When Jay and I were watching dressage at the WEG, we were using the headsets in which a commentator was, well, commentating. I don’t know if this happens to you, but sometimes a particular turn of phrase will have such an undeniable “truthiness” (oh how I love that word) to it that I find myself putting everything else immediately aside to think about it. The commentator was acknowledging a particularly beautiful piaffe in an afternoon of piaffing excellence. She said,
“When you train a horse you have to do two things: You have to teach him the mechanics of what you wish him to do, and then you have to teach him that he is good at it.”
Upon hearing that, I didn’t really see the rest of the test, though I was looking. It was like a lightning bolt hit me, and I sat there, stunned. That one sentence encapsulated all that I do with horses. A trainer has to know the correct mechanics of any skill she is trying to teach (what are the footfalls of canter? How does half pass start? How does a horse arrange his legs in all stages of a jump?). The trainer also has to know when the work is correct, or even close while they are learning, and communicate that to the horse. Congratulate him, even. When the horse gets his paycheck in praise for doing a thing as we wish, pretty soon he likes to do that thing. When he likes to do that thing, he performs it with increasing confidence, which, if nurtured, becomes brilliance.
So the horse piaffing with joyful brilliance in front of us that day had mastered the mechanics of the movement, and he clearly knew he was good at it. It was a joy to see. Now that’s training.