I've understood this to mean that it's my responsibility to apply pressure thoughtfully and economically. So that, instead of depleting the horse's capacity to handle pressure, I build on it. I imagine that this 'ability to handle pressure' is a bit like a muscle. It has to be challenged and worked in order to grow, but push too far and you'll get a strain or tear.
To me, this means breaking things down into smaller and smaller pieces. It means being clear about my desired outcomes and objectives at any given moment. And setting the horse up for success such that the horse can also actually recognize when he has been successful.
This also means separating out individually important but mutually exclusive aspects of horse training.
Because it's been my impression that most of what I do with horses can be categorized into supporting one of two main purposes. But these purposes aren't necessarily related, and actually sometimes one can detract from the other. At least at the beginning, with a very green horse.
|hackin around on gorgeous january days!|
- Skills development
- Practice and schooling
- Aptitude and talent
- Jumping all the things
- Dressagin' like a boss
There's another (GIANT) piece of the training puzzle tho, that is not necessarily directly related to performance. (recognizing that pros and more skilled horse men and women can get by at fairly high levels without this other piece)
- Can lead / tie / be tacked up
- General ground manners
- Travels well
- Probably not going to kick that 8yo kid who just walked directly up behind him
|casually observing the horse next door lose his marbles. also notable: you can't tell from the pic but this horse is spotless after hours spent grooming the day prior|
Very often, a strict focus on performance can mean glossing over other details. And, coming from the other direction, a focus on calm quiet behavior can often mean we'll settle for lesser performance in order to avoid rocking the boat.
But that's kinda what I mean by the 'long game.'
Ultimately I want Charlie to be proficient in both of these areas. I want him to be easy to handle for anyone, be pleasant to be around in any circumstances. But I also want him to be my show horse. And it sure would be nice if he becomes a pretty great eventer.
But I already know that his tolerance for pressure is.... well, it's not terrible. But he's no Isabel in that department.
So when it comes for 'exercising that muscle' as the case may be, I see these two focus areas (performance vs literally everything else) as being distinct, and having potentially additive (but also kinda potentially subtractive) attributes.
|so happy to be outside in sunshine with no blankets! obvi i had to let him hang outside for a little while longer before i brought him in|
This means that at Charlie's first show, his first time in that atmosphere, I expected and allowed a regression in his ground manners. He didn't need to tie at the trailer. He didn't need to stand to be tacked. There was no fighting about any of that - all that pressure was off. Because I needed to be able to apply that pressure elsewhere - in the warm up and show rings.
Given Charlie's limits, I need to be economic with how, when and why I push him. Fussing about any one small detail is likely to backfire. Having it out with him (or any horse) about standing still or tying or not being a total nuisance to tack up might mean that he's already a frazzled and mind blown by the time I get him into the warm up ring.
For me, in the earliest stages of anything at all relating to the horse's future as a performance horse, it must be as easy as possible for that horse to be successful in doing the thing I want it to do. If that means getting help at the mounting block, or with trailer loading, so be it.
|so clean and shiny and happy in the winter sun! he even got his luxurious tail shampooed the day before!!|
The flip side, tho, is that the vast majority of my time spent with horses is not at events. In fact, it might not even be in schooling and lessoning. I'd actually wager that everything else - the grooming, tacking, low key hacking, and general time spent with ponykins adds up to more time than the serious riding.
So... ya know. It's kinda critical that the time be well spent too, that it also be enjoyable lol. Right?? As an amateur, I'm not really cool with the idea of a horse that's a monster to deal with or that needs three people and a stud chain just to get it out of the field, even if that horse could win me every single ribbon in all the land. Bc that's just not worth it to me.
Which explains why you've seen me drone on so often about the ground work I do with Charlie, about our work on trailer loading, etc etc. Bc all that is definitely a priority. Definitely a goal, second only to the horse's development as a show horse.
|but ermagherd wtf this muddy goon!!! he just hadddd to roll ugh, in like the five minutes between when i took the above photos and then went back out to get him.|
My approach to dealing with Charlie and pressure is to choose my battles. To be clear on what I want at any given moment, on what I'm asking - and letting everything else go as it may. With the idea that eventually many of these pieces will come together. First Charlie will learn how to be successful at this one specific thing I am asking him to do (so he learns how to, ya know, actually do that thing) and in time we'll be able to add in more pieces and refine technique.
But..... this is also the first horse I'm totally 100% responsible for restarting fresh from the track. So I dunno how it's all going to shake out haha. Except it's probably a safe bet that I make more than a few mistakes, and maybe leave a few holes behind lol.
|winter barn door vistas!! hard to tell by the trees are coated in sparkling melting ice|
Personally, tho, I save those lines for behaviors directly relating to safety, and everything else is allowed a greater degree of ambiguity or variance. Tho. Well. I've also been accused of being a bit of a softy lol, an enabler. That maybe I am cool with things that wouldn't fly elsewhere.
So I'm curious here - what are your thoughts on how to build a horse's capacity for pressure? And where do you see yourself in the training scale? Are there certain tasks or behaviors that you expect the horse to adhere to once it's been learned? Or do you tend to allow backsliding or regression in one area when you switch focus to another?
Does it depend on the horse? Maybe you've had some horses who would take advantage of any wiggle room? Or others who desperately needed space and time to process each infinitely small step?