By Carole Herder
Following on from a previous blog about patterns, I want to now talk about training patterns.
We’ve all seen the little paths horses carve out in our paddocks – they take the same route to the barn and the same route to the water trough – they will pick their way along a seemingly invisible path, but it will be consistent. This is reiterated in the likes of the track system (also known as Paddock Paradise) where an alleyway is created around the perimeter of the property or paddock. This encourages more movement and mimics the way horses live naturally in the wild – they will follow and track and visit the same places and repeat the same behaviours. Many of the natural behaviour patterns that horses have are directly related to the fact that they are prey animals.
Patterns give a horse purpose, focus and confidence. I know if any of my horses get nervous or scared when out and about, I can easy fall into one my training patterns with them to get their focus back to me and remind them that they are ‘too busy with me’ to be unnecessarily worried about something else. I might use a figure of eight, lateral flexion or simply just asking for softness. These would have been patterns that we would have practiced in the arena many times over.
So, patterns are good as a safety net. They are also good to teach a horse something. Whenever you are going to do a new lesson with a horse, break it down into little steps. Do step one, and repeat, and repeat. Then wait for the next training session, repeat step one and add in step two, and repeat, and repeat. Do be careful not to bore them though. You need to develop a horse’s mental, emotional and physical fitness. Patterns will help with this. If the horse gets it right, don’t ask more than three times. If they cannot get it right, what can you change to help them get it right?