Here are three questions I received about the Jac series; Can you see how they are related?

“On episode 6 you talk about when he let you know you were “boring” and it was time to step up the training… What are some signs they give us to let us know they are ready for more?- Stephanie D

“How do you know how much pressure to apply and when to back off “on a good note”?”-Ellen M

“Hi Stacy! Love the video diaries! I had a quick question regarding episode 10. I was working with my colt tonight, and we never quite made it to the point where he was trotting forward. He got to point where he would speed up a bit, but not fully into a trot. Overall, he can be a little lazy. So my question to you…with this lesson, are you supposed to go until he understands he needs to go into a full trot? At what point would you quit? Or move on to something else. I think I was losing his interest.”-Morgan

The thing that these questions all have in common are that these people are all asking about how to ‘read a horse’ or, if phrased another way, ‘how to have Can you teach a horse rider to have feel or do they have to be born with it?better ‘feel’.

“Feel” is that almost mythical word that is frequently used to describe people who are great with horses. Have you heard that word used before?

Many people say that feel is something people either have or don’t have but I don’t agree.  I do agree that ‘feel’ comes more naturally to some and that others may achieve a higher degree but largely I believe that feel can be improved. If feel can be improved, then it can be taught and if it can be taught than it can be learned. This is true in other areas of life as well. Michael Jordan made it clear that when he was young he practiced the fundamentals of basketball over and over, but it didn’t end there. He was well known for practicing the fundamentals his entire career. Was he born with a ‘feel’ for basketball? Without a doubt. Did he learn even more ‘feel’ over the years? For sure. How? Check out Michael’s following quotes:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

“I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.”

“I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.”

Now go back and read those quotes again and apply the principals to teaching yourself to read your horse better and to increase your level of ‘feel’. Will you make mistakes? Yes. Will it be hard work? Yes. Will you look back 2 years, 5 years and 10 years later and say, “If I had that horse to train again…I could do it so much better.” Yes. I know because I have done all of these things. Is it worth it? For me the answer is yes…what is it for you?

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Now I am going to give the physical answer for each of these questions.

“On episode 6 you talk about when he let you know you were “boring” and it was time to step up the training… What are some signs they give us to let us know they are ready for more?- Stephanie D

Jac was a great example of a horse that was ready for challenges. Early episodes show him displaying tons of ‘attitude’, head swirling, pushy, and trying to take control. The biggest thing missing from Jac was fear. I am not saying that Jac should have been fearful but I am saying his body language displayed anything but fear. Even when Jac appeared to be running away from me in episode 3…dragging me out of the screen, he never had an attitude of fear. He was simply leaving the classroom! He wanted to call the shots.

The most general way to answer this is, when they horse is trying to take control of the situation or is ignoring you then they are telling you they could move faster. You will notice them looking away from you, finding other things more interesting, missing your subtle cues, offended by your corrections, etc.

Notice the subtle difference between ’taking control of the situation’ though. When a horse lacks training they will likely make mistakes. When they make mistakes and are corrected or redirected they tell on themselves by the way they respond…much like children. If the horse is corrected or redirected and they have an attitude…then you can be pretty sure they are ready for harder lessons. If the horse responds in fear then most of the time it is a sign that the lesson is either moving too fast or the horse hasn’t made the connection yet.

“How do you know how much pressure to apply and when to back off “on a good note”?”-Ellen M

As this question doesn’t apply directly to one of the episodes I am going to give a general idea. I often describe horse training as playing the game of ‘hotter-colder’…did you ever play that game as a kid? If not, here is how it goes; The leader picks an object in the room and as the other person, the player, moves around the room the leader says ‘hotter’ if the player gets closer to the correct object or ‘colder’ if the player heads away. The player will experiment by moving a few directions and then quickly figures out the direction that is correct.

Training a horse is similar. If the rider has clear goals then they ‘release’ or back off when the horse is headed in the correct direction. The difficulty for many people who are first training horses is that  the horse often ‘thinks’ or has a very subtle  thought in the ‘right’ direction…and new learners miss this opportunity to reward. It is lack of experience that causes this mistake. Riding with someone who has experience can greatly improve your timing for reward.

“Hi Stacy! Love the video diaries! I had a quick question regarding episode 10. I was working with my colt tonight, and we never quite made it to the point where he was trotting forward. He got to point where he would speed up a bit, but not fully into a trot. Overall, he can be a little lazy. So my question to you…with this lesson, are you supposed to go until he understands he needs to go into a full trot? At what point would you quit? Or move on to something else. I think I was losing his interest.”-Morgan

This exercise is a great example of rewarding a horse who is ‘headed’ in the right direction but isn’t quite there yet. Yes, rewarding if your horse ‘speeds up a bit’ was the correct thing to do. His slight speed up was a physical sign that mentally he was thinking in the correct direction. If your horse had been experimenting with stopping or slowing down then that would have been a bad time to stop the exercise.

Many exercises, this one included, work well if the slightest try is rewarded because the horse will actually think about the lesson over night. I often refer to the lesson as ‘planting a seed’ because it paints a better picture of the idea that time will also help things grow. I have done this lesson with horses and rewarded them for only walking faster for two or three days in a row, then on day four I asked more and they were ready to trot.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many times doing lessons with similar answers will help the horse improve quicker. For example, if I tell you to trot the horse forward and then back the horse up it is easier for the horse to become confused. Forward and backward are two different answers. However, if you work on trot forward leading lesson, lunge lessons with inside turns, and kiss means lope lessons all week long the message is consistent; forward, forward, forward.