The enemy of feel is being in a hurry.
I know this to be true, but, while I’m waiting for my horse to have his breakthrough, I have six other training horses left to ride, a baby crying in the corner, a dog barking at a horse, and the phone is ringing.
Bill Dorrance often talked about not minding the wait. Tom Dorrance frequently said, “even if you miss your lunch…wait.” Ray Hunt said “it takes the time it takes.” So how do you maintain a calm, patient composure and keep offering a good feel for the horse when you don’t have all day to wait?
My life as of lately has been an ongoing experiment in this very subject. Here are some rules I’ve found that make all the difference, in order of importance.
- Center yourself. If you haven’t done this, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Go back inside and start again. Centering yourself doesn’t mean the baby is quiet and the dog isn’t barking, it means you have found an internal place of acceptance where you can deal with exactly what is, not what you wanted it to be. Deep breaths are very helpful. I have a meditation app on my phone because I like the five minute guided meditations- then I’m ready to start.
- Pick one thing to work on. Make it simple, and if you’re limited on time, make it extremely simple. Set it up so the horse comes out of this session successful. If you know that riding down by the scary end of the arena is always an issue, but you only have a half hour, ride somewhere easy. Do not pick a fight, I repeat, do not pick a fight.
- Leave it alone. It may sound counter intuitive, but if you make a nice change, give them a long break. Yes I know you’re running out of time, and you don’t think you have time to stand and watch them relax and mull over the lesson, but the research shows this very act of “doing nothing” after a small success accelerates learning. Slow down faster to get there sooner. Your future sessions will really show your effort off.
- If things aren’t working out, backtrack. Don’t end your session feeling upset about what isn’t working. Go do something you both can do. Do not drill. Go back to step #1 if you feel your frustration level rising.
- It never hurts to do some calisthenics! If you only have 15 minutes, simple balancing and loosening exercises, even in hand, can make a significant difference in a horses’ mental and physical wellbeing.
- Reward plenty, reward often, reward generously. This can be with breaks, internal softening, some nice rubs, whatever. But make it feel good to the horse. Please don’t slap the bejesus out of their necks- nobody likes that.
- End on a good note. End on a good note. End on a good note….leave them feeling better than you found them. End on a good note!!