It certainly isn’t new, is it? The importance of “patience” in horse handling and training, and indeed, even in improving your riding, has been long professed. But it bears repeating because we humans are, for the most part, profoundly impatient. And with our modern world providing more and more instant gratification, our “now” impulses aren’t likely to change without conscientious effort.
Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado were the founders and head trainers of the now famous equestrian show Cavalia, along with Normand Latourelle. And they toured the United States and European capitals from 2004 to 2009, playing to more than two million spectators. In addition they have worked with such leading figures as Corky Randall (trainer for the legendary film The Black Stallion), Don Manuel Vidria Gomez of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, and Linda Tellington-Jones. In their book Building a Life Together: You and Your Horse, they share their thoughts on the role patience plays when working with horses.
For Magali and me, the notion of allowing enough time is closely allied to that of patience.
We had to learn how to wait as well as to control our emotions. It seems these days that such an idea is becoming ever more anachronistic. Everyone wants instant results, but horses have their own rhythm, closer to nature, and at variance with any ideas involving deadlines, profitability, or even over-enthusiastic pressure toward some goal. Whether it concerns a horse being prepared for a show, or someone who has invested in a Grand Prix horse, or just an amateur rider with one hour per week to spare, there is only one rhythm to work to and that belongs to the horse. For anyone in a hurry, riding is not the right occupation. When a person is stressed, the horse can see it and soon becomes stressed himself. This leads to badly thought-out instructions on the part of the rider and a refusal to cooperate on the part of the horse. Impatience leads to conflict, and things are worse when the two meet the next time. Soon horse and rider are in a spiral of frustration.
It should be exactly the opposite: the less time there is available, the more patient you must be and the more you must listen. Again and again, I have noticed that the less stressed I am, the quicker I get the result I want. Even when there is an important deadline like the first night of a show in which millions of dollars have been invested, I make myself one hundred percent available to the horse, calm and attentive to his reactions and his rhythm. The more he is at ease and relaxed, the sooner he will provide what I am asking of him. Above all else, I try to make him comfortable, and being at ease myself is an essential ingredient. Then I take the time to go through each step of the training in the right sequence, not missing anything out. The more I take care to explain each step, the quicker he can integrate the whole procedure and perform effectively. This does not mean endlessly repeating an exercise; if it is not learned quickly then it has not been properly understood, and I must find another way to introduce it and to teach him. This is the human’s responsibility, not the horse’s.
Some people buy expensive competition horses and plan a detailed training schedule to achieve their desired aim. When the horse does not fulfill their expectations, it is not because he’s stupid but because the training plan doesn’t suit him. In this case, it is best to find another way but all too often, the horse’s character is blamed and so it is that brilliant horses appear on the competition scene and then disappear equally fast, all because the rider has not been prepared to adapt his methods. It is often better to lower the bar of expectation for a time. I find if I press forward too quickly the horse will not reach his potential. The only solution is to go back a few steps and repeat those that have been rushed or missed out.
You never lose time by taking more time, and particularly by taking time to enjoy the horse’s company. Make him as happy as yourself and you will progress at the right speed!
This excerpt from Building a Life Together: You and Your Horse by Frédéric Pignon and Magali Delgado is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).