I believe patience, persistence, and consistency are the three most important qualities for any person working with any horse. Together, they create a container where understanding and communication can grow and thrive. They each bring their own unique flavor to the process, but without each other, they can lead to confusion. Let’s look at them individually to understand why.
Persistence is defined as the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something, even though it is difficult or opposed by others. It means don’t give up. Stay the course, even when it’s hard. Keep your eye on the prize, put your head down, and keep going. And sometimes, in the training process, you have to get a little gritty. You have to dig deep when something new is hard for you or your horse to learn and keep trying. The caveat here is that you need to be persistent in a useful way - that is where patience and consistency come in.
My mother used to say that patience is a virtue. She would say this when I was being impatient in an effort to help me understand that patience is something I would need to cultivate. It’s a practice. It’s a choice in the moment we are getting frustrated when taking a different path. It’s what we are referring to when we say that ego, anger, and frustration have no place in training horses.
Empathy breeds patience, and as we watch another being struggle with the understanding of something new, we can understand the difficulty of that position (as we have all been there) and have patience with the process. When we add in that bit of gritty persistence, we can allow the learning process to take the time it takes, finding appropriate places to wrap up tough sessions without tipping over our patience threshold.
And then there’s consistency - the magical ingredient that brings it all together into concrete understanding between you and your horse.
So often, I see people struggling to teach their horse something new, getting worried or frustrated when their horse hasn’t caught on as quickly as they think their horse should, and then changing tactics to try and move the process along. To me, this would be like teaching someone a complex math equation and changing part of the equation just when they start catching on to the idea. This would be inexplicably confusing for no good reason and would lead me to give up on trying to understand, as the end goal seems like an unattainable moving target. This is why consistency is so important.
Here is how to be consistent. Make a training plan, break it down into the smallest pieces possible, and then methodically and carefully work through that plan. The smaller the bite, the easier it will be for your horse to make sense of and digest. Be consistent in the message you are sending. Don’t change the rules part way through. And if you aren’t sure how to break it down, seek professional help in figuring it out.
Another aspect of consistency is the regularity with which you work with your horse. If someone is learning a new skill, they need to practice it. Not drill it for hours a day, but pick away at it almost every day, in small, easy-to-understand pieces, until it becomes muscle memory.
If you work with your horse once per week, it will take so much longer to gain new understanding than if you worked with them five or six days per week. If you work with them year-round, with short vacations as needed, rather than taking months off at a time, they will remain clear in their understanding of the skills you are teaching them. Using consistency in this sense will mean that you don’t have to start over at the beginning of a learning process continually and that you will actually begin to see progress with your horse.
Together, patience, persistence, and consistency are a force to be reckoned with. There’s not much I can think of that can’t be accomplished when a person checks those three boxes during training sessions. The amount of each you might need daily will vary - a pinch of one, a dash of another - but keeping all three at hand and ready to use will lead to the kind of understating and communication everyone wants with their horse.