The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That Einstein was a genius with that definition.
Doing the same thing over and over again can be the difference between making progress and not making progress with just about anything, particularly with horses. Doing the same thing over and over again creates patterns and behavior chains. This is a good thing when the thing done over and over is going to create good patterns and its a bad thing when its used incorrectly.
An example of doing the same thing over and over again that is productive, would be something like achieving a good stop on your horse. In order for a horse to have a great whoa, he needs to have several things working really well first. 1) He needs good, relaxed forward motion 2) he needs to softly yield to the left rein and the right rein independently 3) He needs to yield to your left and right leg independently 4) He needs to give vertically when both reins are picked up on and 5) he needs a good responsive backup without leg pressure. These 5 things when done perfectly with very little pressure from your hands and legs, create a soft, responsive stop. The more systematic you are about perfecting each of the 5 things, the better results you will get, and the quicker you will achieve it. If you get in a hurry, and don’t do the same steps again and again, your stop will be as good as your preparation, poor.
An example of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result would be something like horses that spook. I have learned this lesson hard and well. My gelding, Super Horse was the king of spooking at the same stuff every day in the arena at home. He sees the same objects day after day, and would still jump sideways going past them. Day after day I’d make him go up to the spooky objects to show him that “its just the same stupid barrel” or whatever he spooked at. I did this for a several years before I realized that I was living that definition of insanity.
I began my quest of breaking down why my horse spooked day after day after day at the same crap. Long story short…. it was stress. He was very obedient when ridden or on the ground, but he was never truly comfortable with what he was doing or where we were, so he was always worried under the surface about everything until he was back in his pen with his friends. When I went back and started him over like a young colt, I found so many holes in what I thought was my broke horse, pretty humbling to say the least.
Day after day from there, I changed my routine and I began a new process where I worked on getting him good with his groundwork and good with his basics undersaddle. All the things I struggled on with the riding previously like lead changes, stops, turnarounds, etc were all right there, with hole after hole shining through. My forward wasn’t good, he’d either bolt off and be nervous or he’d be a lazy cow. He was resistant to slight rein pressure because for so long, I MADE him give. He gapped his mouth constantly to avoid the pulling. His back up, flat out sucked because for so long I pulled and kicked to make him do it. Needless to say I apologized to him every day for my ignorance and belligerance towards him and every day he forgave me and tried his best.
The last 2 years of starting over with him have been incredible. I’m nowhere near where I want to be with him, but I am so much further from where I was. He no longer spooks at the stuff in the arena and magically I fixed that not by working on his spookieness but by working on his basics which built his knowledge of what I wanted and ultimately his confidence. The lessons I’ve learned the most out of it was patience. Not patience to put up with the same behavior for years and years like I did, but the patience to work on the same things over and over until you get them right. Basics are boring but they are essential to a happy, well adjusted horse that you can do anything with. Just 2 weeks ago Super Horse started his roping career without a hitch, such a rewarding thing in my book. And it was an easy transition because all the hard work is done!
“Patience is not the ability to wait but the ability to keep a good attitude while waiting.”
— Joyce Meyer