What is consistency?
To be very literal... Consistency is defined as the ‘conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy or fairness.’ How interesting that being consistent is linked to being logical and accurate, or even fair. I often joke that horses (and all animals, really) must think we humans are either crazy or stupid. We quite often make crazy decisions or ignore their requests; we never seem to understand what they are urgently trying to tell us. My 19 year old morgan mare has a generous idea of what her diet needs to consist of, and I get it wrong every single day. She must think I’m dumb since I do not understand her clearly communicated aggravation with this. But, I digress...
Why must we be consistent with our horses and their training? Well, for several reasons. First, that is how they learn. Horses need repetition to learn what we are trying to teach them, and then to retain it. Since we do not speak the same language nor have the same intellectual vs. instinctual balance, they have to guess what we are asking of them. If their reaction gains a positive outcome enough times-- then they must have gotten it right. This is how good or bad training happens at all times, whether you mean to or not. If a horse consistently experiences a certain outcome for a certain behavior--then they understand a connection there, even if we didn’t realize we just taught our horse to kick at his stall door for carrots and attention.
Again, conformity in the application of your training would mean to consistently apply the same actions or reactions to certain behaviors. We ask for the trot by squeezing our lower leg on the horse, and once they begin to trot, we release. If they slow down, we ask again, then release. It’s simple. Consistency helps clarify training for our horses. Think of it this way: if you have ever played a guessing game with someone, you are depending on their ability to answer your questions accurately. If they accidentally give you the wrong answer, then your entire strategy is thrown off. It’s the same for horses. If you ask for your horse to move off your leg pressure with a light hand on Monday, and then forget your good riding skills and ask for the same movement with heavy-hands and no leg on Wednesday... then your horse won’t understand what you want. Consistency helps build confidence between horse and rider. Just as the definition stated, consistency is necessary for accuracy.
Another definition for consistency is a ‘level of performance that does not vary greatly in quality over time’. How does that apply in our barns? Don’t change how you manage your horses for no apparent reason. Don’t lower the quality of care or training for ANY reason. Physical fitness is a big reason consistency is necessary in training, both for you and your horse! Have you ever tried to go run a marathon after sitting on your butt for a month? -it’s awful, not to mention dangerous! (not that I have ever run a marathon...but it sure feels like one when I get motivated enough to jog a block or two out of the blue) We have to keep our exercise regimen consistent for their physical health. Don’t be a “weekend warrior” and assume your horse will be fine if you grab them out of the field and take them on a full hunter pace or a barrel racing competition without any previous exercise. You have to consistently work them to keep a certain fitness level. Whether your program is to walk your horse around for 30 minutes every other day, or do full training exercise for two hours... No matter what the level of performance, consistency is the key.
Try to assess your training and even your management with this in mind. If you find ways to improve consistency for our habitual friends, they will be much happier and respond in better ways.
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