When you’re not training, you’re un-training.Andrea Udal
Last night, I made a post on my facebook page, 2R Barrel Horses, about a mare that I had spent a total of 10 minutes on. Prior to making the post, I was hesitant. The amount of time spent in the saddle seems to be a huge bone of contention in the barrel horse industry around here and I realized it’s something that has been bothering me. So naturally, I need to post about it.
Now, I’m the same as most… had always felt that if I wasn’t camping on my horses for hours upon hours, I wasn’t getting anything done. So I wore myself ragged for years trying to keep horses up throughout the week. I could never figure out why, come the weekend, my horses weren’t really clocking and felt sluggish. They were so fit! They had to be! I rode for an hour a day! If you trotted circles for an hour a day, you’d be fit too! Right? Well… ya, sure they were fit. But they were also exhausted. Physically and mentally. Then, about two years ago… my world changed.
That’s the first time a great friend and amazing trainer said to me “if you’re not training, you’re un-training.” At this point I don’t think I truly understood what she meant. But, even then I was a closet analyzer so of course my little brain was going. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Sure, there are times when you need to spend time fitting up a horse that might take a little longer. But if you’re riding with purpose, especially on a colt, you need to be purposeful the entire ride. And if I was being purposeful for an entire hour (which I can promise you, I wasn’t)… oh boy. My poor horses.
Now, this post is about to touch on something a little more… controversial. The reason I was so hesitant to make that post last night was because of the “arena chatter” and judgement that happens when someone doesn’t understand the process. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “have you seen so and so? She only actually puts 10 minutes a day on each horse.” The most recent time I heard this, I was instantly taken aback and felt judged and the comment wasn’t even about me! Because I know for a fact there are days like yesterday that I get to CELEBRATE growth and heart and try by stepping off after 10 minutes! Here’s the thing… does so and so really only spend 10 minutes EVERY day on that horse? Have you sat and watched her day after day? Or… are you understanding the process? Perhaps so and so has been struggling to catch a lead on said horse for the past three weeks and her only goal the day you were watching was to get the lead. She got it on the first try so she rewarded said horse with a well deserved early out. Or maybe, said horse has been worked 8 days straight and so and so just needed a stop without the horse pitching to their front end so she could give her a break… and said horse rocked the task in 10 minutes. Or perhaps, and this one just might be the scariest thought of all… perhaps 10-20 minutes is all so and so needs each day to climb off of a better horse than she got on. Generally speaking, and this is strictly from my own experience, not every day is a 10 minute ride kind of day. I celebrate the days that are, as just checking my training is the ultimate goal, but 99.9% of rides take a little longer to reach whatever goal I’ve set for that horse on that day.
All of this honestly comes back to one thing… reward. That is how horses learn. My colt starter is as wise as they come. He has taught me so much over the years and I am so honored to have had the opportunities he has given me in riding behind him. He always tells me “Bobbie, you need to make the reward longer than the work. That’s how it sinks in. That’s the best way to get through to the young ones.” Therefore, drilling a horse for hours on end sounds kind of counter productive. Don’t get me wrong… there are days. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been days that I have sat in the saddle of a horse for hours upon hours just begging for a positive to quit on… I’ve even sat in the middle of the arena, thrown my hands in the air and cried in frustration. But I can 110% attest to the fact that as I move forward in this journey with an open mind and heart and ride purposefully every single day the entire time I’m in the saddle, those days are becoming fewer and further between. I have stopped setting unattainable goals and focused on tiny baby steps. And guess what… every single horse blows it out of the water. Pretty well every single ride.
So, the moral of the story, or post, or whatever. The length of time we’re on our horses needs to stop being such a competition. It shouldn’t be something that’s open for discussion or judgement. It also shouldn’t be something that anyone is afraid to admit or talk about. Horses learn from release. The ultimate release is stepping off. Do yourself and your horse a favor and remember that the next time your horse blows your expectations for the day out of the water 5 minutes into the ride. And do so without guilt!