Reward With Rest

Rest is an important horse-training tool.

Remember recess?

You quit concentrating for a little while and just enjoyed yourself for a few minutes. Can you imagine what school would have been like without recess?

I never used to think about recess when I was training horses.

At some point, I noticed an interesting coincidence: I’d be really intent on teaching a horse something when the phone would ring. I’d talk to whoever it was for awhile, then I’d hang up and go back to concentrating on my horse. And they’d be better!

I bet a lot of horses learn to love the sound of a ringing phone, just like kids love to hear the bell that signals recess from their lesson. Or, depending on the day, horse and trainer, it may represent the bell that signals the end of the round in a boxing match.

Most experienced riders know to search for a good stopping point when a training session starts feeling like a battle of wills. But why wait till that point to call the timeout? Why not stop while things are good? Or when there’s an interruption like the phone?

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When an occasional recess is part of your routine, instead of something that just happens when you’re interrupted, your training program may progress a lot faster. You can benefit from it as much as your horse.

Maybe you’ve been trying to get your horse to respond a certain way, repeating your signals over and over, and the horse does not catch on. You’ve heard horses learn by repetition, so you keep repeating what you’re doing.

During recess, you may figure out a different approach that makes more sense to the horse. That’s progress.

If you have more than one horse to ride, you can just switch back and forth between horses. It’s especially important to not tax a young horse’s mind too much. He’ll either get confused or resentful. Either way, you’ll end up spending more time training, and the results will probably never be as good as if you’d gone slower.

Of course, there’s got to be a reason for recess. You’ve got to give the horse some little job to do, so the break means something.

Most people are aware of how a horse sighs and licks his lips when he relaxes. You’ll notice as you start incorporating short timeouts that it takes less and less time for a horse to come down from work mode to relaxed and receptive. He soon learns to recognize and appreciate those short breaks.

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These breaks also help build a good relationship with that individual horse. Think about the school teachers that helped you the most. They pushed you, but they rewarded you, too. Naturally, you tried harder for them than teachers you didn’t have a good relationship with.

It is the same with horses. Make them eager to do what you ask of them.

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