Evaluate every lesson and determine what your positives and negatives were for the day, otherwise you’re going to get lost in the training process and forget where you are.
We talk a lot about how the biggest thing when you’re training horses is consistency, but I think it’s worth going a little deeper and talking about why that’s so important in anything you do by relating it back to a few different aspects.
First and foremost, you want to make sure you know where you left off the day before and what feel you had in your seat, hands, and spurs from the previous day. When you take a day or two off in between rides, it’s really difficult to remember exactly where that feel is. The closer you can get to where you left off the previous day, the more you can use that as a jump-off point for moving forward. I’ve always felt like training horses is a 5 steps forward, 3 steps back process — you’ll train for 5 days Tuesday through Saturday, give them Sunday and Monday off, pick back up on Tuesday with where you left off from the previous Thursday, and repeat that process until everything is solid and you start with a showable horse on Tuesday. That, to me, is the most time consuming aspect of training horses — getting solid. The actual act of teaching them the maneuvers and things that they’ll need to get their body in an athletic position is easy, it’s the constant back and forth sway of the training process that is time consuming.
I used this approach learned from training horses into other aspects of my life, when I was attending classes at Michigan State University and working my way through math or biology (I was on track to be a biomedical engineer), I would visit the problems for 20 minutes every few hours and refine the process as I went through, systematically working my way through the problems until I started to recognize the patterns of problems. I figured if it took me 20 minutes to work my way through one problem the first time I did it, 18 the next, 16 the next, 14 the next, I could refine my way down to having the answers be at the top of my mind.
I think the horse works a lot the same way, where in their mind, they’ve got to have the “right answer” when we ask them for something, whether it’s in showmanship with the pivot, set up, back up, trot off, or in the riding, when we’re doing our rollback or indirect turn or lope-off. The success lies in the consistency with the way we ask for these maneuvers, the more perfect you can be, the better they can be through them. I analyze how the horse works their way through the maneuvers with a microscope– do they hold the correct pivot foot through the rollback? Does their weight shift back and forth? Do they push on my hands or want to lift their neck as we turn? Are they crossing efficiently and freely or is there resistance? When you start to systematically dismantle your horse and really pay attention to what’s happening, you’ll start to realize just how many times you need to present the horse with a maneuver before they’ll get truly “great” at it.
A great quote I heard somewhere is that it takes 10,000 hours to reach mastery in any one thing you do in life. If you apply that toward your horse riding and start just keeping track of how many hours you put in per day, and then apply it toward the horse with how many hours they put in, you’ll begin to see where you are and how far you have to go. Where are you in the grand scheme of things and where should you expect to be given that timeframe? Systematically work your way to success.