I used to think that I couldn’t end a session unless the horse had achieved whatever task I’d started, especially if they’d done it well already then couldn’t seem to replicate it again. I used to drill horses because I was told that if I didn’t I’d be ending the session on a “bad” note and I’d be ruining the horse’s training, teaching them they could “get away” with it. 🙄
Let me give an example. You’re working on your canter transitions, your horse does a couple of good ones, then a couple of not so good ones, you feel like you have to keep trying again and again because you can’t finish unless they do a good one again, right?
What is actually happening here? Your horse is probably fatigued, whether that be muscle soreness, general fitness or maybe they’re just feeling tired today, so they are struggling to produce the transition that you want. The more you try the more fatigued they become and the less likely it is to happen. All we are doing is making horses sore and also developing really negative associations with training. 😕
I have found training horses to be so much easier and more rewarding now I can recognise both physical and mental fatigue and I’m not afraid to just stop. The less I ask the more they seem willing to give as their associations with work become more positive and I’m not asking them to do things they aren’t physically capable of.
Its completely okay for things not to be perfect, learning is messy. Its okay if your last attempt at something is not the best one of the session, in fact that may be a sign to stop. Giving your horse a day off and coming back to it again in a few days will do more for your progress than all the drilling in the world.
It always used to surprise me when horses would come out better the next session even when I’d felt the end of the last session had been rubbish. The amount of times I’d be teaching something new and it seemed the horse didn’t quite get it but then they’d get it immediately in the next session had me off doing some research. Now I understand that horses need REM sleep to process learning and appreciate that they feel muscle fatigue just like us so I can see why this happens.
Their brains can fatigue just as their bodies can and its important to take this into account even more if you’ve travelled them to a strange environment or you’re teaching them something new. If you are in a lesson situation and you feel your horse has done enough, tell the trainer, you are the most important advocate for your horse, don’t leave it up to other people. You can always ask to a do an easier exercise if you still have time to fill in your session.
Ending on a good note can actually look like “okay I can feel you’re struggling now, lets just stop, go for a walk and finish for today,” it might just be the best thing you do for your training and, more importantly, your relationship with your horse. 🐴