the wheels can often fall off spectacularly, and sometimes dangerously.
I’ve worked with many people with what I’d describe as very sensitive horses. In one sense they could have been ‘fixed’ quicker than what some of them have taken but I would rather a horse offer calm and attentive work, not force them into it at the risk of thoroughly upsetting them. Again, a better trainer and rider combination may well progress faster. Often both the horse AND the rider are learning which slows the process down again. That said, naughty behaviour is absolutely not allowed, but genuine tension? I’d prefer to work through tension and with the tension rather than squash it, gadget it or force it to go. Absolutely it takes longer but the learning for both the owner and the horse is better understood and once worked through there’s a rock solid foundation to build upon.
I’ve recently been doing the Couch to 5 Km running (or more appropriately for me, shuffling!) program. In week one the runs don’t exceed three minutes. When you get to week five you’re running/shuffling for NINE minutes! This is something I simply could not have entertained the thought of in week one. Four short weeks and my fitness, muscle strength and most of all confidence with what I’m doing has grown and I’m looking forward to running for nine minutes! We can compare this to the learning you and your horse will do. If someone had got in my face and made me run for nine minutes in the first week I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn’t be still running now. I’d have been faced with a challenge too large and lost confidence. Instead, I’ve grown gradually, become confident, and am proudly announcing to anyone who’ll listen that ‘I’m a runner’, well ‘shuffler’ but you get the idea.
I’ve been teaching Brooke for quite a few years now. We received Roscoe straight off the racetrack about 18 months ago. In that time he’s had quite a few forced rests through Brooke being out of the country, or through injury, but we’ve always worked him in accordance with the training scale and made sure our training is clear and consistent for him. He’s a bit ‘orange’ and has had his share of moments. He’s not been rushed. He’s been taken out to shows and not ridden, he’s been taken out and ridden and not competed, he now goes out and thinks it’s all a bit boring which is fantastic! The change in this horses musculature alone blows me away every time I look at these photos. He recently went out and scored 69% and third place in his first dressage outing.
A horse takes time to build muscle and develop the coordination under saddle to do what we ask of it. As riders, we take the same time to develop strength and coordination to sit on an animal with independent thought. Of course an elite rider is going to get on our horse and make them look fantastic, and then we mere mortals get back on and wonder how the hell they did it. Take the time to learn how they did that, strive to be as good as your favourite rider and most of all, enjoy the learning and the journey along the way. It might feel like the longest road you’ve ever travelled but as long as you’re learning who cares how long the actual journey is!