Saturday, January 12, 2013

Consistency Is Key

"Consistency" is one of the first concepts you hear when you learn to train animals.  It's drilled into you that you must be consistent.  But, what does that mean?

I used to think it meant riding on a rigid, frequent schedule.  That's what I was always taught.  "You must have the horse in a regular program of exercise to do well, a program such as:  Monday-Thursday arena work, Friday jumping, Saturday hacking, Sunday off!"  I was taught that this would make the well-rounded, well-trained, champion equine that we all want.  And it will, if you're a professional trainer or independently wealthy person who can set aside time for such things.

Most riders I know lament the amount of time they spend not riding their horses.  Most riders I know have other things that they must do besides riding their horse, usually working a job, or taking care of children or farms or some combination of all three.  A six day a week training schedule just doesn't suit their lifestyle.  It sure doesn't suit mine!

Luckily, "consistency" doesn't have to be about time spent.  It can also define the quality of the ride.

I don't ride 6 days a week.  I don't even try to anymore.  That is just not realistic.  I've got a farm to run, a household to run, two young children to parent, and a host of health problems.  I'm doing really good to get four rides in a week.  Sometimes a week or more passes in between my rides.  But, that's OK.  I keep moving forward.

What I do, instead of riding six days a week, is to really ride every step when I am able to get in the saddle.  My consistency doesn't come from the frequency of my riding, but from the quality I bring to every ride.  I don't screw around.  I don't make excuses.  I plant my rump in the saddle and make the most of it.

When you don't ride every day, it becomes easy to make excuses.  "I'm tired. "I had a bad day." "I'm out of shape." "My horse is out of shape."  "My horse has probably forgotten everything, he can't do the work."  Those excuses are inconsistencies, inconsistencies in training.

Every time we sit on a horse, we are training.  It doesn't matter if whether we sit on that horse once week or six days a week, for 15 minutes or for two hours, every ride is training.  When we make excuses, we train the horse that the work doesn't matter.  That won't get you anywhere.  And it certainly won't make your horse a willing, respectful partner. A willing, respectful partner believes that the work is just as important to him as it is you.

That's not to say that I'm constantly drilling arena work.  We go on trail rides and jump over logs in the woods.  I set up little jump courses in the arena.  We take gallops through the neighbor's hay field.  But, even when we're having fun, I make sure my horse is obedient and stays forward and round.  No falling on the forehand, no rushing around.... the work must be good so that he learns the the right way.

I don't always ride very long, either.  I often don't have time for more than 15 minutes in the saddle.  I make the most of it by doing transitions.  I ride figure eights or serpentines around the arena and do a transition every few steps (usually walk-trot-walk).  I make sure the transitions are quiet and soft, no head flinging or sucking back, then we quit for the day.  Those 15 minutes of transitions are an exercise in obedience, more than anything.  I'm not really building muscle or stamina in such a short time, but Spider remembers the lesson and, when I do have time for more intense workouts, he is much more willing and responsive.

Most importantly, I make sure that I consistently love what we're doing.  Even if we're just doing 15 minutes of transitions, even when it's raining or freezing cold or steaming hot, I am consistent in my enthusiasm and love of the time I get to spend my horse.  Of course, consistent training makes it a lot easier to love the time I spend with my horse....

There is a saying: "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."  Riding shouldn't be work.  Riding is an all-consuming passion, an addiction that never lets you go.  If it becomes work, it becomes torture.  I am a lucky person, to have a horse in my life, and I should never forget that.



For Leontien.



6 comments:

  1. Love this and I feel the same way. I do the same thing with any lessons I have because they are few and far between you bet I work my butt of to sqeeze every amount of learning I can out of it. I am glad you posted this. There are times that I read about people who ride consistenly 6 days a week and never go weeks without riding and I feel that I am failing some how though deep down I know I am not. It is good to hear someone admit that they don't put 1 1/2 hours a day in the saddle but still make slow and steady progress toward their goals!

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  2. Couldn't agree more. Thank you for this post - I needed it. :D

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  3. I tell everyone that a horse won't learn to do something poorly by not doing it. He'll learn to do something poorly by doing it wrong. It's more important to ride correctly than ride frequently. One session of good work is more beneficial than eight sessions of mediocre or poor work.

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  4. When I was actively competing--even in dressage--I made sure to ride 5-6 days a week, not for training, but for fitness. This was especially essential when I evented.

    I can still remember a top trainer at a clinic I attended complaining that most hunter/jumper riders did not keep their horses fit enough and then he stood by my horse to make his point by poking his finger into what he presumed were unfit, soft muscles--he nearly broke it on PJ's very solid muscles. Then he said, "Well, not this horse."

    BUT!!! All that being said, if you are not making hard, athletic demands on your horse and pay attention to his condition as you train, then the kind of consistency you are talking about is right on the money. Training itself does not require every day riding, and it does not require hours and hours "work." More than once I've set out to teach my horse (or me) something we need to learn and spent as little as 10-15 minutes of schooling. If my horse does it right in that short a time, there is no need to drill. What better reward than a ton of praise and a dismount? Of course the obligatory carrot after the session helps too!

    Every time you ride or handle your horse you need to "do it right." That is the simplest and best formula for successful training I know.

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  5. I couldn't agree more. You hit the nail on the head. This is my life too (well, the kids are grown and mostly gone) and my training philosophy.

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