I’ve posted about building relationships with equines before, but something popped up on my Twitter feed the other day at the right time, so I thought I’d re-visit the topic.
A Parelli instructor blogged about how it can take as little as 15 minutes per day to build a better relationship with your horse and improve on the fundamentals, in response to consistent pleas of, “but I haven’t got time to teach my horse that”. At first glance, the concept of spending “just” 15 minutes per day can sound a little bit like you’re being offered a miracle cure or being talked into a fad diet. As many of us know, there are no quick fixes with horses, but I buy this idea. Why? Because I know it’s true.
When I’m working with a horse – particularly early in our relationship – I tend to go for pretty short sessions, because there’s such a thing as too much, both for them and for me. Do something small, do it well, then quit and leave each other alone to think about it. You have to get out of the mindset of “I only achieved X today”, because the truth is you could have achieved nothing. Because it typically takes a long time to get good at a skill, there’s this misconception that you have to train for hours in one hit in order to look like you’re working hard, but that really isn’t the case. Physical exertion in particular – especially if the person or animal in question is in poor condition – gets less effective when undertaking long sessions, so to give yourself and your horse too much to think about on top of that is counter-productive.
A real case in point is that I’ve seen Prince twice this week already (I was really maximising my days off!): on Monday, I went to the yard to feed the horses and give my sister a quick ground work lesson. I half intended to work with Prince too, but decided against it. However, I sat on an upturned bucket in the field whilst my sister worked, and Prince ambled over eventually. He turned around, waved a leg at me (not like that), and I duly scratched it (he does this a lot – he’ll walk over to the fence if a person is nearby and waggle a leg, demanding it be scratched). He was a very happy horse when I ended the lesson a while later and I hadn’t asked anything of him.
I returned the next day, Jo and I set up some obstacles to continue our open day and playday prep, and Prince actually had fun. I’ve been very guilty of being “work work work” when he and I are together, as I keep my original remit in mind, so I forget that we should sometimes just enjoy ourselves. But I had him posing up on the pedestal (which he loves) and offering some great tries with a scary obstacle. The only disappointing thing was that I couldn’t get him to offer me any jumping, but I’m putting that at least partly down to my apparent inability to encourage jumping from the ground – I need some practice! Ultimately though, things were much improved, and after just a short session, we were both feeling good. I didn’t spend hours “perfecting” any of the obstacles, it was enough for me that we did certain things with all of them.
As the other blog says: your horse will be there tomorrow, and the next day. That doesn’t mean you should put things off, but it does mean that you should take one step, then make sure you keep coming back to take more steps.