If you have a young horse or one that is a bit more experienced, there is always a moment you would like to learn something new. It can be something simple as walking on a lead or a new exercise while riding. We, people, though often have the tendency to overachieve, we go to quick or ask too much. If something goes well, we repeat it multiple times. Something goes wrong? We repeat it till it goes right. Only problem is, our horses learn in a different way. A horse is very eager to learn, if we explain correctly and use small steps. Horses remember associations, positive and negative ones. It will try to run from negative ones, but a positive association is something your horse learns from, makes him happy and goes looking for it.
There have been many studies the last couple of years, which have taught us a lot about our horses. Especially, that working with pressure and removing it when exhibiting behaviour we want to see, is something that works really well. Also rewarding your horse by praising him when doing something correct seems to have positive effects and boosts their confidence. Don’t forget that learning something new requires a lot of energy. They will tire more quickly. It is the same when you need to study for an exam for example. It requires energy and repetition. So, making sure there are plenty of moments of rest is so the brain can process and your horse can have a breather.
A horse (well, most) love to work and do things right, so make sure to set them up for success. Pick the right spot in the arena so your horse has the biggest chance to succeed and experiences a positive association. Let them make mistakes as well, they learn from them. By removing pressure (leg or any other aid we use) and/or to praise them when they are doing something right will make them want to work harder after a ‘mistake’ to get it right.
I already mentioned that we humans often want to much at once. Today I started on the flying changes. He finds them very difficult and often does them in 2 parts: first front, then hind. So, I divided the proces into tiny steps. What does he need to be able to do to make him succeed?
1 Go to canter from an aid. I chose a voice aid in combination with my outside leg
2 Changing tempo in canter and transitions from canter to walk
3 Changing flexion in all gaits
4 Control the shoulders and hind in all gaits
5 Counter canter, including counter flexion
6 Placing (pressure) the whip on his inside hind leg. He already knows this from ground work, but always test it when in the saddle. Some horses go into riding mode and see ground work as something entirely different.
He knows all these steps, since we have been training on them for a while and we did them while warming-up. In addition, I make sure to do the flying change from the side that is easiest for him. In this case going from the right to left canter. You also have to consider what works best for your horse. There are endless possibilities in how to teach the flying change. For us this was using the diagonal. And indeed, after changing the flexion to the left including the shoulders and placing the hind a bit to the right (getting the right inside hind leg more under the body) while in right canter, shifting his attention to his left inside hind leg by touching it with the whip while giving the aid for left canter, a flying change! Awesomeness! Far from perfect, not on the straight line, but we got the intended result: a flying change through the body. So, rewarded him extensively and repeated it 2 more times after a small walk break.
Then my human brain decided to go for more, let’s try the other side too…. How stupid can you be. Going from left to right is something he finds difficult, resulting in him changing in 2 parts again, first front then hind and getting super frustrated with himself. Recognised my mistake (little too late) and wanted to end on a positive note. Positive association remember. But since he was frustrated, from right to left went in 2 parts as well. So, needed to calm him and the second time it went correct. Again extensive rewarding and done. I should have gotten off earlier. It is always better to teach something on one side and establish it, before going to the other side. It can take days or weeks, but be patient and take the time needed. Take time to let your horse create that positive association and take it one step at a time. Also that last bit. Why break down the entire process into tiny steps to rush it in the end (yes, talking to myself here ;) ). Your horse needs to get it first and gain confidence in what they are doing.
Remember that breaking it down into steps and establish those steps first, sets your horse up for succes. That positive association is something your horse learns from the quickest, and that learning requires a lot of energy. I got my reality check and am super proud of my hard worker (with all his quirks) :)
Did you know that the notes module has empty pages you can add anywhere in your journal? It can be to write down those steps or information you gather while training. For example which side something goes more smoothly. That is the advantage of the modular journal, you can organise it anyway you like.