The last time I worked with Noella, she made no progress. In fact, by the end of the night it seemed like we had made negative progress; that is, her stop response had actually gotten heavier. Several times while riding I almost had to employ an emergency stop because she started speeding up and nothing would induce her to slow down. I wasn’t happy with what I’d had to do, and no doubt she wasn’t happy either.
I thought a good deal about that failed training session over the next week. What I decided was fairly simple. It was my fault. All of it—her poor responses that got worse, her obvious lack of understanding of what I wanted. I think I knew that before, but I also came up with the reason why it wasn’t getting through to her.
When I came up against her slowing/stopping/backing problem, I dug out Academic Horse Training again, from the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre. In years past I found I couldn’t understand their methods, but with careful re-reading (I honestly read each page about 10 times) I understood it. For each manoeuvre there are six stages through which the training progresses. The first is simply a try and the remaining five shape that first attempt. They are:
- Basic Attempt
During the first session, I had managed to elicit a consistent Basic Attempt response. During the second, we had progressed far in Obedience. In the third, the failed one described above, I had attempted to move on to Rhythm. The problem was that when I did not receive a response that followed the criteria of the Rhythm stage, I switched my aids back to Obedience level. For practically the whole session I kept switching back and forth, getting frustrated at her lack of response when she was actually simply confused by my shifting requirements.
In the first two successful sessions, I had stuck to the level she was at until she showed signs of moving on without me; I had been consistent in my aids and their delivery. The constancy of my aids, or their dependability, had given her confidence to improve. In the third session, my consistency was lost and so was her confidence. She became confused, and as a result her responses grew heavier and heavier, and as a result my aids became less and less constant.
In the next session with her, I went back to Obedience level and stayed there. By the end, she was showing signs of moving on ahead of me into Rhythm level by consistently stepping back two steps from one light aid. Now she is ready; now we can go on.
Unlike a horse trainer in training, our God knows exactly what we can handle, how much we can take, and what lessons we need. After all, He made us and knows how many hairs are on our heads! His wisdom is far superior to ours, and I am humbled to have such a masterful Trainer working tirelessly on me with gentle lessons that will never go over my head. I have a lot to learn!