This morning I was rudely awakened with the rain battering against the window by gusts of wind. By the time I was having breakfast the sun was out, the wind had died down and things were shaping up nicely to head for the barn. I was forming my training plan for the horses which involved getting outside and take advantage of this rare dry day. I was successfully being lulled in to a false sense of security by the sun, a rare sight these days in Scotland, on route to the barn. Just as I opened the barn door I found myself hanging on as the wind whipped up again and rain started to drive in to my eyes !
I don’t have the luxury of an indoor arena to work in and the weather can really, literally, put a dampener on training time. But I want to keep training and practicing and thinking about the training and I want to keep my horses fit, physically and mentally. So I needed to come up with solutions that let me stay in the barn and still play with my horses while we listen to the wind trying to take the roof off and the rain trying to batter down the barn door….and stay dry!
The solution…break my end goals down in to small steps.
The barn I have as my stables is a decent size. I also have the advantage that many don’t have in that; I can open the gate that separates the stables and I can make one big stable. However, there are still 2 horses in that space and sometimes having them share a space while trying to train can bring a whole other set of challenges. So more often than not I keep the barn as 2 stables and work with each horse in their own space.
I do something similar with the training…I separate out the component parts of each end goal and teach each component part separately (as a stand alone behaviour). On top of that, I break the end goal down even more. When I have identified the component parts I look at each of those as an end goal and I break it down in to steps. Then I take each of those steps and break each step down in to smaller steps….and so on, until I have each mini goal broken down in to mini0mini goals, mini-mini-mini goals and so on. I take some of the end goals to steps that are so small that I start by training weight shifts….and weight shifts are easy to teach in a small space. Then, when the horses are ready, we can pull all those component parts together and see that final goal pop out.
The smaller the steps I teach to the horses the quicker they learn, they better they become at problem solving, the easier they find it to put other behaviours together to come up with new behaviours and the stronger our relationship gets.
Even though the horses are not moving around a lot, they are using their brain and I am setting up their body in a great balance for them to step in to. I’m teaching them how to move in to a fantastic balance instead of trying to fix it once they are moving. I’m aiming to be pro-active with my training approach where I can. It makes it so much easier.
So this morning when I arrived at the barn, the horses had their breakfast while I did my barn chores. Even when I am doing barn chores I am still training. The horses are learning how to move around me, I am learning how to move around them and so we are learning in much detail each others body language. Its a lovely way to spend time getting warmed up for a ‘training session’. And its a lot of training before we even started the ‘training’.
Once breakfast was over and the wheelbarrow was emptied our ‘active training’ session started and we worked on getting ready for the dentist. I like to specifically work on at least one lifeskills every day with the horses. And lifeskills start each day with the learning we are doing while I do the chores. Then we might do something that involves a specialist behaviour they might need like training for the dentist. After that we did some in hand training to get some movement and we worked some more on the component parts for piaffe.
And when the weather FINALLY lets us get outside without sinking in mud, all the practice of the detail for each behaviour means that the horses have a great understanding of the component parts, a great understanding of the balance and the physical and emotional training to bring all the component parts together and that original end goal pops out.
Don’t let the bad weather limit your training. We just need to teach ourselves to be great problem solving, just as we are teaching our horses to be great problem solvers.
The Click That Teaches – Approved Coach