Considerations for Success by Dick Pieper
As people begin and continue with their riding programs, a few things usually surface that have some bearing on success. Among them: consistent riding and personality and behavioral considerations.
Consistency. The key to success as a trainer is developing high degree of skill at being consistent. You become a great showman or rider by developing the kind of consistency with which you follow your program exactly, religiously and with no deviation.
The rider should have at least average timing and average balance. If the rider can be extremely consistent, the horse is the one that has to be the athlete.
Personality. A rider should learn which type of personality he gets along with best. Usually, a more aggressive rider needs a quieter, less sensitive horse. The more sensitive or quieter rider is going to get along with a more “feely” or explosive kind of horse.
Young trainers generally get along best in the beginning with really laid-back horses. As the trainers’ skills and consistency, and knowledge of horses’ minds improves, these young people become able to train a more sensitive and feely horse.
Behavior. There’s always a cause when there is a behavior change in a horse. The wise trainer tries to recognize any factors that could result in behavior modification.
It’s a big mistake to start bestowing the horse with human tendencies. Even professional trainers can fall into the trap.
You hear, “He’s just decided he doesn’t want to do… “ or “He needs to figure out this.” A horse doesn’t decide things or figure out things. His behavior is a reaction to the behavior of his trainer, his environment, his health, libido and conditioning. Since you know these things, your job as trainer is not to let outside influences affect the horse or yourself!
I know that I’m a morning person. I want to get up in the morning, have coffee and breakfast, and ride my futurity horses as early in the day as possible —before the phone calls, customer questions or business. I want to go to the barn with my mind uncluttered so I can focus on my horses and can devote my entire mental process to the goal of being consistent about how I do everything and how I ask for everything.
Sometimes I might have a horse at a critical stage, where I think I’m just about to make a breakthrough, or I feel that things are not going well with a horse. Maybe it’s a day that started with a crisis and I’m behind schedule —or really rushed or out of sorts. I sometimes skip riding rather than ride in that instance; I’m in less than my optimum state of mind. I don’t want to allow my morale to have a negative impact on my horse at a critical time in his development. My lack of being tuned into my horse could be detrimental. If I’m not at my best, I don’t try to raise the degree of difficulty on any segment of training, but the only horse I actually skip is one at a critical stage.
Reasoning or Repetition?
It is important to know how a horse learns. Understanding equine learning enables the horseman to communicate with a horse on a daily basis.
People reason—horses don’t. People learn by generalization. Horses learn by differentiation and repetition.
A person might see a big green tractor in the north end of the pasture one day and investigate it to find that the large foreign object is not threatening. The next day, if the person goes into the pasture and the tractor is still there—but at the south end of the pasture—he probably would not bother to investigate; he learned the day before that the tractor is not harmful. The person also would reason that the tractor probably is the same one he investigated the day before.
For the horse, things work much differently.
First, when he is released into the pasture, he scans the area, looking for any changes that could mean potential danger. That tractor interrupts the familiar picture, and he responds by using his two natural defenses, quick reaction and flight. He snorts and runs away, but since he is confined to the area and can’t leave, he might then carefully investigate every aspect of the pasture.
But even after investigating the tractor, and settling down, when the horse enters the pasture tomorrow and sees the same tractor in a different location, he most likely does not make the connection. To him, there is no connection between a change in the north end of the pasture and the tractor now in the south end. He’s not going to “figure it out,” or reason that is the same tractor. The horse notes the changed environment and reacts by being wary and careful because even a slight change in his surroundings could mean danger, just as it did to his wild ancestors.
A horse’s memory of how his environment looks is remarkable and even the smallest differences are noticed and noted. Likewise, he is just as aware of his rider. Changes in the rider, his actions and his methods speak just as loudly.
Have you ever played the game in which someone brings out a tray of items and tells everyone to look at them? Then later, the same tray is displayed—minus one item to be identified. Not everyone does well at this game.
A horse could play this game in that he has the ability to differentiate—recognize changes in his environment—and that ability is developed to an amazing degree. But the horse cannot reason what the change is.
Dick Pieper is internationally recognized as a horseman’s horseman and this iconic individual has influenced and developed the careers of riders and their trainers for decades. After fifty plus years in the horse industry, his name has come to stand for a special brand of arena excellence that never compromised the welfare of the horse.
For more information, go to dickpieper.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 6