Let your horse be right

smile like you mean it

Yesterday when I went out to train Aesop I had a clear idea in my head about what I wanted the training session to look like. I was going to practice his increasingly solid “riding from the ground” skills outside, in his saddle, and then play with a bit of balance work in trot as a reward for good RFTG. He really loves to trot now that he knows he gets “paid” for it in treats and wants to offer it any time the chance arises.

When we got outside and into the training session, it was clear Aesop needed a different lesson than the one I had planned. I had planned on doing a training session where we would review what he had already learned and get in some nice repetitions of fairly stable behaviors. But his behaviors weren’t where I had left them. He had processed the go forward with someone at your side really well from our last lesson and was ready to offer it just when asked to bend or when I got near the side of the saddle. He was ready to show me what a good walk-off looks like and I had been so busy envisioning our fun trot work I was caught totally off-guard. Here’s a video of me caught by surprise and re-setting his walk off’s, which I had worked so hard for the last three training sessions:

To be clear, Aesop isn’t too conflicted about being re-set. He handles the information in stride and doesn’t get emotional or frustrated. It is an ok training choice that centers around getting stimulus control.But many other young horses would be frustrated or discouraged to be interrupted at this stage in their learning. To my small credit, I am clicking and treating these re-sets because I am at least aware they are new to him. But in my work, I am looking to let the horse be right. It’s not a natural way to look at things, and it takes practice. So how can I let him be right? I can let him walk off and click for either soft bend within the walk off or staying with me, both of which are criteria I will have in this exercise. That allows Aesop to have the right answer while I am still building skills we need for our future riding. Here’s a video of me with my changed criteria:

In this video you can see that Aesop leans down on his forehand and walks off when I ask him to bend. He’s not waiting for my breath cue against his side and he’s walking through my bend request. But instead of re-setting and blocking him, I just go with him, but I wait for him to raise his head a bit and bend more correctly before I release the rein and click/reward. He gets to be right and I get behavior that I want, too. I can go back in in a few sessions, once he’s really confident about walking off and work on stimulus control. It’s not important right now.

Aesop and IPart of what I love so much about training is the number of choices it presents at every moment. It’s both what is hard about training and what makes the training session such an infinite place to inhabit. It’s what confounds newer trainers and obsesses those who make it a life’s work. There are training mantras, though, that can help a trainer navigate their choices better. In this case, the mantra was: Let you horse be right.

5 thoughts on “Let your horse be right

  1. Very interesting challenge to your training plan and kind of made me laugh that he was so excited to show you how good he was at his new behavior. What a sweetheart! Loved your final sentence…such a good one to use as a guide for training!

    • Hi Sue,
      I’m so glad he made you laugh:) I think people get so serious around horses that we forget to be lighthearted and to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  2. Let your horse be right….I love that! I am a newbie trainer and am always looking for ways that I feel are better for me and the horse both. I want to be able to communicate so they can understand, and I want them to feel proud after a lesson. Like Sue, I giggled when Aesop was excited to show off his new found skills. 🙂 Made me happy inside!
    A friend found your blog and shared it with a few of us…I am loving it! Thank you!

    • Hi Karen,
      I love the “Let your horse be right” too. It’s always a challenge and it keeps me thoughtful about the work. We humans are so good at looking for what’s wrong! You sound like you really have your horse’s best interests at heart – how lovely for them. Yes! I want my horses to feel smart, good in their bodies and proud after a lesson, too. Thank you for reading:)

  3. It’s a great video I have not even thought that far, still working on getting my boy’s to tight halter off, and clicker training to do it, but nope not yet …. I hope to get to this stage.. he looks like a wonderful boy!

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