A year or so back I was searching the Web for unusual horsie sites and I ran into horsetrainingresources.com, run by Charlie Hicks. Though most of the stuff on this site is for the Western rider (reining emphasis) and is based on older American horse training, I signed up for his e-mails since I am willing to learn from any source. I am VERY GLAD I did so. Every week I get three e-mails, in which Charlie distills the wisdom of the about 16 professional Western trainers that he has made videos with (to sell, of course).
The most important things I 've learned were:
The count to ten rule
The four second lag time that some horses have in reacting to an aid
The fact that you can repeat a new movement 3 times in a training session (with lengthy breaks in between.)
The first time I ran into the count to ten rule I was not too sure of it. Charlie quoted a trainer who said that at the first positive response to a new aid or movement that the trainer should STOP ACTING COMPLETELY for a count of ten to give the horse enough time to "connect the dots" in his brain. I had been following the immediate praise system recommended by countless horsemen. The only thing I had run into that resembled this count to ten rule was a comment by Harry Chamberlin in his book "Training Hunters, Jumpers and Hacks" that if you praised a horse immediately for a correct response (anything beyond the release of the aid) it would confuse the horse, and similar remarks from two other writers. This had always puzzled me because almost every other horseman who wrote a book seemed to go with the immediate praise system, based on the reality that if the praise came after one or two seconds the horse would not connect the praise with the correct response. I did not have any real problems with the immediate praise system, I had trained several of my horses without major problems using it. But that e-mail had reminded me of Chamberlin's statement and I decided to explore it further.
I asked Debbie (my riding teacher) about it, and when I explained how it was supposed to work she thought about it for about a minute, told me that it made sense to her, and to go ahead and try it on Mia. Mia had been learning new things at about the same speed as all the other horses I had trained, she is a reasonably smart mare. I had not noticed any great confusion using the immediate praise method, but noted that it did take many repetitions to get something set in her brain.
So I used this new method to teach Mia the turn on the hindquarters at a walk. Step by step, when she gave a correct response I stopped moving and counted to 10, then we would walk and trot for a while, then I would ask her again to turn on the hindquarters. First time I was content with one step, the second time I asked for two steps, and by the third time she gave me three steps of a four, equally spaced hoofbeats turn on the hindquarters at a walk. I was agog because as far as we could tell Mia had NEVER been trained to do a turn on the hindquarters properly. Debbie was pretty impressed too because she had been seeing me doing remedial training on horses for about a year and she had never seen me get a quicker response.
The turn on the hindquarters had been giving me problems ALL of my previous decades of riding. The best I could get was a sloppy turn, the forequartes might move to the side but the hindquarters were definitely not staying in the same place and would drift off to the other side. If I tried to correct for the hindquarters moving to the other side I would end up with my horse resembling a pretzel and with a horse who was not very happy with me. Last year I had finally figured out the proper aids for a turn on the hindquarters and my turns were improving, but to be totally honest with you they were still very, very sloppy.
And now, just by doing nothing for a count of 10 after a correct response, by the end of my thirty minute lesson Mia had progressed to three steps of the turn on the hindquarters, keeping up the even four beats of the walk AND keeping herselt straight throughout the turn. Not only that, but during my next 30 min. lesson when I asked Mia for a turn on the hindquarters she willingly gave me a correct response, her hind legs turning in place and keeping up four evenly spaced beats of her walk. By the end of the second lesson of counting to 10 we got up to four steps of the turn, a full 180 degree turn in place! I immediately switched from my "immediate praise system" for a correct response to the "do nothing and count to ten system."
Well, Mia was quickly learning to obey my aids correctly, but I noticed at the end of the second session she was not completely happy with me The problem was that Mia LOVES being praised, and since I wasn't praising her she was feeling exploited--sort of a "you know I have arthritis and it sort of hurts me to move, but I do not mind so much if you praise me, but without praise this becomes too much like onerous work." So I thought some more and decided that if it took a count to ten for a horse to figure out the connections between the signal and the response, then it would be valid for me to praise the horse for being such a SMART horsie right away after I had "counted to ten". Mia immediately became happy with me again, she figured out something new AND she got praised for being smart. As a result it has become very easy to teach Mia something new. By the third time she has it solid, and she remembers it, and I can start off the next session from where we left off up instead of having to go through the whole training process over and over again.
This little training hint from Charlie has cut the time I need to teach something to a horse by TWO-THIRDS. Since I can only ride for 30 minutes at a time, ride a horse only once or twice a week, and because I find it so hard to coordinate my aids properly because I get tired very quickly, I am VERY HAPPY. Training something new to a horse has become ridicously easy for me compared to all the effort I had to use before. Other horses have responded to my new method just as well as Mia has. Thank you Charlie. You made my life a lot easier!
The hyperlink to Charlie's site is www.HorseTrainingResources.com.
Have a great ride!