That all-to-famous saying is muttered quite often at our barn, especially during the peak of training and show season, when everyone’s patience levels are put to the test by young (and old) horses who sometimes just don’t get “it”.
What is “it,” you ask? On any given day, “it” could be picking up the correct lead, coming to the realization that “lope” does not mean gallop at full speed just to get it over with, or something as simple as realizing that the shadow from the barn door isn’t a never-ending abyss that we must avoid at all costs.
My most recent endeavor ("it") involves teaching my young mare, who is now six, to neck rein. The basics are there, but the lines of communication often get crossed.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with neck reining, here’s a quick explanation. Neck reining involves guiding and directing the horse with one hand. Ideally, the rider guides the horse by moving their hand and reins in the preferred direction, laying the rein against the horse’s neck, moving off of the pressure. Neck reining is an important skill for western riders, and most likely stemmed from the necessity of ranch owners needing to be able to guide their horse and rope and/or herd cattle at the same time.
Here's a video by Gary Stauffer with the University of Nebraska Lincoln, from eXtension.org/Horses about neck reining and teaching the concept to horses.
Two weeks ago we began our endeavor. I introduced her to a new, low-ported curb bit, which she eventually got used to, and we started working on the basics of neck reining. One important thing to note about training a horse – it’s much easier to teach a horse a new maneuver or concept if you have introduced the basic concepts and laid out the groundwork first. Fortunately, we’ve been working with Roo from the beginning on moving away from leg pressure, as well as moving her forequarters and hindquarters independently.
The first lesson early in the week went really well and I was thrilled with her response to both the new bit and neck reining. She was paying attention and doing the best she could to do what I wanted. Later in the week, however, it was back to step one and like she hadn’t learned anything at all. She was tossing her head, confused and frustrated, and the longer we worked, the more we fought. She just wasn't getting it.
Before you jump the gun – no, I didn’t expect it to happen overnight. Yes, I realize that it will take several days, weeks, probably months before we become anywhere near polished at neck reining. I realize that. My goal is to steadily work towards that polished outcome, so that we can continue to grow and move forward to more exciting things.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that training a horse is a long, learning process that requires patience from both the horse and rider.
So this week, we start the process again. We’ll be working on the same simple concepts each and every ride, and hopefully my patience will not wear too thin.
After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.