Allow Follow Your Performance Horse Horse Time to Digest Think by Sandy Collier The main thing I learned from working with horses, the ‘Holy Grail’ as it were, is to “make the right thing easy for the horse, and the wrong thing difficult.” No doubt you’ve heard this popular adage before. It means that if you ‘open the door’ to what you want the horse to do, and simultaneously ‘bar the way’ to what you don’t want (by making it uncomfortable or difficult), the horse will generally choose the option you desire. It sounds logical, and it does indeed work. But it’s not always obvious exactly how to make the right thing easy in a way that makes sense to the horse. I’ve spent the last twenty-five years figuring out how to do this, as well as how to apply these ideas and methods to the training of performance horses. Other options include giving the horse a chance to volunteer the correct “answer,” then praising him lavishly for it. This non-coercive approach encourages him to think and respond, rather than simply to react (the latter being his natural way). In effect, it enables him to learn how to learn. He discovers he can work his way through situations, becoming confident he can always find a way out of discomfort. Once he realizes this, it can even be fun watching him go through his repertoire of responses, hunting for the one you are looking for. All this doesn’t happen quickly, however. In a typical learning session, your horse will give you several wrong answers before hitting on the correct one. Horses are basically lazy. They’d rather be under a tree somewhere, swatting flies off their body, than lugging us around an arena. Given two choices, they’ll always opt for whichever is less work. Knowing this, you can stack the deck in your favor. You do this by making the option you want more desirable (again: easier, more do-able, more comfortable). Do this for a week, and he’ll not only get it right the first time, every time, but he will also step smartly and smoothly around a full circle and be totally relaxed while doing it. But…it takes time. Keep in mind, too, that horses are easily frustrated and discouraged, so you must be extremely patient and consistent in how you present learning opportunities. If you get impatient, lose your temper, or make the learning curve too steep, your horse will start to worry. He’ll become nervous and his adrenaline will flow. He’ll chew the bit, grind his teeth, or wring his tail. He’ll “stutter” – become quick and desperate in his responses. The horse learns by the release of pressure, rather than by the application of it. When you gain your horse’s cooperation through intimidation, that cooperation is always defensive, and accompanied by resistance and resentment – a raised head, a stiff back. A good way to remember this is a terrific quote from trainer Doug Williamson: “When the horse’s head is up, his brains dribble out and down his neck, where it’s impossible for him to use them.” Another way to think of this is that the horse learns by the release of pressure, rather than by the application of it. on all your favorite social media sites @ HorseDigest Sandy Collier’s successful horse show record is reflective of her dedication, talent, and integrity as a horse trainer. She was the first and only woman horse trainer to win the prestigious NRCHA World Champion Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2011, Sandy was inducted into The Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Learn more at 50 Issue 6 • 2015