During and after each ride, I find myself grinning ear to ear. I'm just so freaking pleased with how the little mare is doing. Our relationship has reached a new level of understanding and improved communication.
As much as I give Q credit for all of this, I recognize that I've also done a lot of work to get to this point, and I'm proud of myself for that.
See, until 2011 my experience with horses was relatively limited. I lessoned through my elementary and middle school years and transitioned to riding friends' horses (always on the trail) through high school and college. While I fit in a ton of time and miles riding, I seriously lacked substantial education/training beyond how to ride a horse in a relatively balanced manner at various speeds over all sorts of terrain.
The majority of horses I rode in my youth were chill, solid citizens, who really didn't need a lot of input from me in the way of verbal communication. Even when they were green horses, they were usually relaxed and easy to work with due to the nature of their environments and the easy-going people who interacted with them on the daily. Lucky for me in many ways, but also not so much because I didn't get to expand my understanding/education until later in life.
|I was 17, Stan was 5. I loved dragging down and dead logs into a pile in the woods and then would simply |
point-n-shoot Stan at them, give a cluck and a nudge with my heels and off we'd go!
Even with Stan, who was a green 4 year old when we met in my high school years, communication was almost entirely nonverbal. His quiet temperament lent itself well to this. We each provided input to one another about speed and direction as we explored and gallivanted over mountains in the middle of nowhere. While there were disagreements from time to time, we learned to trust one another on a level that I haven't yet found with another horse - and honestly may never again because the naive trust of a teenager isn't exactly easy to come by after a certain point in one's life!
When I finally got my first horse (Orion) in 2011, I carried on much the way I had with those early horses. I didn't talk much, if ever, to him. But later, as Griffin and then Q came into my life in 2012, my nonverbal methods weren't as successful as they had been. I had a Very Green horse and a Very Sensitive Mare in my life on an intimate level for the first time. Obviously, a lot had to change to find success.
Of all the things I have changed with regard to training and interacting with horses in these past 7 years (and I have learned so very much!), an increase in verbal communication has made the biggest difference. In particular, verbal praise.
Griffin and Q absolutely thrive on spoken praise. "Good boy/girl" and "good job" are things I say all the time these days. And you know what? The tough training moments don't seem as tough as they once were now that I've unlocked this little tidbit. When my horses are uncertain about what the right answer is, I dole out praise as quickly and frequently as necessary. Their ears flick back to me and their bodies relax with each repetition.
Griffin's level of try is directly proportional to the amount of praise he receives. Q's level of relaxation and confidence is directly proportional to the amount of praise I give her. And I anticipate that the more confidence this mare builds, the more try she will offer me in the future.
I wish I had learned the power of praise and verbal communication earlier in my time with horses, but it is what it is. I'm grateful I've learned what I have and that I am implementing those lessons now. Beyond that, I am so very grateful for patient horses who haven't murdered me as I fumbled along in my journey.