One of the main rules when I train my horses and teach my students is to hunt the happy endings. That is what you should always do – hunt the happy endings! More often than not we do as human beings strive for success and perfection in all aspects of life and that also includes the art of training with horses. The ever ongoing striving for success means that we want things to work and when they do work we want to confirm to ourselves that we finally made it by repeating the success over and over again. At least that is what I have seen and experienced for most of my life with and without horses. That itself is not a problem, but it can become one within a rather short time if the success is suddenly not reached as easily as just moments before. How can that be? It takes no more than a bit of frustration or a tired horse (or trainer) to ruin the whole thing and end up in a fiasco with the feeling of failure. That for sure rarely becomes a nice ending nor experience to either the horse or the trainer.
If you reach a point in your training in which either you or your horse becomes too frustrated, tired or in any other unproductive mood you should try to end the session with a good experience either way. And how do you do that? You lower your expectations and makes sure to raise the possibility of success. How so you might wonder? Lowering the expectations and raising the possibility of success is done by introducing something your horse knows well and is good at or something he enjoys a lot. By doing so you will be able to break the ‘bad circle’ and be able to praise your horse for a nice effort. Even if it means that you have to quit whatever you were doing before that is just the way it is. Instead of forcing the original plan through and make it a terrible experience it is at any time a better idea to end in a good way. Also if that means that the canter pirouette will have to wait for tomorrow when you are both fresh and motivated again!
Why is it so important to have a happy ending? When we train our horses and end the session with a bad experience that will be the feeling that takes up the most space in your body afterwards. The last experience will be the one that keeps your mind occupied and it will most likely be the moment that you use to define how the training session went. Not necessarily consciously, but unconsciously your mind will still use those last bad minutes to define the whole of the session. That was only the top of the iceberg because not only is it important for you to end the session in a good way, but it is important to your horse as well…
The last recall of the session will not only be stored in your body and memory, but the same thing goes for your horse. If the last experiences are always bad due to tiredness or frustration it will also influence how your horse thinks of the project next time you bring it up. Does he recall a good experience where he was a super star and you were super happy? Or does he recall a bad experience where he felt terrible and you were becoming angry and frustrated due to the lack of effort from your horse? If it all sounds a bit intangible just imagine yourself in the shoes of your horse.
If you were attending a math class every day and each time ended the class being tired, unmotivated and unable to solve the equations while your teacher was yelling at you – would you feel like returning the next day then? Probably not! If you on the other hand ended the session while you were still fresh and motivated with capacity to solve the equation (even though it was a bit easier than what you had worked on earlier that day) wouldn’t you then be more motivated when return the next day? I would for sure!
Now you can think of this math class every time you have a session with your horse and needs to decide for yourself what you are going to ask him next by the time he has become tired. It probably will be time to stop while things are working for you or at least avoid a memory of a bad experience by lowering your expectations and make more space for success. This way your horse will be more motivated for showing up at your next class together! That is exactly why I always tell my students to hunt the happy endings and stop while things are at their best. To make the trainer go home with a happy feeling in the stomach and to make the horse motivated for another lesson!