When you begin to teach your horse something new it might be useful to just imagine training a similar concept to a dolphin. How would you communicate with an animal that you cannot push, pull, restrain or in any way physically cue? If you've ever watched dolphins (and other marine mammals) perform intricate and complicated tasks willingly and enthusiastically on cue from their trainers you'll know what an amazing feat this is. But how did the trainer communicate their wish that the dolphin swim around the pool and then jump through that hoop?
I know riding horses and playing with dolphins might seem a million miles apart, but the basic issues are the same. How do you get someone who doesn’t speak your language to do something for you? Do you just shout louder or make lots of gestures and hope they guess what you want?
What would you do with the dolphin who doesn’t jump out of the water and through the hoop? Do you think getting cross and frustrated, maybe getting in and pushing him or even hitting him would make him understand the task? Does the trainer call the dolphin stupid, lazy, dumb, stubborn or is he ‘taking the.... you know what’?
.... or does the trainer break the task down into tiny parts and work on each component, rewarding his/her partner and resting frequently, only moving on when the animal is confident and thoroughly understands the cue and the desired response. Eventually the trainer would put all these parts together until the two of them appear to be communicating by telepathy!
So the big question is this....
When you don’t get the desired response from your horse (side-passing along the pole, left lead lope, the perfect stop etc) do you think your horse is being ‘difficult’ or do you ask if your communication was as good as it can be?