Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Do-it-yourself Approach to Training

How the Five W’s of Horsemanship Can Help

If you have invited me into your horsemanship journey it is because you are trying to build a better relationship with your horse. You are attempting a “do-it-yourself” project and, much like in home improvement, choosing not to hire a professional and attempting it yourself can be messy. It may take longer, and not turn out perfect, but there is value in the process and in being part of creating something. The most common phrase I hear is “How do I (fill in the blank)?” With the plethora of videos and articles available, our brain often goes straight to the doing portion of the task, and we skip past the understanding. I encourage people to be thoughtful about what they are attempting. If you don’t have a good understanding of what you are planning to ask of your horse, how will you be able to lead him to the correct answer? Think about training your horse as a whole and, before beginning, consider the Five W’s.

Who? This answer is always you, and a given horse. Have a realistic grasp of your abilities and riding level. How has your experience up to this point prepared you for this task? Where is your horse in his training? What potential troubles do you foresee based on your experience with him?

What? What exactly are you asking your horse to do? Have a vision in your head of the precise finished maneuver and what things your horse must accomplish. For example: Collection is your horse driving from the hind end, reaching up and under himself, while staying behind the boundary of the bit and between the boundaries of legs and reins. This results in a horse that has an elevated back and is flexed at the poll. Break down the steps of the maneuver so you can correctly school your horse as well as reward him.

Why? Why can cover a whole host of things. Why are you teaching your horse this cue? Why is it important in the big picture? For example: I want my horse to be able to collect so he is moving in a way that will allow him to be balanced and able to perform even more advanced maneuvers. Why does my horse need to do the things outlined in the What? Why must he be in that particular carriage? For example: My horse must first drive from his hind end to avoid simply dropping on his front end and pulling himself forward. Clear understanding of the What and the Why will keep you from putting the pieces of the puzzle together in the wrong order, or leaving pieces out entirely.

Where? Where does this skill fit into my training program? Is this an end goal maneuver or is it a building block? For Example: I will use collection when I am moving my horse forward, and it will become increasingly important as I teach more complex maneuvers.

When? When are you going to use this skill? Now that you know the What you know that you must give reward to help your horse understand your cue. When are you going to release to reward the correct response? You also need to have a timeline and realistic expectations for how long it may take for your horse to achieve a skill. Training doesn’t become habit overnight. There are steps and stages for accomplishment that fit into your end goal. For example: In the first stage of teaching my horse collection, I am going to release when he is moving forward off my legs and softens his face. Now you can think about the Doing portion of training.

Sometimes, answering the above questions will make the How obvious. Other times you will need to seek out a drill to help. When you are applying drills or trying things you have seen others do, be very thoughtful about breaking down what you are doing and being positive that it fits with your goals. Always remember that you are not just physically training your horse, you are reaching into his brain and teaching him to respond to cues. It is a tall order to be learning at the same time as you are teaching your horse. Be diligent and do your homework before getting in the saddle. NWHS

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I am trying to learn and train at the same time and it is, like you say, "a tall order" very tall, indeed. I don't want to mess up, but then again I don't always know the correct way to give a cue and sometimes I tend to learn the better way later. I shall take your advice though, and do my homework which of course includes reading more of your posts and others. Thanks for posting informative articles that I can apply and use. I can't wait to read more in the future.