Bluebird Lane Blog
Bluebird Lane Blog

The ABC’s of Training: Always Be Clear

by Lori Albrough

The ABC's of Training

One of the most important things to learn about working with horses is what I call the ABC’s of training: Always Be Clear.

I think most of us feel that we are being kind when we cut our horse some slack when he doesn’t respond in the way we want. We may make some excuses for him, like, “I must not be asking him the right way,” or, “Sometimes it takes a while before he can concentrate”.

In reality, however, you are far more kind to your horse if you are always black and white. When you are black and white, your horse clearly knows when he is doing something right, and when he needs to keep trying.

Horses who are free in a herd know they have a trustworthy leader they can rely on. Now, we must be that leader. A horse who can clearly understand what you want is happier, because he can have trust in a person who is clear in her expectations and is consistent in her actions.

Although we want to be our horse’s leader, we want to be a benevolent leader, not a violent or forceful one. So don’t confuse being black and white with being harsh. You don’t need to react harshly when your horse doesn’t give you the response you were looking for. In fact, I encourage you not to. But you do need to react, and do so immediately, in order to tell him, “No, that is not quite right, try again“. Don’t accept and make excuses for what you don’t want.

Always Be Clear means YOU know exactly what you are after in any given moment. You have a clear picture in your mind and don’t stop asking until your horse gives you that picture back in reality. Sometimes you may have to ask again and again in an encouraging way, in effect saying “Come on! You can do it!” Sometimes you need to give a quick correction that tells him “Hey Mister, that was an aid! When I give an aid I expect a reaction!

An Illustrative Story

I want to share a story about what happened to this girl I know. Let’s call her Suzi. Suzi’s horse came back from being at the trainer’s, and Suzi was riding him at home alone. She asked him to canter. He kept trotting. She thought “Hmmmm, I must not be asking the same way as the trainer did”.

So, she reorganized and thought about how the trainer had asked for the canter, and after another time around the circle she asked him to canter again. He kept trotting. Suzi thought “Well, he’s probably a bit distracted by the environment here, and I’m still not sure I gave that aid perfectly”.

So, they went another time around the circle and she asked him to canter again. He kept trotting. Suzi was beginning to feel a bit annoyed and gave him a smack him with her dressage whip. The horse immediately bolted off at top speed, and ran all the way back to the barn with her, coming to a screeching stop in front of the electric fence!

Do you see why he reacted like this? A horse has a strong sense of fairness. Suzi had already told him it was perfectly OK for him to ignore her canter aid. No wonder he was shocked and offended when she smacked him for doing what she had just told him repeatedly it was OK to do.

Suzi thought she was being kind to horse by giving him the benefit of the doubt. In reality she was not being clear about her expectation, and as a result the horse’s understanding suffered. This ended in a scary situation for both herself and her horse. The tap with the whip, had it come immediately after the first ignored canter aid, would have been accepted as a fair correction and most likely resulted in the horse cantering on immediately.

It truly doesn’t matter if your aid is not 100% perfect or 100% the way the horse is used to. What matters most is your clarity. Clarity means that in that moment you know exactly what you want to have happen, and you become quite persistent in making it happen. When it does, be quick to praise him.

The Corollary of Always Be Clear is Always Be Consequent

The best example of Always Be Consequent I can think of is the electric fence. Horses know that if they put their nose on the electric fence, they will receive an unpleasant jolt. It only takes them a few times doing this before they decide that they shouldn’t touch the fence.

Horses don’t resent the fence, or live in terror of it, or worry that the fence will chase them around jolting them unmercifully. They know if they don’t touch the fence, nothing will happen. If they do touch it, they will get shocked. This is black and white and therefore the horse learns it quickly and easily and does not put any pressure on the fence.

And when does it stop working? When we turn the fence off! Don’t “turn your fence” off. Always Be Clear and Always Be Consequent. Then your horse will know and respect his boundaries and will feel safe with you within them.


One Response to “The ABC’s of Training: Always Be Clear”

  1. The Second Pillar : Fundamentals wrote:

    […] with your aids and your expectations. This goes back to my ABC principle explained in the articles: The ABC’s of Training: Always Be Clear, and Putting Your Horse in Front of the […]

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