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Day 38 - Breaking it down

100 days

Last time we talked about how easy it is to shy away from teaching your horse something because you're afraid of getting it wrong and ruining your horse and today I'm going to give you an example of how you can break a lesson down into manageable chunks that will, not only make it easy for you to teach, but also make it easier for your horse to learn.

I'm going to use the example of the horse that has a poor 'stop'. Let's say you cue your horse to stop when riding and only get a slow response at best and completely ignored at other times.

To really break a lesson down into its most basic components, we must first work out which part we want to move (SPOT), the direction we want it to go (DIRECTION), how we are going to motivate the horse to change what it's currently doing (MOTIVATOR) and how we are going to tell the horse that its answer was correct (REWARD).

The SPOT: no matter what we are teaching, from trailer loading to travers, pirouettes to piaffe, we can almost always concentrate on just one part of the horse. It is usually one foot but might also be the tip of the ear (to teach your horse to lower its head for bridling) or the tail (when teaching hindquarter control). For this lesson, our spot is the left front foot.

The DIRECTION: each spot on the horse can move in six different directions (left, right, back, forward, up and down). This lesson is slightly different in that we don't want any of those so it's really 'not forward' because we want the horse to stop moving forward. When you begin teaching this you will see that the horse might pivot around on that left front and that is what we are looking for and is the step before you a good clean halt.

The MOTIVATOR: As trainers, our aim is to produce light and responsive horses and in order to do this, I always layer cues. This means that the cue I really want the horse to respond to will be the first I use and this will be followed by a less light cue and then a slight increase of pressure accompanies the third cue if the first two are missed. Here the first cue is a visual one, I stop walking forward. This is followed by a verbal cue, 'whoa'. Finally, a physical pressure cue is introduced, being rein pressure on the left rein. 

The REWARD: The release of pressure is one reward for the horse and it tells the horse when it has made the correct movement or stopped moving in our case. You can add another reward to this, a verbal praising or a scratch on the wither or neck to really let your horse know how well it's doing.

Next time I'll walk you through the lesson but in the meantime, think about how you can start breaking other lessons down into the SPOT, DIRECTION, MOTIVATOR and REWARD and, if you've got time, tell me about your lesson in the comments below.

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