Do you know when to stop?

Do you know when to stop?

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…

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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?

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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.

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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?



12 thoughts on “Do you know when to stop?”

  • What a amazing blog post! If I may be ohnest. I know when my horses are ‘done’ with the session, but if it goes right, I really have the ”one more time” feeling. And than it goes wrong.. It’s so stupid but I just have to make sure to myself that my horse can really do it or something.. (sorry for my English, I’m Dutch)

    • Thank you so much! I can totally relate to the feeling that you describe and it takes great amounts of self-control to be able to stop even though you want to make sure or experience the success again.. it is not as easy at it sounds! It just takes a lot of practice and then you might figure out at one point that it actually does feel good to stop when your body tells you that you have reached the limit for the day. I wish you best of luck with the project!

  • Thank you Sophie for this great text!
    Our haflinger gelding Nathan acts exactly like Torrin sometimes – similar to a child that is tired and becomes crotchety. I never thought about it like him being tired but interpreted it as boredom, just as you said. But of course you are right, this can be a sign for tiredness as well. Next time I will see this as a signal for taking a break of ending the session.

    • You are most welcome and thank you for your kind words! It never crossed my mind either until a few months ago when I suddenly started seeing the pattern. Sometimes you just have to start seeing the things from the different perspective to be able to figure out a solution. I am so happy that it could help you see the situation in a different light as well and I wish you best of luck with him for the future. I am sure this will be a great advantage for you to be aware of!

  • Most of the time I can see when the horse I am working with is tired. They ask for a break or even the end of our session, for example when I lunge them, they ask if they could come in and cuddle and get their praise. But I decide everytime if it is of pure boredom or if it is a real case of exhaustment. I like to listen to my gut feeling in such situations.
    Lovely blogpost!

    • Thank you so much Emma Lotta! It sounds like the perfect way to do it and also a lot like what I do. Of course there should always be a balance between guiding and listening and it sounds to me that you have found it. Great job!

  • thank you for opening my eyes!
    Nero acts ecxactly the same as torrin when he get’s tired. This I see now. Before I also thought, he is just bored or does not like the task I ask him for.
    I think, today I will be with him in a different way.
    Thank you for always finding the right words to describe the being of a horse.

    • That is so wonderful to hear! I am so happy for you that you have found a new way of approaching this issue. I would love to know how things went for you!

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