Teaching Vs. Training

The majority of my work is focused on teaching people skills to be better horseman.  Part of the horse training process is teaching the owner to interact with their horse that will encourage the good skills and behavior to continue. I help people improve their horsemanship skills as well as their life skills.  I had a parent make a comment the other day that had me really thinking about how I approach training horses vs. teaching people. To my surprise, it really didn’t differ too much.

At the start of every training session with the horses, I have an exercise I do where essentially I ask “where do you want to go today?” In the beginning, the horses are drawn to the barn, the other horses, the gate, basically anywhere “work” usually isn’t involved. That is where we start our work for the day. Doing this over and over, the horses learn to be content wherever we go to do our work for the day. I started using this same psychology working with kids. Some children are quiet, timid, lazy or don’t like a lot of attention initially. Those kids tend to “rather go” on a trail ride. So for those kids, I adapt the lesson I want to teach while on a trail ride. For other kids that want to do the cool stuff, they usually would rather be in the arena because that where you get to go fast!

I found that asking kids where they want to go, especially the quiet, shy kids, they start to get confident about interacting with me and then begin to become confident with receiving instruction. They build their skills and abilities without feeling pressured to learn. So, one of the parents stayed a little longer than usual for her child’s lesson. Every time, after the initial “hi, how are you? How’s school, etc.?” I ask them what they want to do today. The parent said “its your job to tell them what you are doing today, not the child’s.” And yes, on the surface, it is my job to provide the structure and deliver information, but this concept goes deeper than that.

Working with problem horses, I have found that the more you make the horse do what you want to do, the more the horse will tend to protest and “behave badly”. Ray Hunt said “First you go with them, then they go with you, then you go together.” First I go with the person/horse, then I provide the instruction, then we can work together without resentment or fear and actually enjoy the learning process. Until the horse or person can be happy working in anyplace, I ask the question every time “where do you want to go”.


Having A Plan

One of my mentors (Warwick Schiller) has a saying “Stick To The Damn Plan” which he abbreviates STTDP. He emphasizes the importance of perfecting basics and taking as long as it takes. He tells a story about an intern who was a dancer. She shared with him that in the dancing world, beginners want to take intermediate lessons, intermediate dancers want to take advanced lessons, and advanced dancers want to take beginning lessons. We were talking one day while he was helping me with one of my horses and he told me I’d reached the equivalent of a black belt. “Huh?” I’m not a black belt I thought, I’m a long ways away from being good at this stuff. That was when he said, “just because you are a black belt, doesn’t mean you are done learning or practicing, it means that you are ready to accept that you need to work on perfecting your basics.” Those words made a huge impact on how I saw myself and what I’m doing with my horses. I realized that I am the advanced seeking the basic lessons. All this time, I wanted to reach the top and do the fun stuff that everyone else was doing. But when you do the advanced stuff without the basics being perfect, eventually you and your horse start to unravel and fall apart. The mare I was seeking help on, could do a lot of things poorly. He had me start from the beginning and fix each piece, one at a time. Initially I thought it was going to take forever to fix the problems I created, but to my surprise it took a fraction of the time. I spent a few months doing nothing but simple, basic exercises. He (Warwick) hadn’t seen my horse in a few months and when I returned for the next piece of the puzzle, it took him a few minutes to recognize the horse. Her attitude, body and athleticism changed so dramatically that he didn’t recognize her! With the basics being pretty good, we were now working on more advanced maneuvers with very little struggle. I had my doubts that going slow would be faster, I no longer doubt going slow!