Filed in Category: horse training
As promised, I’ll give a brief outline of what clarity means to me in the context of training a horse.
Obviously, clarity refers to the accuracy with which the brain of the horse interprets our signals. The closer our intent is to the way the horse sees it, the clearer we are being. But when our intent is unclear confusion reigns and the horse’s response can be significantly different from what we wanted.
A lack of clarity is a stress to a horse. Imagine learning to drive and the instructor says, “Ya got this wheel thing that turns the car. The pedal thing makes it go and the other pedal thing makes it stop. Oh yeah and this pedal thing and stick thing together allow you to change gears. See driving is easy. Now off you go and drive to the shops and back.” That would be a pretty stressful experience.
Actually, now I think about it that’s how dad did teach me to drive.
Several variables go into making a person’s signals clear.
Firstly, you have to have a horse’s soft focus. He must be listening and calm. If a horse is upset and his insides are vibrating with tension, it’s hard for him to hear your signals no matter how clear you think you are making them. I’ve talked about the importance of a quiet mind before and it is part of creating clarity.
Secondly your signals must be very consistent. You can’t be pulling on your left rein to go left today, but tomorrow you pull on the right rein to go left. You have to be using the same signals in the same way; otherwise your horse will get confused. But the caveat to that is that you have to be prepared to change how you present your idea if the way you are presenting it is not working. Don’t be stuck with doing something the same way just for the sake of consistency. You should be consistent, but only with the things that work for the horse – not the things that don’t.
Thirdly, part of creating clarity is to break things into bite size pieces that a horse can handle. For example, if you want to teach a horse to back up 100 steps, you start with rewarding him when he shifts his weight back. When that is clear to him, then go to rewarding when he takes a step back. As that gets clear in his mind, then try backing 2 steps before rewarding. Then 5 steps and 10 steps. Keep building until you have him backing 100 steps. Don’t ask him to back 100 steps the first time because for sure he will get to maybe 5 or 6 steps before wondering what the hell he has to do to get you to stop pulling on the reins.
When there is a break down in clarity it is never a bad idea to go back a stage or two to something the horse already understands well. Break it down into the earlier steps and start building on those again in smaller increments. Don’t go to the next stage until the present stage is well understood by your horse. For example, don’t try to teach flying changes to your horse until you can consistently get your horse to choose the canter lead of your choice.
In my view, one of the problems with a lot of modern training is that the lessons that came before are rarely clearly understood well enough to allow the horse to be ready for the next lesson. Modern horses have become tremendous athletes, which means that can physically perform at a high level even though they are physically incorrect. So a horse like Totilas can produce record scores in a dressage test despite being jammed up and lacking engagement of the hindquarters. The temptation is to push such horses faster than they are mentally prepared because they have the physical capability. But the resistance is still there due to a lack of clarity in the training. It’s just that their athletic ability allows them to move impressively despite the resistance. There are multitudes of good horses wasted each year because they are messed up by a lack of clear training.
It’s important to keep in mind that clarity and a lack of clarity affect the horse only through his mind. The muscles and skin of the horse have no concept of clarity and therefore when we speak of clarity we speak of the horse’s brain. Training is for the most part about the horse’s mind – not his body. What the body is doing is secondary to what the brain is thinking.
If we have a horse’s focus, it gives us the opportunity to converse with him. Without focus there is no conversation, there is no clarity. Focus gives us the chance to offer clarity. But together with focus and clarity we get softness. We can’t have softness without focus and clarity and next time I will expand on the concept of softness.