Training is often a process of breaking a goal down into its essential pieces. What is required of me, as the trainer, is that I understand the steps my horse needs in order to accomplish what I'm asking. The steps are basic, even simple. If they can be done correctly and in proper order then my horse can accomplish the goal I have set down for him. It also helps if my horse is rewarded for those steps. He stands a better chance of understanding them, and therefore repeating them, if there's something in it for him.
When Eddie was a youngster I learned very quickly the value of bribery. Punishment didn't work with him -- he'd just leave. In fact, it wasn't only punishment that would have him exiting stage right. He'd cooperate with me so long as it amused him, or interested him, but once something else seemed like more fun I'd be a bit hard pressed to change his mind.
What I learned from my intelligent, independent horse was to reward all the little steps toward the goal, and not wait until we had a difference of opinion about something. What happened wasn't a spoiled horse, it was a horse who gradually understood it was more fun to be with me than not. He learned to go where he was led, stand when being groomed and behave himself when being ridden. In short, he's become a pleasant, reliable companion -- a quality that can't be overemphasized in a 1300 pound animal.
Of course, not every horse needs Eddie's level of coercion. Most don't. But I was thinking along these lines the other day when I set myself up with the goal of cleaning my kitchen. If you've been following this blog at all, you have a good idea where I'm going with this: I can relate everything in life to training horses (it's a gift, I know). Even cleaning the kitchen. It had reached a state of disaster due to me being involved in too many other things and nobody else seeming to care. If it was going to be cleaned, I was going to have to do it, and quite frankly running away seemed like a good option. I was that overwhelmed. Until…yup, I broke it down into its basic, essential parts. Since I really didn't want to gain back the poundage I have managed to lose lately by eating cookies each time I accomplished one item, I wrote it down.
Wipe down the counters?
Clean under the burners?
Mop the floor?
And so it went. I wrote down every little, trivial thing. By the time I was done, not only was the kitchen clean, but the list I'd compiled gave me a very satisfactory feeling of accomplishment -- as I was doing it.
It's the little rewards that help along the way…for people as well as horses.