My buddy Mark gave me some ideas on what I could write about the other day, and one of the things he suggested was talking about “try”. He said that he had not really thought much about this word until he started working with my horses and me so I thought that was a good idea.
“Try” is the effort that a horse will put in on a skill or exercise that I might be asking. Most of us humans, want everything to happen NOW and the first time. Unfortunately that’s not the way it happens for horses, so if we want to get things done fast, we need to go slow. In the music world that I have been in as a singer songwriter and player, there is a saying, “slow is smooth, smooth is fast”. And that’s really true in so many things, including working with horses. If we take our time, go at is slow, we get smoother at our horsemanship, and in turn, our horses learn faster because we are smoother at what we are asking.
So I’ll use a couple of examples of what I look for in a “try” from a horse. To start with lets look at a backing up exercise that I use, where you wiggle your rope and the horse backs up. At first what happens is you wiggle your rope and your horse looks at you like your crazy, so you put more energy in the rope. Your horse raises his head in the air to avoid the energy in the rope and the movement of the halter on his head. Then your horse starts to shift his weight back to his hindquarters, and, YOU STOP. The shift of his weight was what you were looking for. Ok, your right, he did not back up, but he was making an effort to avoid the wiggling, pressure, of the rope that you were giving him, and he moved in the right direction. That’s a try. Sure you want him to back up without you having to tear his head off with the lead rope and halter, with his head down and him relaxed, but your probably not going to get that the first time, or today for that matter, so you take what he offers, a “try”. You will find if you are consistent and patient, it will not be long, a day or so, and he will back up when you START to wiggle the rope. He will back up long before you have to wiggle the rope hard. But when you are starting, you just want him to understand the concept of backing up when you wiggle the rope. You will be able to ask for a better try, or for more steps, as he begins to understand the exercise and the concept of backing up from the pressure of the lead and halter.
However, if he tries to backup, shift his weight to his hindquarters, you don’t see the try, and keep adding more pressure from the rope and halter, he is going to continue to fight the pressure and he will turn and head for the back forty because, you did not recognize the try he made to back up. He is confused, scared, and now will not take the time to listen to you. You have become a leader that does not listen to what he is trying to tell you, and it will take much longer to get done what you were after.
The same it true with flexing my horse from side to side on the ground or in the saddle. Sure, I want him to flex his head to the side, all the way back to his girth area, but if your horse has never done this before or is having trouble with it, your not going to get it by yarding his head back to the side. He will move his feet, which you don’t want, or really try to get away from the pressure. So what I do, is, while standing at his side and far enough back that he has room to get his head back to his girth area, you don’t want to be in the way so he can’t, I pick up the lead rope a gently pull out and back in the direction I want him to move his head. The minute his eye looks at me, or in my direction, I drop the lead rope and rub him on the neck, tell him what a GOOD BOY he is, my clicker training, and let him relax. I start again and wait for that same try. When I get it, I let him rest. I keep looking for, waiting for that “try”. It’s not long before the second I pick up my lead rope, and in time the reins, he will beat me so I won’t have to pull on the lead or reins. This is how I get a horse soft in my hands.
All of this takes the magic pill, time. These are things that I chip away at with every horse that comes here for training. I am always looking for the “try” the effort a horse puts into trying to figure out what I want, and then I reward that effort with rest and a GOOD BOY.
Take what the horse offers you, rather then demanding he give it now. You will find that you will get a lot more done, faster, then you ever thought possible.
Now it’s time for me to “try” and get a cup of coffee.
Will try and keep you updated with info on what the heck I'm doing with horses and music.