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Don't quit too soon

Don Jessop

Horses can get confused just like you and me. Imagine asking a horse to cross a stream. He sidesteps, backs up, tries to turn around and just generally won't go forward through the water. Is he obstinate or is he confused?

Generally, from a mastery perspective, we always label this inability to perform as confusion. It's true he may know what you want because it seems obvious to us, but he may not know why it's so important to you. People often, indirectly reward confusion by quitting too soon. Giving up on the task, just before the horse has a chance to grasp it. There's a simple reason people give up too soon. It's because they believe the confusion will lead to escalating or dangerous behavior and result in losing trust between horse and rider.

Here's what you need to know. I call it the "20 minute rule." Confusion isn't a bad thing. It's totally normal when sharing ideas. As long as the behavior from the horse is stable, still confused, but stable and not escalating to dangerous bucking or rearing, most elite trainers will stay in that test space until the horse begins to relax and respond. New tactics are only necessary if the horse is starting to become dangerous. Most horses start relaxing and responding within 20 minutes, so, some patience is required on the riders' part to stick with the horse, not quitting too soon.

For the sake of repetition, quitting too soon can inadvertently reward deeper confusion and more hysteria the next time you approach the obstacle. Naturally, if the horse is escalating to dangerous behavior, a good trainer will cut the goals down to achievable chunks, but rarely do they quit before the 20 minute mark. Some activities require much more than 20 minutes, such as trailer loading, but about every 20 minutes or so, maximum, great trainers give the horse some kind of massive break from the pressures of learning.

Going too long can be hazardous too, causing the horse to shut down and become unresponsive. Horses need rewards and breaks when learning but they also need persistent consistency to truly learn things. Don't give up. Use the 20 minute rule to generally guide your learning windows and you might just discover something magical like my friend Liz did just last weekend.

Liz asked her horse to stand on the pedestal. In the first five minutes the horse questioned everything, choosing to dodge the target, sidestep and back away, but never got too animated. At the five minute mark she asked if she should get off and help the horse from the ground. And while there is nothing wrong with that decision, I encouraged her to continue helping the horse with its "stable confusion" up to the 20 minute mark. Liz took a deep breath and began asking again. By the seven minute mark she found herself successfully standing on the pedestal.

I'm so proud of her reading the horse's confusion type (escalating confusion vs stable confusion) and working to help the horse calmly and progressively.

I love it when a plan comes together.

All horse experiences require minute by minute judgment and a calm persistent mindset to succeed. So do your best, and just try to remember, confusion is natural and safe in learning. Don't give up too soon. My smartest horses have all experienced confusion and with patience learned what I needed and enjoyed the rewards that followed.

Don't be afraid of confusion, just try to read if it's escalating and you need to change tactics or it's stable and you can simply persistently guide your horse to the win.

Thanks for reading. I love it when you comment and share these articles.
Sincerely, ​Don Jessop

Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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