“(S)he Has To Learn.”


How many times has this statement been said and heard in our daily lives –  “(S)he has to learn.”?

What does the statement mean?  Who has to learn? What has to be learned?  How does it have to be learned? Why does it have to be learned?  When does it have to be learned, is there a time frame?

Often this statement is said with frustration tinged with anger.  Or, it is said with a sense of defeat.

This statement is made by mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, teachers, those in corporate businesss, sport coaches, musical conductors, horse and dog trainers, …  Often it is said when humans are at the end of their proverbial ropes in a given situation breeding the frustration associated and felt with the words.  Who is the speaker frustrated with?

The receiver – human, horse, dog – is told this for not performing the desired task the way the deliverer of the communication knows it ought to be accomplished.  Could the communication of the directions be flawed?

Who has to learn the directive?  Does the person issuing the comment need to learn something?  Is the receiver actually doing what is being communicated to the best of their ability?  Is there a gap between the words being said and the processor receiving it?Whose responsibility is it to contect the dots between the two involved?  Can there be a problem from both the human issuing the statement and the receiver?

What is the time frame involved in learning the task?  Is there a hard date or is it flexible?  Are things moving from so so to awful?  Are there any steps that work, that allow for the possibility for growth by building on those areas?  No matter the answer, this is a prime location for frustration to enter.

Why is it important for this particular task to be learned?  Is it possible to learn other aspects and return to this portion once other pieces have been learned?

Over many years of work, I have learned when a task performed by another is not going the way I think it ought to, it is best to take a large breath and release the air through my mouth very slowly.  I believe this may be where parents have been instructed by child experts to take a breath and count to 10.  It truly works!

In today’s world we are all in a hurry.  Our phones travel with us, AND they are not only phones, they are computers, they are televisions, in short the devices “reach out and touch us” instantly and constantly.  They are inanimate objects that rule our lives, IF we allow it to happen.  Social media outlets encourage us to think and write in short hand.  Email takes too long, haha.  How does this affect our communication skills when it is imperative to think from start to finish with lots of words to fill in all the gaps?  Do we even know how to accomplish this ourselves?

Since my “thing” is horses, I am going to apply this process to equines for the rest of this article.

Allow our time with our horse(s) to be just that, our time.  What does this mean?  First, turn the ringer off your phone.  If possible leave it in your vehicle upon arriving at the barn.  The only person who ought to have a phone easily accessible is the trainer/instructor for use in case of emergency or to video portions of the ride for learning purposes.  One can always go to their vehicle or tack trunk to use the phone if needed to take a fun photo to post at a later date on the internet.

Just before entering the barn, take a large breathe, filling the diaphragm, straightening the spine, cleansing the mind, releasing the air slowly bringing in relaxation and clarity.  This is the begining of “Being present” with your horse and his/her surroundings.

Spend time with your horse, observing, grooming, performing exercises with your horse, whatever your process is to prepare the pair of you for your ride or ground work session.  Be sure the pair of you are in sync.  Both human and equine brains are massive computers – just like mobile phones.

When asking the horse to perform simple tasks, be clear about what your desire is.  If you asked yourself to perform the task, would you know how to do it?  Test it out on.  I find this is a time where my words are very useful.  I choose one word for each task,  “Over”, “Foot”, “Head” and so on.  This is what I do, I am not saying this is what you are to do.  Do what works best for you to remain clear and relaxed.  Keep in mind it may take a little while for your horse to learn what you want.

Second on the list is Consistency.

As much as possible, perform each task the same way every time you work with your horse.  Develop a habit for both the handler and the equine.  Eventually, when a step is skipped, the horse still knows what is next.  He will perform the task forgiving the slip. Consitency creates confidence, in both the human and the horse.

When these habits are developed on the ground, it is much easier to transfer them to riding.  When there are new tasks to be learned, practice them on the ground, as much as possible, before asking them to be performed under saddle.  Take each portion of the task and teach it before asking the horse to string all the parts together.  Allowing each area to be examined for ability and understanding, on both the human’s and the horse’s part, creating clarity and confidence.  This process can take moments or days.  If the statement, “(S)he has to learn” creeps in, there has been a communication error.  When needed, reboot and start over to find where the error occurred, make the correction and proceed.  Why are we willing to do this with our machines but not our horses?

I read a quote that applies to many partnerships in the equine world, “We allow people to take years to learn new things.  We expect our horses to learn new things in 5 minutes.”