Snakes and Ladders

I always think fitness is a little like snakes and ladders. Intermittently I run quite a lot and between times I eat biscuits. Life is all about balance. Running is quite straightforward in terms of building fitness. Run for 20 mins, then gradually increase your time. The snakes come out with illness, injury or life getting in the way.

Horses can feel the same. We can feel like we are getting somewhere, and then we have a setback, maybe we have to work late all week, and suddenly the next week it feels like you have slithered all the way back to the tail of the snake. In the same way, if I don’t run for a few weeks, too much work, had a cold, suddenly I feel terribly unfit and feel like I too have slithered down the snake.

However, the light in all of this is the ladder of repetition. Because I have previously been able to run, it doesn’t take that long to return to fitness. Because you have worked hard with your horse, the week off will be quickly overcome, as you climb up the ladder.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still disheartening. But the initial work never goes to waste. When I first started running I couldn’t run for a bus. (Could ride horses, muck out, etc all day) The first time I got myself to running 3 miles it was a tremendous effort. Now it never takes that long to get back there. In the same way, the initial work teaching a good trot canter transition may have been an effort, but even after a break re-teaching it is never as hard.

Setbacks may feel disheartening, the snakes may frustrate us, but never forget about the ladders of repetition. Those few weeks off will be quickly overcome. So don’t fret if life gets in the way, you will soon be moving up the board again.

It’s not just repetition…

Everyone always says keep doing it, it will get better. Keep trying, keep practicing. This is true, but only to a point. Practice does make perfect,  but only good practice works.

Imagine. You are teaching your horse to canter. Each time you ask for canter, you put your outside leg too far back and your horse bucks into canter. What do you think will happen if you keep on doing the same thing? Your horse will learn that when you put your leg that far back he bucks into canter. You have practiced, you have followed the instruction, but you have only practiced the wrong aid, so it hasn’t worked.

It would have been better in this instance to think, I am struggling with this, so I will wait until my next lesson and then check I am doing it right, rather than keep on doing it wrong. Maybe you could have just practiced your walk trot transitions for the week till your lesson instead.

Of course sometimes we aren’t sure whether we are doing right, but if you aren’t sure, then see whether you think you are getting the right response. Are you teaching your dog to sit? Is it sitting properly? Or does it keep lying down instead? Are you teaching your horse to wait in his stable doorway without rushing? Is it working? Most the time we know when we are doing it right, as we get the right reaction. Be mindful of whether the result you are aiming for is the same as the one you are getting.

Training is fascinating and endlessly rewarding and training using repetition is an essential part of that training, but it is vitally important to make sure that you are doing good practice not bad practice, as only perfect practice makes perfect.