Consistency....ah consistency!

Okay, I admit it.  I’ve never been good at consistency.  I’m a “bright shiny object” kind of gal that can be distracted pretty easily.  During any work day, I frequently hear myself saying “focus” to get back on track with things.  

So what do I do?  I get a colt to start on my own which takes…you guessed it…TONS of consistency.  In fact, I remember my trainer Emily Kemp telling me that this would be a good equine partner for me as long as I would be consistent…of course I nodded in agreement and said “sure, no problem”…can you say “squirrel!”?!?!?

So this is my third (wow!) spring with Guinness.  The first year, I pretty much did ground work with him as he was a coming 3 year old, so no riding yet.  The second spring (last year) I started him under saddle with Emily’s help, and I have to admit I was very consistent and it showed in what we accomplished that year.  Last fall though, because of Tim’s job loss our financial and lifestyle situation changed dramatically, and I had to focus on things other than Guinness’ training, so we lacked consistency…a lot.  In fact, we went from 5 days a week training, to maybe 2-3 days per week without any focus.  Now Guinness is a coming 5 year old, and he’s physically and mentally much more ready for training…and I’ve found out that if I don’t have a plan and the consistency to go with it, he will dream up his own training plan and run with it…literally!

It all started when Guinness started “over reacting” to anything-things I saw and things I didn’t see.  He’s always been reactive, in fact that’s why I was going to call him “Twitch” for all the twitching/startling he did.  But with our consistent training, the twitching had lessened in fact I didn’t tie it to consistency until recently.

After my graceful (ha!) emergency dismount, the reactivity increased even more, to the point where he had ME twitching every time he did.  So obviously this was no longer acceptable and frankly we were going backwards in our training.  It also affected my confidence with him because he was constantly making me jump.  Yes, I also become unconfident!  

So I called on a few of my trusted experts to help me work through what was going on.  Emily Kemp talked about consistency and the great importance of it for both me and the horse.  Ruth Hansen talked about Mark Rashid’s thoughts on what “thinking” horses will do when they find themselves in a place where they can’t quite be confident about what they’re doing (which is reacting to outside stimuli).  I went back to my own thoughts on the leadership quality that I was providing to Guinness, which at this point was lacking because of the lack of time and quality of training that I was providing…consistently.

So I decided and committed to doing three things for us; become consistent and more frequent in out training, ensure that I was well prepared with things to teach Guinness and that those things were at a level that worked for him, and as his leader prove to him that I could be counted on so that he didn’t need to take over the leadership role.  I started by committing to a schedule of 3 days on, 1 day off with him.  Now, this is REALLY tough for me to do with all my other commitments, but I figure that if I take the time now for the next 1-2 years and really help lay down a solid foundation for us both, it will pay off tenfold in the future.

For each 3 day period, I do the same basic things with him including ground work and in the saddle.  As we move from one 3 day period to the next, I have created a progressive curriculum based on how he does the previous three days and what holes “show up”.  We’ve been working this way now for about 3 weeks, and wow, what a difference it’s made.  He’s no longer reactive to everything, and with the things he reacts to he is now looking to me first to check in…amazing (and of course, go figure)!  Now it’s my job to continue with this, and to communicate to him that I can be depended on as our leader.

So I’ve gone back to educating myself from the masters, making my training plan for us top priority.  With my mentors in my back pocket (and on speed dial!) I’m really looking forward to what we’re accomplishing together.  My goal this summer was to get on the trails, but I’ve had to change that goal a bit to ensure that we can safely do this.  So first, the foundation has to be solid (leadership/confidence/curiosity) and then we can talk a bout hitting the trails.  My new goal is to get on certain trails with him by the fall, along with a few steady Eddy’s to ensure a good experience.  I will be happy with that accomplishment, and ecstatic if we get more.  And if we don’t get there, well that’s all part of the journey too, isn’t it?

Keep your hockey sticks down, and your girth cinched right…Giddyup!