Is It Ever Too Much??

Posted by letsgoride on July 27, 2013 at 4:55 AM

Anyone who has done any reining, dressage or the like knows how monotonous it can get. Riding the same pattern over and over and over again is never a good thing. Why? Because it creates undesired results and will become counter-productive. Any professional will tell you that too much repetition in training will cause a horse to anticipate rather than respond to the riders' cue, or turn a horse sour. This is true for other aspects of training as well.



Natural Horsemanship training methods offer people different ways of working with their horses so as to gain respect and establish leadership, in simplified game-type exercises. They are easy to do and the results come quickly. Unfortunately, people are able to execute the exercises or "games" easily and in a sense "correctly", but they really have no idea what they are really looking for. The exercises either become "tricks" or obsessions and the whole point is lost. Too much of anything can be a bad thing! Too many circles will create a horse that won't go straight, too many straight lines and the horse won't bend. Too much saddle work and the horse will grow to resent it and become hard to catch. Not enough riding and out of boredom he becomes disrespectful on the ground. There is a difference between establishing leadership and becoming a broken record.


I watch people doing round pen work with their horses and it's all I can do to not fall asleep. Eventually the horse will act up and that just further convinces the misguided handler that they need to do more round penning. When in fact they already had it and because of lack of education, experience or feel they didn't know it. The ground work is no longer productive when it is creating resistance, irritation or boredom.


There are many horses that I do not ever do formal groundwork with and some that I only work periodically, as a reminder of his manners. But each and every time I handle a horse, at every moment, I am "either training or un-training the horse" (George Morris). Just bringing the horse from his stall to the grooming station can be an opportunity for training, and for some it's all that is needed (because the fundamentals have already been established). Once a horse is fully trained and can perform the required skill anywhere, at any time, he only needs maintenance of his training and conditioning rides to keep up with competition.


It is perhaps more common to do groundwork in order to improve your relationship with the horse, get his focus and respect, develop a line of communication between you and your horse and teach him good manners. If you and your horse do not have any of these issues, you probably don’t need to do much. An occasional groundwork session is always a good idea to ‘tune-up’ both you and your horse’s skills and it is fun to just "play". Its when it becomes an obsession where problems arise.


It is an old-school of thought but one in which I believe very strongly: whenever you have trouble with a horse getting something, STOP. Go do something you and your horse can perform easily. Come back to it later when the both of you are in a better frame of mind. After all, you can only teach when your student is willing to learn. You can not force it. For example, let's say you are having issues performing a 20 meter circle because your horse drops their inside shoulder and dives in. The resulting "circle" is more of an oval. The best thing to do is to do a couple of straight lines with transitions! Sounds silly, but what's happening is your horse isn't using his haunches to push and lift the shoulder. Obsessing on the "bending-line" will only further the problem.


Our horses are mirrors they will reveal where we rushed or skipped through the fundamentals, sometimes years later. To become frustrated or even angry with your horse is about as effective as banging your head against a wall. A horse is a product of its handler, the way he behaves is how he has been trained to behave, he only does what he knows he can. It is often hard for us to admit that when problems arise it is almost always operator error.


Knowing how to ask and when to release is what trains the horse. Most people will release at the wrong time or in the wrong way (too early or too late, not enough or too much). In the beginning it may not be very obvious, but later on it will resurface as something much bigger. Once you have asked a horse to do something, if you don't follow-through; you have trained the horse to ignore you. On the other hand, if you keep drilling something that is incomprehensible to him, by putting more and more pressure (even non-violent pressure) on the horse his mind will just shut down, you have taught the horse to be frightened. He will be reactive to you, but he hasn't learned the skill you were hoping for, and you are not a respected leader.


Parelli, John Lyons and Clinton Anderson (to name a few) all have great systems for training horses. They are great because each has a system that virtually anyone can follow. However, there is no one system that could ever account for all the variances and intricacies of horses. The judgment and horse sense you need to train horses comes from the experience and wisdom gained from working with many, many different horses.


Of all the training systems, programs and techniques in the world, the one thing that they all have in common is that ability to give a timely and significant release to the horse and the judgment to know when to press your horse and when to back off. You only have 3 seconds with a horse to reward, release or correct, in order for him to make an association between his actions and the release/correction. It is a well-documented fact that the sooner within that three seconds the release/correction comes, the more meaningful it is to the horse. So by the time you have to think about what the horse did or what you should do to correct or reward, you are well past the optimal time period for training your horse.


Remember, every time you are handling your horse you are either training good or bad behaviour If you are running into problems over and over again, or the problems are getting worse, the best thing you can do for your horse is to seek the help of an experienced professional.


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