The proper training of a horse requires split second decisions and action. Horses, unlike people, don’t have the cognitive ability to associate past actions with the present consequences. Generally speaking, if you want to correct something with a horse, there are two components; timing and appropriate correction. If you get either one wrong, the horse learns nothing. At least, he doesn’t learn what you wanted to teach him.
If you delay taking action more than a second or possibly two seconds at most, the horse has mentally moved past the point you wanted to correct. Now when you take action, he thinks you are concerned about what is currently underway. Horses have great memories, but again not the ability to look backwards while learning. For a lot of people, this creates a dilemma. They want to train their horse, have read books, watched videos, and been to some clinics. They try to do what they were taught and fail miserably. Why, because they didn’t have the timing.
Let me give a recent example. One of our horses got frustrated in a training session the other day and reared up. He didn’t rear very high, but he was demonstrating he wasn’t happy with the training. Some folks react way to slow to these situations. It requires immediate attention. Otherwise, the horse’s feet are back on the ground before anything is done. Now the horse connects the discipline with an event unrelated to the situation. In this case, the horse was immediately turned to the right and spurred forward. A couple of fast circles making his feet move and then stopped. He was told firmly to just Whoa!
Several things happened in less than 30 seconds. First, the horse exhibited an inappropriate behavior and communicated he didn’t like the exercise he was being asked to perform. Second, he was corrected AS IT HAPPENED before his front feet touched the ground. Third, the discipline was suited for the disposition of the horse as well as the misbehavior. Last, he was given 20 seconds to think, reflect, and realize it was all over. Time to move to the next project. Yes, back to the same thing he had just been asked to do, but it wasn’t connected anymore to him rearing up.
The reaction of many riders would often violate both of the rules above. First, the reaction would be too slow. Many riders want to “get the horse under control” before figuring out the action to take. It may make good human sense, but not good “horse sense”. The second mistake would be to over-react to what happened.
Trust me, I don’t like a horse to rear up, buck, or act up in any way. However, riders wanting to break a bad habit from ever happening again go way too far. They want to “make sure the horse never does it again”. When this occurs, the horse loses respect and starts to resent the training. Thirty days in jail for doing 31 mph in 30 mph zone is outrageous to most of us. The horse can feel the same way if you over-react.
The horse was ridden the rest of the day without incident. He did what was asked of him and without complaint. He is a really good horse that did need a quick reminder. He didn’t need to be “taught a lesson”. Teaching horses is all about timing and appropriate correction. It is not about revenge, getting even, or making more out of an event than needed. It takes a lot of practice to do it the right way.