My long-time trainer growing up used to tell me, “The hurrier you go, the behinder you get.” It was his way of reminding me to slow down.
More than once, I learned the hard way that by going too fast, I ended up having to backtrack and fix my mistakes, which inevitably takes more time in the long run. Sometimes this was related to farm chores and day-to-day routines, and sometimes this was related to my own progress as a rider.
As a professional, I've also experienced the need to go back and fill holes left in a horse's understanding that I or someone else made by hurrying through a particular educational moment. In going through that process more than once, I've come to understand that when it comes to training horses, time is completely irrelevant.
This is a tough one for humans. We live by our clocks, both internal and external. We have daily allowances for various activities. We have deadlines and tasks to check off our list, and we have short and long-term goals that we want to achieve. All of this means that we exist on a constant schedule.
Horses don't move through the world in the same way. Any schedule they have is of our creation. They know when breakfast and dinner come because we feed them on a regular schedule, according to our needs. If they lived in the wild, they would simply eat when they were hungry, drink when they were thirsty, and sleep when they were tired. They would move out of necessity, not because it was time for their daily exercise. They have no ambitions or dreams of how they can use their athletic capabilities. Those are human desires alone.
So if we are going to ask horses to do the things we have decided they should be doing, I would argue that we need to give somewhere.
We need to understand that our desire to get to a certain show or to move up to a certain level has no bearing on their understanding of the things we are asking them to do. Time, when it comes to training horses, is totally irrelevant.
It simply takes the time it takes for them to learn. And it’s different for every horse. That may or may not fit into the exact agenda you have for your horse. But if you can put your own agenda aside, slow down, and be present with your horse, you’ll actually make more progress toward your goals in the long run.
Certainly, I step into any training session with a horse with a general idea of what I would like to work on and the length of time that I have allotted myself to work with them that day. But I also love to enter training sessions like I'm going into an alternate universe where time slows down or doesn't exist at all. Whenever I can do that, I have my best sessions.
Sometimes, I find that my horse doesn't quite understand something I'm asking and that I need to spend more time than I anticipated on an aid or a movement. This may mean that my plan for the session gets adjusted.
I may not check off all the boxes that I had intended to on that particular day. I know from experience, though, that I will absolutely get to my greater goal sooner for having taken that time. It means I won't uncover a missing piece in my horse’s understanding when I try to ask for something harder down the line.
When I feel impatience in myself, or I see it in one of my students, I take a deep breath and remember that my horse doesn't live by my clock. I think about what they would be choosing to do if we weren't imposing our agendas on them. I put myself in their shoes, and that gives me patience. Time and time again, that patience has proven beneficial to both my horse and my personal goals.