The longer that any horse spends in “training” the more monotonous the work can become. The rate the horse learns at is always changing based on how much you are trying to introduce or improve. If there is too much challenge in learning because we are teaching faster than the horse can learn the horse will start to tune out and stop improving. If we never challenge the horse to improve and let him get comfortable with what he knows for to long boredom will set in. With the green horse there is also a safety factor that is not always there with a schooled horse. If we do too much the potential for the horse to react violently is very real. To continue learning there must be a challenge to improve every day. How much improvement is different every day, but there must be some. There is a difference between teaching a new concept and improving a skill already taught. The hard part is to know when to ask for improvement and when to teach the next skill, and how much to expect from the horse on any given day. I am a big believer in allowing the horse enough down time to think about what he has done for us. I think it keeps them mentally fresher. Long term breaks are good but if they come too frequently we never get to enjoy the horse and what he can do for us.
A horse that is starting to have a difficult time learning or improving what he already knows but has had an extended period of time off may still need a break. Or maybe just a change would do. There are other ways to work the horse and allow him to use the skills he has developed. Getting out of the arena and trail riding or hacking around the barn may be just what’s needed.
The horse must be safe to take out of the arena or there is no point going out. Hacking or trail riding should be relaxing and casual. So a few days before I take a horse out I will start to prepare him so it is a good experience. On the first day I may work the horse as usual and instead of cooling him out in the arena I will then lead him around the farm just to show it to him. If he can take the place in and be curious and relaxed it is an indicator that there should be no problem. If he is freaked out by something I want to know about it before I am riding him. I ride by myself most of the time so I don’t have another horse to be there for him to follow. He must be prepared to take to the big bad world without much help. I may not take the horse too far depending on whether a change of scenery is interesting or terrifying.
The next day I will change my lesson a bit and try to work the horse as if we were on the trail. I will ride with slack in the reins, although not at the buckle. I will see how responsive the horse is with less support and guidance from me. Can I steer him, stop him and get him going as if he were a broke trail horse? If not then I either help him do so or cancel the field trip, (pardon the pun). At the end of the lesson I will again cool him out by leading him around the farm and go a little farther than the day before.
When I am confident with horse being able to put his training to work in a less mechanical mode and a more relaxed one I am ready to venture out. I will start my lesson as usual in the arena walk and trot around for only a couple of minutes. I want to take note of any environmental factors that could be an issue. I don’t want to protect my horse from scary things but being forewarned is being forearmed. Then I will head out at a casual walk and ride him as casually as I have been the past few days. I will head out on the same route that I have been walking in previous days so the surroundings are somewhat familiar and I won’t take him farther than we have already been. The ride should only take a few minutes and then I will head back to the arena. A few circles and then I will either put him away if I think that another circle is unwise or we will do another lap and then put him away. I will keep him at a walk the whole time we are out and I will let him stop and look around, especially if there is something that he is concerned about. I am not going to fight with him if he will not go past a particularly scary spot. I will get off and lead him past before we really argue and taint the whole experience. I try to remember that we are supposed to be relaxing not stressed. If he is too stressed then I will turn back and do some light work in the arena.
The point of all this is to expand his world and give him some down time during the training process. Building confidence out of the arena will help him become more reliable in less predictable environments. Don’t try to teach him anything when out on the trail, his mind is too occupied by where he is going to learn effectively and the ride will just become a fight. As Dominique Barbier would say “just listen to the birds”
© 2008 Will Clinging