I used to say that a horse will remember 80% of a well-learned lesson for 18 months if it hasn't been worked in the meantime. These days, I'm sure it's at least 80%. By well-learned I mean any lesson that has become a solid habit with your horse. This may be great flying changes, Working Equitation obstacle patterns or it could be pulling back when tied....
Well-established patterns of behaviour that have earned the horse a good release will continue to be offered and those that have been established using fear as a motivator (pulling back when tied, not loading on the trailer) are often very difficult to un-train.
So, there are two things to take away from this:
- Horses don't untrain themselves simply because they sit in the paddock for a lengthy period of time - that's great news, right?
- Even those behaviours we don't want will not disappear with time off work - this seems like a bad thing but it simply means we need to teach the horse new patterns.
I spend a lot of time bringing horses back into work because I have way too many horses, I'm often teaching other people's horses and oh my, a PhD is a lot of work. I invariably find that they come back into work better than they finished up when they went out. I have also found that solid foundation work stays with horses for years and years - that soft frame, working in the engagement zone and incredible responsiveness to light cues.
With solid foundation training and being mindful of your horse's physical fitness level, I would expect it to take 3 - 4 sessions to be back where you left off. If your horse doesn't have a solid foundation, don't worry, this is the perfect time to train that.
Leave me a comment below and tell me about your horse's memory for things after a time off work. What have you found?