A Fine Line

April 26, 2016

There comes a time in the training of every horse, for every discipline, in which a thoughtful trainer reaches a critical dilemma - do I push, or do I wait?  Do I ask for one more transition, jump, change, or movement?  Or am I being greedy?


The relationship between pushing and waiting can be likened to that of the leg and the hand.  Each has it's own specific purpose, but it's the collaboration of the two that instills new depth to the training and communication with the horse. 

 Waiting applies in showing too - giving your horse the opportunity to thoughtfully accept the atmosphere at shows before requiring good schooling; accomplish good schooling before requiring good showing.

Van and Jenny (above) and Christina and Pebbles (below) chilling just outside the show ring at two different shows.


I believe that waiting is the harder decision to make, and more often the correct one.  It is human nature, especially in this era, to want results quickly, as we mistakenly equate horse emotions and processing speed with our own.  This is part of the instant gratification we see liberally dousing our society.  Waiting requires patience and organization, it requires thoughtfulness, and it requires that we can see the future benefits to be reaped from saving advancement for another day.  Waiting is especially hard when a rider doesn't search for the little improvements - a step in the right direction, a more settled mind, a quicker reaction.  Without the acknowledgements of these smaller victories, it is hard to walk away and save the bigger ones for later.  In essence, waiting is a positive action.  Rarely will your horse suffer from taking a little extra time.


On the other hand, pushing is typically a very easy notion to give into.  We want to be better, jump higher, and extend farther than all those videos we watch online.  We want to do visually admirable and exciting things.  We want people to 'ooh' and 'ahh'.  We seek affirmation and praise from others instead of the private pride that we're good horsemen and women.  It is much easier to damage a horse's psyche from pushing rather than waiting.  Horses retain less of what you're teaching them when they're stressed.

 It is important to add days specifically to enjoy or build upon your relationship with your horse.  Days outside the ring or on the ground.  If you're teaching something new (especially to a young horse) and your horse is getting frustrated, go for a hack and try another day.

According to Google's dictionary, training is "the action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior."  We choose to train our horses to perform certain actions for our benefit.  Because this is our choice, not theirs, we must always consider how they feel, but we can also acknowledge that it is necessary to push them outside of their comfort zones to learn any new skills.  This is where the precariously balanced relationship between pushing and waiting is established, and it is a fine line to tread.  When the scales start to tip precariously in the direction of one or the other, training is disrupted.


Without push, there is no advancement, but without wait, there is no understanding.  


Horses have fragile minds.  When they're pushed a step too far on a regular basis, it can degrade their spirit and frustrate them in their attempt to decipher our foreign language.  When they're babied (excessive waiting), they're never challenged to try to understand or improve in their work.  However, with good harmony between the two, you can establish positive training habits and foster exceptional results in happy, confident horses.





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