One of the most important things to be good at when training horses is to know when to stop. It sounds very basic, but in reality it can be quite a difficult task to tell when enough is enough. To tell when the horse has given what he can and at what point you gain most from ending the session for the day. What I have also realized is that horses have very different ways of expressing their tiredness which can be rather inconvenient if you are only used to look for one specific kind of signals. Maybe you even misinterpret the signals from your horse because you don’t know the meaning of them…
Why is it so important to know when to stop? Being able to know when to stop means that you will be able to call it for the day before any of you become to tired or unmotivated. That also means that you will avoid keep going to a point in which things start to be less succesfull for both of you. I think it is a tendency for all of us to keep going when things are working, but most often that ends up in a failure or a bad last experience because we have kept going for too long. I think we all know this feeling of ‘just one more time’ and instead of just doing it once more it ends up with ten more times and then it goes wrong due to tiredness. Instead of ending up in this situation where things go wrong you should be aware of the tiredness signals your horse shows as fast as possible and from then be able to stop within a rather short amount of time to ensure a good ending. That will pay off for both of you in the long run. It is always better to want more and look forward to the next session instead of wishing you had just stopped 5 minutes earlier when things were perfect!
By paying attention to the tiredness signals from your horse and accepting them you will make sure not to drive the session out too far. That way you can stop the training with a great and satisfied state of mind and a pleased horse who feels heard. As a result you will be allowed to end the session with a horse who doesn’t store memories of being run out of steam during training or being pressed too much because he didn’t have the energy to keep going. It will also be a better experience for you as a trainer because you will go home with a happy and light feeling in your stomach from the success. Doesn’t that sounds pretty nice and like something to strive for at any time?
I myself have two horses who have very different ways of showing their tiredness. It is and always has been easy to know when Alvaro has had too much. He will become slow, a bit shut down and loose engagement in the exercises or the playing. That seems to be the obvious and logical way of responding to mental or physical tiredness, but I am not sure if Torrin read the same manual on how to behave in case that case… Instead he becomes MORE awake when he is tired. He starts being all over the place, biting a bit, pushing a bit and on walks he often speeds up and walks through the stopping signals. What I have figured out is that often the more calm he is the more mental capacity he actually has! Who would ever have expected that? By recognising the pattern of his tiredness signals I have since then been able to stop the training as soon as I can feel he is becoming pushy, impatient or distracted.
At the beginning I often misinterpreted his signals and instead of seeing them as signals of tiredness I looked at them as signals of boredom. The result of that was that I tried to figure out new things to make him do and the more I asked of him the worse his behaviour became. It is pretty obvious to me now that I know why he acted that way. Situations like those brought a lot of frustration because I thought he wanted to do more when he was actually showing me that he was done and without any more mental space for new things right now. It is no harder than that to respond the ‘wrong’ way if you do not know how your horse acts in different situations and what his signals look like. Therefore it is so important to pay attention and figure out what the exact meaning of the behaviours your horse is showing are.
So now to the most important part… Can you tell when your horse is tired? How do you know when you should stop? Do you accept when your horse tells you that he has had enough or do you often let yourself convince of the ‘just one more time’-feeling?