In every horse discipline there seems to be a catch phrase or reminder of how to go about teaching the horse what you want. One in particular comes to mind that everyone seems to immediately assimilate into their jargon, and that is “Look for the slightest try and reward that.” People who train with pressure still use the idea of looking for the slightest try and “releasing” the pressure.
Either way it’s done, people are encouraged to get good at watching for a little bit of effort.
That’s all good and important, but I really want to expand the concept to include awareness of something I think could be even more important when starting a new behavior. I want people to learn to look for a STARTING POINT that the horse CAN give you.
So many times people pick a STARTING point that is beyond the horse’s understanding or ability. Looking for the slightest try when the horse is over-faced from the beginning is just no darn fun for the horse. The both of you might stand there a long time waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And then the horse gives up, tired of waiting and guessing and getting it wrong, and leaves.
So I’m trying to help people START with something the horse can already do, and build from there. So for example, if your horse is worried about having his ears touched, is he comfortable if you put your hand up two feet away from his head?
If your horse gets anxious about taking treats from your hand, can you start with a bucket instead?
The point is this, waiting for the slightest try doesn’t really kick in effectively if your horse doesn’t have a clue of what you want or how to give it to you. Certainly raising the pressure in this situation seems hardly fair, since very soon you could be punishing your horse for not doing something you want, when he has no clue as to what that is.
So imagine clicking and paying the horse for just being a horse. I know that sounds crazy, but truthfully, sometimes we need to find something that basic, that easy, as our starting point.
So the next time you go to teach your horse, suspend your expectations and ask yourself what CAN my horse give me NOW. Look for something they can do that you can use as a place to start shaping and sculpting behavior.
Now all I need is a catch phrase for this kind of training idea. I think it just might be “Ride the horse the direction it’s going.”