11.15.2010

Keeping Training and Practice Fun and Joyful

Mercury learned to smile from me teaching him how to take oral medicine. How useful is that! And he thinks he's so cool he walks around smiling all the time. Especially for the camera! Big ham...
As a young riding student, I learned a fairly traditional approach to horses and riding. This was niether good nor bad. It was what it was. I was taught all the basic things you are taught as a young student and I soaked it up like a sponge never questioning any of my instructors. As I got older and morphed into a trainer and teacher myself, my thirst for knowledge never ceased and is still there. I was starting to expand out of the box of traditional Horsemanship and branch into some other ideas of approaching horses and training.

The real revolution occurred with the idea that Practice and training of horses could actually be more like playing or a game and it could be fun not only for ME, but also for my HORSE. What a concept! As youngsters most of us were taught that riding was a fun activity, We LOVED horses with a passion and wanted them to love us back. But how many of us really thought about if our horse was having fun with our goals we had. Hunters, Jumpers. Eventing, Dressage, Western Pleasure, Reining etc. I'll tell you right now as someone who is still actively competing and coaching, I look into the eyes of some horses and they do not look like they are having fun. They are being obedient and performing but why can't it be fun for them too?

The first step to making it fun for your horse is to start by building a connection using a method such as Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Rituals or something similar. This helps foster a horse who likes to be with you and wants to participate in the activities you may set up. The next thing is pick horses who have at least a little aptitude for the work you'd like them to do. This has nothing to do with breed or size. It has to do with raw materials. They don't have to be the next Olympic Reiner or Jumper but they will enjoy the exercises more if it is EASY for them to do them once they understand the question. The next step is relaxing agendas and being creative with exercises. Present them in little pieces, step by step. Not all horses learn the same way. Just like us. If they don't seem to get it one way, try another approach. Reward the slightest try and act like your horse is the smartest, coolest horse ever.Use the 10 second exercise between tries to allow your horse to come up with something. Don't judge what ever he comes up with. Go with it. Give treats at the right time as motivators. Horses like to know there is a food reward involved especially with hard exercises. The timing and giving of the treat is important to the "games' and "puzzles" you create. Some of my happiest training accidents have been when my horse was trying to invent a "New" exercise to offer me. You'll note that I said my horses will "Offer" or invent things on their own. If you let your work/play be like this then it is likely that your horse will invent things on his own and if you are open and flexible you might be knocked over by what your horse can do!  I encourage this experimenting and interaction. That is when it is the most fun (even magical seeming) for me AND my horse! Happy Training!