Ideally, when you’re horse training, you want each cue to work every time 100% of the time. But what about when it doesn’t?
Often, correct responses to certain cues aren’t reinforced sufficiently. Or we get a little bit lazy with the cues. Maybe we just don’t correct our horses when they don’t get it just right. When this happens, our horses can become a little bit creative with things.
Whenever I think about this, I think about my dogs.
Dog and horse training is surprisingly similar!
My partner and I naively bought two German Shepherd puppies some years ago. We were driving by a farm in the country and there was the sign that just said ‘puppies’. Of course I begged my partner to go so we could “just look.” He reluctantly agreed.
There were two left in that litter. We couldn’t bear the thought of leaving one by himself so naturally we took both home…
Over the next few years in the chaos of trying to train these two, we learned the hard way that if given an inch, these dogs would take a mile.
If we let them walk just a few inches ahead of us, soon they’d be dragging us off on the leash.
If we let them get up from a sit just one time before our release command, they’d get in the habit of just getting up and walking off every single time. Or even worse – they’d just ignore the command altogether.
I’ve learned this same principle applies to horses. If you don’t correct a bad habit, it will get worse and worse because the horse will learn that he can get away with it and then he’ll develop a whole bunch of questions around that area of training.
Keep at it – it’s worth it
Although it can be a little tiresome at times, you always need to put yourself into situations where you are willing and able to reinforce your cues until such a time that they’re 100% effective. Even then, you might need reminders.
If you aren’t willing and able to reinforce cues in the saddle, move to the ground.
If it’s too complex a task, bring it back to a simpler task.
Always pay attention to the timing of pressure and release. Pressure to ask for a behaviour. Release with the desired behaviour and don’t put yourself into situations where you’ll tire or give up before the horse gives you that behaviour.
Try not too worry about being too demanding. That’s something I was doing – I’m still coaching myself out of it, but I’m getting better.
Patience is key with this!
What is something that you know you sometimes let go with your horse? Let me know in the comments!