New experiences rarely go smoothly the first time we try them. Sometimes the thing we are attempting doesn’t even happen. We know this, usually, going into the effort. First bike ride, first attempt at cooking, first driving lesson. Even a first kiss. So back we go to give it another shot, and after a while we get pretty good at it.
This isn’t an unfamiliar pattern when we’re learning to ride, either. We get that. The old saying is that it takes two lifetimes to master the art of dressage. We know we can get pretty good in one, though, and a lot of us do. Many of us spend a great deal of time training horses to the discipline we’ve chosen, and there’s a familiar progression of events that go along with a horse’s athletic development.
Unfortunately, there are always problems.
Never mind. There’s time tested ways of dealing with problems, resistances, issues—whatever you want to call them, and people who will teach them to you.
But sometimes the solution to the problem doesn’t seem to work, and we kick harder, push harder, do whatever we think needs attending to more…and we still have the same progress-stopping issue. Often, having tried the chosen solution once, we discard it. Or, we persist in addressing a dilemma with a solution that doesn’t work at all. Either way it’s frustrating for us, as well as our horse.
Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern. If I give the course of action I’ve chosen three separate tries without changing anything about my aids I will know if my horse has understood, and if the solution I’ve chosen needs adjustment or abandonment.
It’s the Rule of Three. It’s very simple. Regardless of my horse’s response the first time the aids are applied, on the second attempt there should be a glimmer of change. On the third try there should be marked improvement—enough to let me know I have been understood and my four-legged friend is grasping the idea and making the effort. If, on the third try, there is no significant improvement, then I must reevaluate what I’m doing and ask myself what specifically isn’t being understood.
If a horse is calm, he will do as he’s asked provided he understands the request and is physically able to do it. When he is allowed to try, without being hammered at, he will often surprise you with his generosity.
It’s our job, as rider and teacher to give him the chance to demonstrate what he understands, abandon a tactic when it is useless, and discover what he needs from us to do what we ask. The Rule of Three is a guide to measure understanding and success, as well as put a limit on frustration.