Here is a reflection that I originally wrote in the beginning of my training days working as an assistant trainer for Aaron Ralston. This reflection was published in Horse Digest Magazine Issue 5, 2012. This was one of the growing pains that I was so glad to have a mentor like Aaron around to help guide me through and provide some perspective. It's a good reminder to myself that if I get stuck in a rut with my horses seek advice and help from others.
The more time and experience I get from training horses the more of a challenge it becomes. Not necessarily because the horses are more of a challenge but
because of the millions of different situations that come up. It's just like the old saying “ignorance is bliss”. I can remember riding as a youngster. I would jump on my little pony without a single thought to consider goals I was working towards, the training methods I would use, or how I would apply those methods to accomplish my goals. I was just riding for the simple enjoyment of riding. Even though I could feel whether my horse had stiffness in areas or was on the wrong lead, I didn't worry about it because I wasn’t aware that these were “problems”.
Now I am learning that in the beginning stages of both starting a colt and learning how to train horses, drills that are simple to understand and apply can sometimes have dramatice results in a relatively short period of time. For example, teaching colt the circle drill from Aaron’s evolution series is usually not too much of a challenge. Typically the colt goes from obviously having his attention all over the place, his head will be up looking around, his ears on other horses or far away pastures, to dramatically focusing on the center of the circle. Lowering his head, keeping one ear on the inside of the circle, and staying on the circle all by himself within a few revolutions usually are indications of his change in focus.
However, after the basics to keep progressing towards a performance level, both the horses and I go through frustrating learning curves. When I told Aaron about my frustrations he shared a bit of knowledge with me. There are a couple different was to apply training methods and drills; linear and organic. Applying the drills and methods like the circle drill in a regimented, patterned and repetitive fashion is linear. I naturally lean towards applying drills in a linear fashion. After about the third horse of the day I am tempted to fall into autopilot without considering each horses individual needs and do the same thing with every horse simply out of muscle memory. Even though patterns, routines, and redundancy helps horses learn if they are applied in the wrong way it can drive some horses crazy. Not to mention myself. This is where applying drills and methods in an organic manner can be extremely beneficial. Mixing and matching pieces of drills and methods for specific mind frames and personalities based on an individual and situational need is organic.
I am learning that to get a desired response from my horses in a calm and understanding mind frame, using drills and methods as versatile tools rather than a strict regimen is far more effective. After coming to this understanding, I am able to adapt to each horse and their needs to take him or her further down the road to becoming a well broke horse. Being able to change the way I am applying techniques to fit the different situations from each horse make for a better horse that learns more and brings a beneficial variety for the horse and me.