The 4th P — Don Jessop
A little more than a year ago I wrote about the three most important things that make a great horse trainer. Here’s the article…
In the article I described the 3 “P’s”. Patience, Persistence, and Positioning.
In short, great horse trainers have extraordinary patience, and extraordinary persistence. They also possess deep knowledge about positioning. On a simple level if the horse isn’t positioned to enter the horse trailer, there is no sense asking him to go in. First prepare to a position, then ask. On an advanced scale, things like halfpasses and flying lead changes are only done with expert positioning skills. Great trainers possess these qualities, and you can too. You just have to focus on the details.
Recently I realized I made a huge mistake; I wrote about 3 “p’s” and a very influential colleague of mine pointed out something important. There is a 4th “P.” And… ironically, it’s perhaps the most important of all. The 4th “P” stands for “Permission.”
Great horse trainers, I mean really great horse trainers, I’m not talking about most people you see in the public eye, I’m talking about the elite that teach the elite, and sometimes, it’s no-one famous at all, it’s some backyard enthusiast that gets the whole picture. They all know there is no sense making a horse perform against her will. They know how to ask and read the response and recognize when the horse is acting in good will or against good will. Any horse can learn to say yes to a question. All trainers know that much. But do they actually want to do what you ask? Have you asked for permission to ask? It can get a little spiritual or weird here so hang on to your bootstraps.
If your horse likes you but doesn’t trust you, you’ve got a problem. If you’re horse respects you but doesn’t like you, you have another problem. If your horse likes you, trusts you, looks for you, respects you, you’ve got permission to ask him for new things.
A short story to illustrate:
Many years ago, I began training a mule that didn’t like people, didn’t like his job, and didn’t behave in a safe manner. I sought permission to train him, and day after day he denied me. Well… I’m a skilled trainer so I demanded it anyway and after playing hard to catch, we proceeded to skill development. Over the course of a few weeks his skills improved but his obvious disdain for people remained. He was still very unsafe to ride. I finally realized I’d been going about it all wrong. I’d began developing skills before I had permission, and, in his eyes, I failed. So, reluctantly, I went back to the beginning and learned a valuable lesson. Today, he’s safer, happier, and willing, most of the time. But if you ask him to do what you want without setting it all up perfectly, he’ll let you know you don’t have permission.
Permission is granted, not taken. If you love horses, you’ll embrace that idea. You have to patient sometimes just to get permission. But we can afford the patience. It’s not like we live in a world where we have to go chase a cow and drag him to the branding pit. And in case you do live in that world, try to remember, you also have time, you have time to bond with your horse. They are more than just a tool. You have time to enrich his life and teach him trust.
And I have a challenge for you! Would you be willing to test your horse’s permission giving? Test by asking him to do something like loading in a trailer and/or pick up a canter. Notice if he is hard to catch, hard to yield. Is he resistant? Can you change it?
A lot of people think you get permission by acting and smelling like a carrot. Sometimes you do. And sometimes you have to ask, you have to communicate, you have to check in. I’ll never forget the first time I learned this lesson. More than twenty years ago now, I went to a clinic in Colorado. At the clinic I tied my horse to a hitching post and joined the others around the lunch table. After lunch I went to get my horse. When I returned to the arena with my horse, the instructor called me out, made a point to make a point about what I did. He said, “I noticed the way you went up and just grabbed the lead rope without checking in with your horse. You didn’t even say Hello or ask him if he’s ready to step off. You just untied him and walked away. He’s a nice horse so he complied but you never got permission.”
Take the challenge yourself now, think of all the things you ask your horse to do. Think of one specifically that you’re pretty sure you forget to check in with him or her. Then change it.
I hope you find this and the other articles helpful. I love to write, and I love when you write your comments below.
See you soon,