Bad teachers, failed attempts - and how to do it better

Leslie Desmond, who rode with Tom and Bill Dorrance, held a clinic in Switzerland some months ago. She gave me some new perspectives on horses and horsemanship, one being to appreciate the horse‘s tries - even if he tries the wrong thing. You might know that Pat Parelli, too, often says „reward the slightest try“.
If I want my horse to back for instance, and I move the rope until I get the first step back, most likely my arm feels like it‘s about to fall off and my horse is mad and confused as he bumped in the rope with his nose repeatedly. Which comes pretty close to yelling at him constantly. 
It‘s up to me to discern when the horse understands what I want and then to take out the pressure immediately and stop moving the rope. 

If our horse is more eager to get away from us than he is to come to us
we know that we need to change something. Photo: Nadja

Understanding on the horse‘s part does not necessarily mean that he steps back eagerly. His expression just might have changed or - which is more obvious - he started to shift his weight back or lifted a leg in order to get back. These small beginnings is what I reward first. I see the horse‘s efforts and I let him know by releasing that he is on the right track. 
Slowly I ask for a whole step, and then several steps. It‘s important to release for the tries to confirm the horse and to keep up his motivation. If he tries, but hasn‘t got it completely yet, and instead of rewarding we firm up, we spoil being obedient for him. Instead he learns that we are hard to please. Next time, maybe he won‘t even try for us, or only reluctantly.

I guess, we all have come across someone in our lifes - be it a teacher or even our parents - who made that mistake with us. Someone who just derided or ignored our honest efforts (as humble as they might have been). For someone like that you don‘t go the extra mile anymore. 

I believe, that more often than not, we don‘t recognize when our horse is trying. We look over it (not intentionally) and then conclude that we need to firm up or become clearer. Instead, it would be more appropriate to just wait and give the horse some time to figure it out. 

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