Life with horses can be (ok, it almost always is) stressful! But you can set yourself up for success with some consistent habits. Let's review our list of 10 Habits for Happy Horse People!
Many of the things here are influenced by my personal pedagogy and beliefs - and are similar no matter what species the student is!
1. Plan your sessions
There really is little purpose in working a horse without a plan. Depending on who you are as a planner your plan may need to be very formal and written out on cards that you can refer to as you get ready (for example: 1) warm up 2) 20 meter circles 3) transitions 4) trot poles 5) flexion then cool down - we will spend 45 minutes in total on this).
Or it may be as simple as saying I'm working on happy, steady contact this session (which should still include warm up and cool down).
Decide roughly how long you want to play and stick to it. Planning your training does absolutely no good unless you follow the plan. All the planning in the world is useless if it sits in a book undone.
In order to plan forward, you can either backwards map (start with your end goal and fill in the training backwards from that point) or you can scaffold (work forward toward your goal, building on the blocks you have in place). No matter which method you chose, note taking on successes and failures will pay off in spades (my notes are very rough - this is an aspect of training I'd love to improve!)
2. Balance your workouts
Training only what you do well is pointless. Training only your weaknesses means your strengths will erode. Training only what you like to teach means there will be holes. Training what you don't really understand will lead to great confusion on everyone's part.
Balance is going to look different for different situations. One of my horses gets lots of steady, and relaxed, work He has some holes in his training but we work well enough as a team that we can often compensate for them; therefore, we are OK filling in holes slowly. Drilling upsets him and he's a big guy to be upset! Another gets bored if we do the same thing twice. We work basic things but they always look different. One mare's sessions probably look the best balanced to an outside observer as she has lots of holes to fill but also has lots of strengths to play with. Balance also includes taking time to just be. Sometimes just hop on bareback and see where you end up - or walk down the driveway chatting to a friend. Go play in a creek. Take a day or two or a week off. Often teams come back from a training break better than ever often with tough concepts nailed down. I am a huge proponent of cross training - a little dressage, a little cross country, some horse yoga, swimming - whatever!
Not just between horses but for each horse. Give them alternate ways to learn things. Something isn't going well? Stop, reflect and figure out another way to approach the issue. Your young horse can't figure out canter leads? Where are you asking? How are you asking? Do they get them on the ground? Just because another horse learned it one way may not mean it's the best way for the horse you are dealing with now!
4. Break it down
Training needs to be achievable to work. Build one brick at a time every time you work. The training pyramid is worth a look but even if your work plan is not that formal think about how small a piece you can achieve might be. Let's say your horse won't stand still outside. How tiny a piece can you break this into to get success? Perhaps all you can get right now nicely is a two second halt. That's OK. Start there. Break it down - then build it up.
5. Believe in yourself
There will be days that you will wonder why you play this sport, if your horse is happy and what the point is of doing what you do. Accept that and be prepared to work hard to support your team. Without being too new age about it, you can learn and have fun together even if you never go to a show. The journey is fun - enjoy! You can accomplish goals and you will have fun. I know it ~ so you might as well agree.
6. Know your collective limits
In no way do I mean limit your goals and aspirations, but recognize where you and your partner are now. If you have financial limitations it may not be the year to chase year end titles. My biggest limitation at the moment is time, creating time for training and competing is tough and has been for many years. If your partner is aging, or has soundness issues, or whatever, perhaps you'll have to pick and choose how often and how long you train and what your end goals are. Maybe you have physical limitations? Acknowledging the limits you face will help make training time much more meaningful and useful.
7. Learn from errors, mistakes, even failures!
As you train, mistakes will happen. Absurdities will creep in, have no doubt of that. That's OK! In fact it's cause for celebration. It shows you where holes are and gives you a chance to patch them. Patch them with joy and thoughtfulness, not the panic you might in competition. Which could actually end up doing more damage in the long run. I get fed up sometimes when I ride. Wondering why something I am doing doesn't seem clear. I stop, regroup, and maybe even adapt the plan!
(Be Flexible very nearly earned it's own number!)
Understand that everything you do is part of the sexy stuff! I really mean this! A horse easy to mount, steady in contact, willing to move away from friends is just as important as flying changes or a perfect leg yield. Each brick needs to be solid for the house not to fall. If it doesn't feel sexy to you make sure it's part of your training plan so it doesn't get neglected. We get lured in by the things we think are neat or cool - we jump every time we ride, or do simple changes or whatever - then we wonder why we can't easily change pace within a gait (or whatever!)
9. Know your horse and yourself
Are you inspired by working with a team mate? Watching others? Having lessons? Are you demotivated when somebody does better than you? Is your horse ready to do what you want to do? How long is your horse's optimal learning peak? How many correct repetitions of something do you need to do until it feels right? Are you fraught with nerves in new settings or so blase you run the risk of forgetting what class you are in? How can you work your plan to help with either end of the continuum? Understand all these things as you put together your training plan.
10. Be positive and celebrate the victories together
In a way that is meaningful to you both! I have said it before and I'm sure it will come up again - positive training leads to positive results in the ring. Punishing your horse for a lack of success in any way is not positive and it will have a negative impact on your training. When your horse makes a mistake, know how you are going to react and what you are going to do. React in that way. If you get frustrated give yourself a time out and go relax. You won't ruin your horse by taking time to calm yourself but you may very well ruin your relationship if you don't!
Training calls for the same level of celebration as competition. Often we ask for more difficult things in training then in the ring so we should reward wholeheartedly and with joy.
Do you have any horse life habits that help bring you success?
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