I'm always looking for new or different ways to train that are a little different than the methods I currently employ. I do a lot of reading and talking to trainers and friends about many, many different issues and I'm always willing to give a new way a try if I think it has merit.
The thing is, there is more than one way to train a horse, more than one method to get from point A to point B. Sometimes you have to go around the block a few times before you find the path that works best for your particular situation.
Not all horses learn the same way and a good trainer adjusts her methods to achieve the same outcome.
I've been having one heck of a time getting Gabe to understand lateral movement. He kinda gets it, but not really. Sometimes it clicks and he makes a wee effort to move sideways. Sort of. It's more like a snake trying to tie itself in a knot than actual correct lateral movement. Other times I just get his ears flicking back at me like he's asking "what the hell? Quit wiggling around up there," while he continues to march forward in a workmanlike effort.
Last night I tried something new with him and I admit I was not very convinced it would be successful.
Imagine my surprise, an utter delight, when it didn't take long at all for him to have his light bulb "AH HA! I GET IT!" moment.
I didn't change the way I ask. I didn't change what I expected from him.
I merely counted to ten.
Yup. I counted. That's it.
I'd ask for the movement, he'd give an effort in the correct direction and I'd halt him and count to ten, praise, walk on.
It only took four times in each direction of asking, counting, praising and walking on before he was practically flinging his body sideways CORRECTLY when I asked, every time.
Some horses just need that moment of reflection to connect the dots in their brains. Gabe appears to be one of those who needs some time for quiet reflection before they make the connection between what I'm asking and how to respond. And I'm perfectly okay with that. If he needs time to think about it, I'll give him the time he needs. The less confusion on his part, the happier he'll be and the more willingly he will give an honest effort to try new things.
We worked on the lateral movement for probably 20 minutes then I called it done and we moved on to canter departs on the correct lead. I'm pleased to say he was absolutely wonderful. We had a few silly moments of his typical head-tossing, squealing and trying to play, but other than that, I couldn't have planned a better ride.
We did a short trail ride to cool down, the wind was blowing through the knee-high corn, rattling it, and he didn't even flick an ear towards it. Last year, he blew up at the rattling corn and gave it the evil eye like he was waiting for it to devour him whole. Last night a small covey of quail flew up under his nose from the tall grass and they startled him but didn't cause a frenzied reaction like they would have last year. I think they startled me more than they bothered him.
My big baby is growing up. I'm so proud!