Training Principle #7 explains how we need to form consistent habits when training our horses. This means we need to use the same cues, on the same part of the body and if we can, at least in the beginning, even make the environmental cues the same (such as asking in the same part of the arena) - this will make it easier for the horse.
It's an important point to remember, good training is simply setting up good habits. Habits are regular patterns of behaviour that are performed without a lot of thought having to go into them. Brushing our teeth is a habit but the behaviours don't have to be simple ones. Driving to work is also a habit. This is a very complicated behaviour but because we do it every day, in the same circumstances, we don't usually need to give it a lot of thought.
The horse is the same. Assuming we repeat the behaviour often enough and keep our signals consistent, the horse can develop quite complicated sets of behaviours into habits - automatic behaviours. Of course, this doesn't always mean that the habits the horse develops are the things we want him/her to do. Any behaviour, regularly repeated in the same way, can and will become a habitual behaviour. This is why we need to be so careful about 'what' we teach and why we need to be aware of the habits we are establishing in our horses.
Let's use the example of the simple Hips to the Fence Lesson for mounting (if you are unfamiliar with this lesson, then go along and get yourself a FREE account, FREE Training Tips, and you can find it there under Ground Work). In this lesson, we ask the horse to move its hips away from the fence and to the left. We then straighten the horse up and ask again. It is here that we need to be careful - what pattern is the horse learning? We may think that the pattern is simply 'move your hips left' but the horse may perceive the pattern as 'move your hips left AND then move your hips right'. If this is the case, the horse will later move towards the mounting block and then away again - learning a slightly different pattern to the one we thought we were teaching.
We can overcome this problem by setting up great patterns - take another look at the video around the 2min mark when I explain how this is done when teaching Hips to the Fence.
Have you ever taught your horse a pattern you didn't want it to learn, haha, I know I have! Leave me a comment below and tell me about that pattern.
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