By Pat McKnight
The Art Of Knowing When To Quit
Being a quitter is generally considered a bad thing, but being a quitter in horse training can be a positive thing. In the art of horse training, knowing when to end the lesson is as important as knowing when to begin or when to continue the lesson.
A number of years ago, I came across a quote by Arthur William Radford, who claimed, “Half of art is knowing when to stop.”
If an artist doesn’t know when to stop working on a sculpture, painting or musical score, the work can become drudgery and the frustration could show up in the work. If the artist quits before the piece is complete, it won’t portray what the artist envisions for the piece.
If horse training could be considered an art, Radford’s philosophy would be a valuable part of the hobby horse trainer’s program.
An example of knowing when to quit was the time a former client decided to sell one of her mares. The horse had been used to compete in gymkhanas, and whenever she was ridden in an arena, she would dance around, anticipating she would be told to gallop.
When the horse owner took the mare into her arena for a demonstration ride for a potential buyer, she tried to get the mare to do a simple flat walk. After a while, the mare realized she wasn’t going to be asked to run around at full speed and began walking.
About that time, the potential buyer told my client he had seen as much he needed. My client told me she then got off the mare, but she thought she should have continued to work the horse.
Actually, the client did the right thing; she rewarded the horse for settling down and doing what the rider wanted her to do. The next time the horse was ridden, it would more likely walk when asked to do so because it was rewarded for doing so with “quitting time.”
This concept shouldn’t be too hard for the hobby horse trainer to understand, considering the demands of their own work. Just as one would appreciate their boss “getting off their back,” the horse feels much the same. Getting off your horse’s back is one of the best ways to reward your horse.
Often a horse will want to perform the last maneuver of a previous lesson at the beginning of the next lesson because it associates that last maneuver with being allowed to quit. If a training session is ended after the horse has performed a satisfactory leg yield, it will likely want to do that maneuver at the beginning of the next riding session.
The hobby horse trainer could incorporate one or more “quitting times” in a training session. If there are a number of maneuvers you want to work on during a session, you can reward your horse for performing well by dismounting for a bit and then remounting and going on to the next lesson.
Most horse trainers realize they need to reward their horses when they respond correctly to a cue and to punish them when they don’t perform as desired. If we ask our horses to keep working after they have performed well, we punish them. This training approach can remove the horse’s incentive to perform.
By the same token, it’s just as important to know when not to quit. The hobby horse trainer can “punish” her horse for not responding as desired by continuing to ask her horse to perform.
If your horse is being uncooperative or refusing, the trainer needs to continue applying pressure until her horse makes the correct response or attempts to do so. Punishment can be as simple as keeping your leg against your horse’s side, continuing to tap it with the whip, or not releasing the pressure on the rein until your horse makes the desired response. If the owner of the mare in the above story had quit before the horse started walking quietly, she would have rewarded the horse for continuing to dance around every time she enters an arena.
Knowing when to quit might be a challenging skill to master at first because the hobby horse trainer will need to learn to recognize those times when quitting or not quitting will be most effective. Recognizing when your horse has performed as desired and to reward it or to realize that quitting would reward the horse for an undesirable response. It’s all part of the art of horse training.
Pat McKnight’s Bio:
Through her horse training and rider instruction business, Equest-ETS, Pat McKnight travels to work with horse owners at their stables. As an itinerant trainer, she helps horse owners develop a training program suited for their abilities and situations.