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Variety Is The Spice In Training

Suzanne Sheppard and TiggerMotivating ourselves and our equine partners is a key aspect of achieving consistency in our training. Because repetition and practice are crucial, but can be boring, an important element in making training fun for both is variety. Several aspects of training can be varied, including length of training session, location, goals and exercises.
One of the most asked questions we receive is “How long should a training session be?” There really isn’t a single correct answer to this question. A major consideration is your training goal on each particular day. Are you teaching the horse to “give” to the bit at the walk or are you working on perfecting your circles at the canter? Obviously you can work a lot longer at the walk than at the canter or the lope. You would also need to factor in the condition of your horse and the weather.
When we do have acceptable weather conditions and a physically sound horse, we like to vary our training times from day to day. We really try to avoid having the horse anticipate that he only has to work for, let’s say, one hour each session. If you fall into this routine it won’t take long for your horse to just quit as soon as his internal clock says this hour is over. We’ve worked horses for up to eight hours when teaching simple tasks (we do stop for water) and the shortest session we’ve had lasted only about five minutes. This latter session followed a previous day’s session, which went very well. When this particular mare started her session with a great attitude and did some simple tasks extremely well, we just petted her and put her up. It was our way of telling her that sometimes that’s all we wanted; job well done.
We like to vary working in the arena and on the trail, but often we’ll do both in a single session. Even here it would be good to mix up the sequence, arena followed by trail for one or two days, then a trail ride followed by arena work. Try to keep some fun in your training for both you and your horse. While it’s true that horses learn from repetition, we should avoid “drilling” them.
Whatever it is you’re working on, a good rule of thumb is that once you “get it”, practice it until you’re reasonably sure the horse has learned the lesson and then go on to something else.
When the session is over, we like to straight tie the horse in their stall or in the arena, for about 10 minutes at first, building this up to about an hour. This gives the horse a chance to think about the lesson and also teaches them to be patient and to stay quiet while tied.
A popular notion is that the horse can’t maintain his attention span for more than an hour or so, but we personally do not subscribe to this theory. In fact, we believe that in order to get the horse’s attention, we must first give him some chores to do; i.e. having the horse perform a task will serve to gain his attention rather than the other way around. What happens most often is that we, the teacher, lose our concentration (or attention) because we become tired or distracted. We need to recognize when this has happened rather than blame the horse. This would be a good time to end the session on a positive note and put the horse away.
Variety in your training times, length of session, venue and tasks will keep the fun in it for both you and your equine partner. By designing your training to be engaging for you both, you increase your chances of staying committed and focused, and your horse’s improvement will be rewarding!

©Two as One, LLC 8/07

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