Brains have limited attention for incoming stimulation. Straining to hear speech uses some of that attention, leaving less to focus on handling the horse.
then rushes the fifth. The problem occurred at the fifth fence, right? Not necessarily. Ole Speedy might have been rarin’ to go all along, stiffening her back and neck imperceptibly as she went, but her attitude didn’t materialize until she reached fence five. Good feedback needs to address the root of the problem, not the point at which it is eventually displayed.
The best trainers sense problems before they occur. Horse training is made up of many characteristics, but one of the most important is prevention. Rather than solve every problem a 1,200-pound animal can present, we want to prevent those problems from occurring. Seek the horse’s attitude and correct it with proper groundwork, exercise, conditioning and instruction, and you won’t have to solve so many 1,200-pound problems.
FACTOR 6: VOICE
Clearly, timing is important. But to apply feedback, you’ve got to be able to hear it. This principle is so simple that it is rarely given the consideration it deserves. Decades ago, adult equestrians tended to be relatively young. But by 2010, more than 60 percent of adult American riders were over the age of 44. Sad to say, middleagers just don’t have the super-ears of their teenaged counterparts.
Even under the best conditions---no rock concerts or construction noise--normal human hearing declines daily after the ripe old age of 20. In quiet settings, mild hearing problems don’t affect us much. But push some wind in our ears at the canter, add the hum of observers chatting on a deck and a distraction like that filly bucking on the longe line 20 feet away, and … Houston? We have a problem.
Speech sounds are the first to deteriorate. That’s why old coots think everybody mumbles. An emergency command like “Bail off!” becomes “Payov!” and the instruction to use a “left opening rein” as your horse runs sideways is “lev oab nun ray.” Trying to decipher such mumbo-jumbo under stress is very difficult. And conditions have already deteriorated significantly if your coach is telling you to bail off, right?
Even in that very rare lesson when nothing is particularly wrong, it’s hard to ride well with your head canted forward and cocked to the side trying to decipher soft-spoken words. Brains have limited attention for incoming stimulation. Straining to hear speech uses some of that attention, leaving less to focus on handling the horse. Able instructors project their voices across large arenas, or they use transmitting devices to communicate clearly. Either way, they are always easy to hear.
FACTOR 7: RESULTS OR PERFORMANCE
Feedback can be delivered in terms of results or performance. Knowledge of results includes the speed of a barrel race, the score of a dressage test, one’s placement in a Western pleasure class or the number of faults in a jumping round. That information tells you whether you need to improve. Sometimes it tells you where improvement is needed--for example, you might be able to infer from class placements whether your hand gallop was fast enough, your sliding stop long enough, your free walk free enough.
Knowledge of performance describes exact movements that are needed to improve results. Perhaps your barrel race is slow because your inside hip is not low enough coming into the first turn. Maybe you’re riding Western pleasure with contact instead of a draped rein. Possibly your weight drifts back too early in the air over a fence, causing your horse to rub the top rail with his hind ankles. Knowledge of performance tells us what to do differently to get better results next time out.