About 20 years ago I was working with a horse that I had purchased for my son. The horse had real issues with side passing at a gate. For whatever reason, this horse did not want to go up to the gate. I spent about an hour trying to get the horse close to the gate but even at ten feet away, he would get very upset. We could ride by the gate with no problem but once the horse knew he was side passing toward the gate, he would get upset. Probably, at some time the horse had been punished for doing something wrong around a gate. It might not have had anything to do with side passing but the horse did something a previous owner didn’t like and the punishment was severe. It really stuck with that horse that a gate means “trouble.” I had spent about an hour trying to get the horse to side pass toward the gate. This was before I really understood patience, and I did not have control of my emotions. I finally just quit out of frustration as I knew that if I kept going, I was going to lose my temper. That would not have done either of us any good.
We all learn things as we go along and I’ve always been told to leave the emotions on the bench. Sometimes that is easier said than done. I’ve learned some hard lessons and I have always found that when I got angry, it cost me more time. So, here is something that I really learned that day. When I put the horse away, I put him away in fairly good spirits. In other words, I didn’t let my emotions take over and I didn’t take my frustration out on the horse. The next day, I got the horse out, schooled him and went back to working on the gate. The horse moved off my leg in the direction of the gate like he had been doing it forever. It was not a perfect side pass but it was enough of a side pass that my jaw dropped in amazement.
After a couple of similar situations, I have found that, thrown in with the concept of pressure and release, “think time” really seems to work well. The time away was the only thing that happened with that horse. I didn’t get angry, the horse didn’t get frustrated, no anxiety was involved, no one got hurt, even though my patience was running thin. We are only human and we do get frustrated but when we do, we are no longer effective. The only thing that happened in this situation was that I put the horse away. I came to realize the horse had some “think time.” In other words, the horse had time to absorb and process what had happened, however horses process. They don’t have a rational thinking process like we do but they do process.
I find this technique useful in everyday riding. For example, if I have been working on getting a horse to stop and not run through the bit and I have had to tip the horse into the rail to get him to break his speed, once I get a pretty good stop, I just take the pressure off and let him relax and process. Just for a few minutes, I stop, chat with another trainer, or meditate on something that needs to be done around the ranch. Sometimes when you are working on a problem area and you get just a little bit of success, it is worth it to give the horse a little “think time.” I’ve also heard it called “self time” but it is the same principle.
So, when you find yourself in a situation where you need to get something done and you are sort of hitting a stone wall, once you get a little something, just leave the horse alone, let the horse chill, and then ask again. The majority of the time, I find that a break is a very useful tool.