A Way Out

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

I’m still not much of a horseman.

However, in working with our two young horses (a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old) I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching videos on the topic of horse training.

Although I’ve barely scratched the surface, I am really having a lot of fun learning!

I’ve noticed a common training theme that is frequently repeated in every chapter and/or video. Some call it the principle of pressure-release.  Others call it making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard.  I just finished reading Ray Hunt’s book, Think Harmony with Horses, in which he calls it putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out.

It is a very simple training principle with a myriad of practical applications. Carson James has a whole library of videos applying this basic principle to different training situations.

In a nutshell, the idea is to set the horse up in a situation where it is easy for him to do what you’re trying to teach (this is the out), but difficult for him to do anything else (this is the bind). Then apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to find the out (do what you are trying to teach).

The instant the horse makes a try (takes a step, shifts weight, turns head, etc.) in the right direction, release the pressure.  Take a moment to encourage and reward the horse (pet him and talk to him) then do it again.  Repeat until the horse responds smoothly with the desired response.

One benefit to this technique is that rather than trying to force the horse to do what the trainer wants, the trainer is letting the horse figure it out for himself. Rather than trying to over-ride the horse’s free will, the horse is learning to voluntarily adjust his will to submit to the trainer’s will.

Another benefit, as explained in Think Harmony with Horses, is the bond created between man and horse.  Using this technique, the horse learns to consider the trainer as a trusted friend, because the trainer always leaves the horse an out.  Over time, the horse gains confidence in the trainer and in his ability to follow the trainer’s prompts.

The concept is amazingly simple. The application, however, is an art requiring lots of practice.

The first trick is knowing the horse’s personality and training level well enough to know where to start and how much pressure to apply. Difficult tasks often require breaking learning down into smaller steps, so the horse can gain confidence and understand expectations before learning the difficult task.

Also, the trainer must apply just enough pressure to encourage the horse to search for the out, but not so much pressure as to panic the horse.  As training progresses, the trainer should use less and less pressure, so the horse can learn a quick response to a light touch.

The second trick is timing. Pressure must be applied to encourage desired behavior and instantly released at even a tiny try toward desired behavior.  The release is what lets the horse know where the out is, and the out needs to be as easy to find as possible.  However, as the horse progresses in learning the out, the trainer should hold pressure to insist on a more specific try (such as a full step rather than just a head turn or a weight shift) before releasing pressure.

As I contemplated this concept of putting the horse in a bind while always leaving an out, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

God, who intimately knows my personality and training level, sets me up in stressful situations while always leaving me an out. He knows just how much stress to apply to help me find the out without being unduly panicked.  He is my faithful friend throughout…helping me find the right way and helping me learn to follow His prompts.  He never forces me, but helps me learn to voluntarily submit my will to His.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

What a faithful friend and personal trainer!

 

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Balk Bolt Buck

knockout round

A very relaxed horse at the end of the ride

The last few weeks, I’ve been working with our five-year-old gelding to relax, slow down, and smooth gait transitions. Knockout is a sweet-natured young horse with good confirmation and an excellent pedigree. However, he tends to be tense during rides which can lead to issues.

Last weekend, following a stormy Friday night, our arena was too muddy for riding. So I decided to take Knockout on a trail ride through our back pasture and woods.

In general, Knockout tends to be skittish with woodland trails and water crossings. I assume his west Texas raising didn’t provide much opportunity for either.

Saturday morning we started out. The 8-inch rainstorm left creeks swollen and trees dripping. Needless to say, Knockout had ample opportunity to feel stressed…and I had ample opportunity to ask him to relax.

Knockout tends to respond the same to each stressful obstacle, whether a fast-flowing creek, a low-hanging branch, or a tall vine. First, he balks. He looks for an out…an alternate path. He may try to turn aside, or he may try to turn around. At this stage, his goal is to simply avoid the stressful situation.

As I continue to hold him to the course and nudge him forward, Knockout’s next strategy is to bolt. Basically, he concludes that if the obstacle cannot be avoided, then the next best thing is to get past it as quickly as possible.

Initially, I allow some level of controlled bolting. While I won’t allow him to totally flee the scene, I don’t mind him picking up to a trot past a ‘spook’ then dropping back to a walk. Over time, however, I expect him to take these things in stride without the need to change speed.

Since he was particularly nervous this morning, I decided it was a good time to work past some of his fears.

I picked out one short stretch of trail that he was especially stressed about and looped back over it, working on relaxing and walking calmly. After several cycles, he was calmer, but still had specific trail sections he tried to rush past. So, I began stopping and backing him up each time he broke into a trot. I backed him up to the location he spooked, and dropped the reins. When he tried to step away, I interfered then dropped the reins.

The first time I brought him to a full stop beside a ‘spook’ Knockout responded with an attempted buck. It wasn’t anything malicious, just a natural response to the situation. He was nervous and frustrated, seeking release for pent-up energy, and it came out in a buck. Fortunately, I was ready and caught it quickly. I interrupted the buck then dropped the reins.

Once Knockout relaxed in the full-stop and ceased trying to buck or step away, I prompted him to continue down the path. Before long, he learned what I wanted and relaxed quicker.

By the time we’d circled through the same path about twenty times, Knockout was able to calmly walk the full path. I could literally feel him relax and cease resisting. We continued a very relaxed ride back home and ended on a good note.

As I thought about Knockout’s lesson that day, I realized he saw three possible responses to a tense situation. As he saw it, he could either balk, bolt, or buck…and if the first didn’t work he’d try the next.

My task is to teach him another option…to believe…to simply relax and trust me. That’s not an easy thing. When his fight-or-flight instincts tell him to balk, bolt, or buck, it’s not easy to trust me enough to simply relax.

Now I’m wondering.

How often do I respond to stressful situations with balk, bolt or buck, while God is asking me to believe…to trust? Click To Tweet

How often does the Holy Spirit whisper, “Fear not. Peace, be still. Have faith. Trust in Me,“ as I frantically look for an out or throw a fit?

And how many times do we circle back around to repeat a lesson I haven’t yet internalized?

Lord, please continue to be patient with me. Help me learn to face stressful situations, not with fear, but with confidence in you.

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]