How do horses pay for themselves? What value do they give us? What is the currency we require in trade for food, shelter, and health care? Answer…
We require them to pay attention as we interact. That’s it. Of course, the side benefit is that they also give us great pleasure, but not when they aren’t paying attention. Have you ever ridden a horse that won’t pay attention to you? One that looks at everything in the world except you? That’s no fun. In fact, it can be dangerous. That’s not the kind of horse anyone wants to ride or play with.
So when it comes to training, what I’m about to say will seem extremely obvious. Blindingly obvious!
“The goal of teaching tasks is not to learn the task. It’s to learn how to pay attention to the one presenting the task.”
I’ll say that differently. Some people are so busy training horses to do “things,” they forget to train the emotional, cognitive part of the mind. Masterful trainers are busy teaching the horse to be attentive. The task, is simply the means to that end.
If I ask my horse to stand still for saddling, for instance, I’m asking him to hold a thought, and I’m hyper-aware of when he loses that thought. Where this goes wrong for most people is they continue saddling regardless of the fact the horse is not attentive anymore. They start saddling on the north side of the arena and finish on the south side. Sure they got the saddle on, but the horse learned nothing.
Consider then, that good trainers reward the horse for paying attention, not for accomplishing the task only. Recently I stood next to a watery ditch, asking my new horse to walk through it. He refused, I asked again, and a cycle of refusing and asking ensued. Then out of the blue, he turned his head, rolled his eye toward me, and checked in with me, mentally. I immediately dropped what I was doing and rewarded him. He didn’t cross the ditch, but what he did was even better. He gave me his attention. Within a few minutes of asking and him giving, we started to progress to walking through the ditch.
Keep it simple here. You want to reward your horse for paying attention. This enhances your liberty work, your desensitization work, your bridle-less riding work, your transitions, performance maneuvers, and everything in between.
Ask and reward your horse for paying attention. I know I’m repeating. Repetition is the mother of skill. Ask and reward your horse for paying attention in every task, in everything you do, and life with horses will become a dream come true.
For more on Mastery Horsemanship go to www.masteryhorsemanship.com and get a free course.
Also, check out my book, Leadership and Horse right here.
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