TRUE TRAINING 76 - Using Time to Transcend Time Pressure
Brain-based horsemanship offers a thousand reasons to slow down with horses, to give them more time to assimilate new knowledge. But every now and then, my human prefrontal cortex tells me to get moving with True.
Fortunately, this desire to move on does not occur within his daily training sessions. While riding, I’m able to condition and teach at his pace. No, the trouble comes after hours, at home, when looking at the calendar, planning for the future, realizing that we aren’t making progress as quickly as I would like. True is not for sale or show, so my reasons for wanting to advance his progress are largely unwarranted. He’s doing very well, and I’m happy with all he’s learned. I also love teaching him.
My prefrontal cortex keeps elbowing me, though. He hasn’t progressed with new maneuvers over the past year very much. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that his trainer has been out giving clinics, presentations, and lessons, while also writing articles, social media posts, and blogs. Hmm. Trueby has also been on a weight-gain regimen that requires grain. So, much of the time this winter, I’ve been riding grain… with all of its accompanying spooks, bucks, and scoots. There have been some arena challenges and plenty of snow.
I have kept True well exercised through the winter, so he is legged up and ready to go. His weight is top notch at this point, so I’m reducing his grain gradually. On all counts, it feels as if we need to leave the comfort of the seasonal starting block.
Maybe it’s just something about spring that causes so many trainers and riders to want to get a move on for summer. Those of us who can’t ride year round know that 6-8 months of arena time flies by quickly. We need to get those flying changes down pat and resume jumping lessons. We need more work shortening and lengthening the canter. And we need to get ourselves back in shape after a long winter, with bareback rides, no-stirrups, long fast sitting trots, and mounted exercises that build stamina and strength. We need gym time.
My year has also seen injuries, a typical state for horse trainers. I spent nearly a year rehabilitating my $12,000 hand. That’s what it cost for the surgery to put a spiral fracture together with a three-inch titanium screw. I don’t want to add up all the physical therapy and rehabilitation costs that followed. Now I’m in Physical Therapy for a cheaper but only slightly less annoying elbow.
The risk in pushing training forward, of course, is that we will move too fast. That often leads to spring injuries on horses who are not well conditioned to return to work after winter. It leads to human injuries for the same reason. Being in a hurry around horses is a great way to get hurt. We often forget that speed is counter-productive for mental health, too. Ours and our horses’. Horse brains are easily overwhelmed and usually need to be encouraged to remain calm. Many horses endure mental setbacks later in life because they were not allowed the necessary time to learn the basics fully.
Thinking about all this, I’ve decided to ramp up True’s training systematically. Rather than allowing my prefrontal cortex to hurry me along, I’m making a schedule of daily time spent teaching True new lessons. For example, I’ll start with his usual daily 45-60 minutes of maintenance exercise, but now devoting 5 minutes of that time to teaching something new. I’ll gradually increase that time: 10 minutes, 15, and so on. In creating a schedule like this, we have to take the horse’s needs into account, of course, and be flexible.
Training systematically always helps me to take my Type A brain out of the equation. Instead of working on a new task with a horse until it’s done, until it’s good, until it’s perfect… I can work on it until my five or ten minutes are up. Keeping my prefrontal cortex in check helps the horse learn. It’s like using time to train more independently of time pressure.