One of the changes I’ve made with my training routine with Dante is using the concept of leaving him wanting more – not training to the brink of his endurance and mine, but backing off considerably on the time length of our sessions. this allows work to be more intense without tiring either the trainer or the horse, and also helps the horse understand specifically what you are looking for (as a release from work is a huge marker!).
This is a training concept I’ve been seeing consistently discussed with those that do the highest work at liberty as a way to keep the horse engaged, happy and willing. If you are interested in learning more about these concepts, I highly recommend the book Gallop to Freedom which here is a condensed chapter of the Six Golden Principles online.
Let me tell you about a scenario that I see play out many, many times at lessons and at horse shows. A rider is working on jumps. They are waiting for their turn to be called but meanwhile they are jumping… jumping … jumping… and yes, more jumping, until finally the horse starts to refuse. Then they go in the ring and the horse refuses big time.
This is a horse who has had ENOUGH! and has acted out to show the rider that jumping for 30 minutes and then expecting a peak performance is not going to happen. These are horses that also become disengaged from people – they give up – and emotionally become withdrawn from their work and humans.
On the other hand, this approach of wanting more is about showing the horse that your time with me is great! When I show up we will do some interesting things and you will leave your session as rested as you came into it. The horse will be looking to do more, but instead you are like, no that’s fine – you did great! which makes your horse more eager to be with you as he feels successful and respected by the end of the day.
So how does this work in reality? Saturday the wind was pretty fierce so I wasn’t sure if I would work Dante or not but I did go for it. As I mentioned before we are now doing more changes in between our work so I started with what he is least motivated about – standing at the mounting block.
Instead of working on the mounting block for 10 minutes, after he gave me two good stands, I rewarded and then we moved on immediately to the groundwork of walking and trotting, looking for his head down and low, with slight bend of the nose to the inside (still working on this), and concentrating on learning the half halt signal. A slight shake of the lunge line which is connected to the cavesson is a request for him to re-balance and shift his weight backwards while maintaining the gait.
He gave me two really good half halts and I immediately stopped, praised him and released him from work. The whole session was less then 30 minutes for sure.
Sunday, we again approached a short work session, and I noticed (maybe due to the increase of Alcar but too soon too tell) that he was more willing to take the trot. The trot impulsion was slightly better (but the overstep was about the same :() so he got plenty of praise for that and when he gave me a head down at trot (for the FIRST TIME!), I immediately praised and released him from work.
A few times last week after a short session like above, or when we did not work, we went out for a walk in the next door pasture along the tree line. Again, trying to give him more down time, not focusing on goals, so he can realize that being with me can be fun.
Using this concept (“leave ’em wanting more!”) I’ve noticed that the lessons seem to stick better with him. He is really associating “I did THIS” and that is WHAT SHE WANTED and I GOT REWARDS FOR IT, all translating to a I’M A GENIUS HORSE! attitude (you can really see that he is a bit smug after getting praised for things he has connected – such as the shoulder in).