When a horse gets frustrated he gets sour. When he gets sour he starts demonstrating what we would call poor behavior. This behavior is an attempt to stop the source of his agitation. His behavior of course now becomes a problem and a learned experience he will revert to in order to stop his agitation. It can be anything that starts this cycle. When watching people round pen colts, it is easier to see because the results are so dramatic. Later, in training, as maneuvers get more refined it can be harder to see and articulate. If we stick with the colt in the round pen to describe the principles of “moving on”, it is easier to grasp this concept.
Here is a scenario I have seen to illustrate the idea of how we need to “move on”. Years ago I saw a guy working a horse in the round pen. I saw him for several hours working on one thing and only one thing. He was trying to create draw on the horse, meaning, he would apply pressure to the horse then release that pressure to get the horse to stop and look at him. This is a very simple and foundational maneuver that nearly everyone does. In this case, the trainer was after perfection. As time passed, he got less instead of more. The horse didn’t get better. He got frustrated and sour. The horse’s early efforts, while they were minimal and rewarded, did not satisfy the trainer. He wanted more and kept after it. After several hours and no further down the road of getting broke and handy, the horse only knew that the whole experience had been a bit miserable. We do this often, push for a little more. We do the same thing over and over again trying to get it right.
Here is what I try to do: get some progress, something positive, then move on. It probably won’t be everything you want. If you can get that positive change you now have a step up that you can build on. Go do something else and come back to it. With our trainer friend who was trying to refine his draw in maneuver, if he stopped and caught the horse and physically set it up so the horse was on a lead and almost had to draw, then he would have a positive step, not perfection, but he could move on.
Moving on in the training keeps the mind of the horse fresh. Move on. Work on something for some time and as fast as you can do something else. Horses learn from repeated action for sure but they also quickly learn to hate incessant drilling. They check out. Remember the coach that always yelled at you, your horse will do what you did, check out and quit trying. Don’t be afraid to move on to another level of training, even if he isn’t perfect at the lower ones. Many times as we do that, those lower, easier levels of training clean themselves up.
The principle here is, try not to allow yourself to get sucked into the myth of perfection. Get something good and move on. Come back, get that something good again and move on. As you do that, it does get better.