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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Howard

Give your horse the gift of consistency

Humans get bored easily. We don't like to eat the same food, wear the same clothes (though that one is also for hygienic purposes), have the same conversations day after day. We like variety, and feel the need to change things up to keep life interesting.


And yet, in order to build any sort of skill, such as fitness, learning a language, a new sport, an instrument, a dance, what have you...there is a certain level of consistency in learning the basics that you have to do over and over in order to build a foundation.


I remember my childhood piano teacher: she would have me practice the scales five times each day. I HATED them. She would write a page of practice for me to do each week, beginning with the scales, first the left hand, then the right hand, then both together. She wanted me to be able to run my fingers along the keys without having to look at them. I just wanted to play the theme songs from my favorite movies and could not understand why I had to spend so much time doing something so dull. (Miriam, wherever you are, if I could go back in time I would be a much better student than my sassy 8-year-old self).


Today, in my own training, one of the most common conversations I find myself having is with horse owners who are convinced their horse is bored and that the best course of action is to do something different with them each day, or that if there is a day where the learning does not come as easily for the horse that there needs to be an equipment change, or a complete 180 in the training program. That the horse must be grumpy, tired, unhappy, etc.


To this, I say, there is a certain amount of faith in the process that you need to maintain on the difficult days. Life is variable enough; the weather changes, mares go into heat, some days are louder and busier, or maybe you take a field trip somewhere. Horses have better days and worse days, just like we do. If you do not have enough of a foundation at any point to weather the changes that life is already liable to throw at you, to be able to have tools to pull out of your toolbox or to be working towards a certain level of understanding...then what do you have?


When your horse is TRAINED, if you want to do something different every day, be my guest. But if you hire me, chances are your horse is not trained and they need to spend some time learning the steps. While I am a fan of positive exposure to your horse from a young age, I also have learned that the quickest path to understanding is to give the horse time to really understand the basics, and to be comfortable enough and trusting enough of your leadership that when you do introduce something new, it will not be a huge deal. Remember that horses are prey animals, and creatures of happy. They care a lot more about feeling "safe" than feeling "interested."


Consistency builds trust, it builds discipline, it creates understanding. It does not mean that you have to repeat the same exercise until you are blue in the face in the exact same way each day, but build a little routine, and play with the energy that you bring to it each day. If your horse seems dull, bring some excitement and go for a big forward trot around the arena! If your horse is tense, go slower, bring relaxation and softness. Spend more time suppling them. But please, give you horse this gift. Be consistent in your boundaries, in your training. Be patient when you train and look for the signs that the horse is becoming more educated. You will advance so much faster than if you "dabble" between too many things, or if you change your bit every day, or put your horse on new types of feed each month. Let the training do its job for a couple of months, and THEN decide if you need to change external factors. Try the burger before you change the recipe.

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