We all know the fantastic feeling when our horse is learning something new very quickly. We are in a flow and our horse understands our cues and he is so smart. You don’t want to stop. Have you experienced this? I love it. How can you reproduce such a state?
Learning takes brainpower
A horse’s attention span last only for a certain amount of time. After the attention span is used up, it doesn’t matter how much more you practise: you are not getting better results. If you are doing more repetitions (because it was going so well before) it will become a recipe for failure. You can become frustrated if your horse ‘suddenly’ starts making ‘mistakes’ or his performance looks sloppy. This happens when his brains is ‘full’ and he can’t concentrate anymore. Your horse doesn’t do this on purpose.
The secret to Success
Stop your training sessions while you are still making progress. This is the best time to give yourself and your horse a break. Keep sessions short and sweet. In this way you will keep progressing, but over multiple sessions, instead of progressing and then deteriorating at the end of each session.
If you end on a good note, this is where the next session will start. It will give you, the trainer, a good feeling if you end your sessions when you are still progressing. It is motivating and it will keep you looking forward to the next session.
Signs to stop your session
When I started this (ending my training sessions when we were still making progress) it was hard. No one wants to stop when it is going very well and when you are still having fun.
I noticed a pattern in me before my horses achievements dropped. It seemed to be right after the voice in my head told me: ‘Just one more time’ or ‘Let’s see if she really understands it and try again’ or ‘Wow this is going fantastic let’s do this again. It is so much fun now that Kyra has mastered it’.
Sometimes it happened when someone else came to watch and I expected Kyra to perform well because she kept on improving until a moment ago. Suddenly Kyra seemed to have forgotten what I had taught her. See this post Setting your horse up for Success: Context shift.
Tips to keep sessions short
- Count your treats before your start training (10 – 20 treats)
- Use a timer (5 – 10 minutes)
- Notice improvements and stop when your horse performs well
- Stop instead of ‘trying one more time’
- Remind yourself: better a few short successful sessions than one long one
Practise makes Perfect
Now it is much easier to stop my session at the highlight and give Kyra a break. I never think anymore ‘One more time to see if she gets it’. Now I just know she will perform this well if I stop now and give her a break.
It doesn’t matter if it looked like a coincidence that she performed so well. Even if she only did it once and I stop, she will remember next time. Especially if I jackpot her before I end the training.
Length and amount of sessions
I have experimented with the length of my sessions and the amount of sessions. As long as I keep my sessions short, give Kyra enough breaks between sessions, offer a variety of different exercises and use an unpredictable reward schedule (without discouraging or frustrating her), I can engage her for a really long time.
I also noticed that the length of a session is very personal and can vary between horses. A lot of factors influence the length of a successful training session, like the age of the horse, difficulty of the exercise, physical and emotional state of horse and trainer, environmental factors/distraction and so on.
Do you use breaks in your training to improve performance?
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