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Don Jessop

How to know if you're making progress. How to know when to reward. How to know when to quit.

The above picture, is not even mine. So don't get confused. I picked the picture because it was a pleasant portrayal of someone sharing in a positive moment with their horse. Something many riders fail to do often enough.

I believe the reason that many riders miss those special moments, is because they don't actually know what progress looks like. Their goals are ambiguous and their expectations are too high.

The nature of this article is to share my 8 measures of progress with you, so you can measure success and set clearer goals. It helps me define my goals. It helps me know when to reward. It helps me see effort from any horse I work with, when others might only see failure to comply.

Let me explain... Each of the eight items listed below gave me an opportunity to reward, rest, or simply praise my horse's effort. Then continue with a smarter, more compliant, and happier horse.

Let's say I'm asking my horse to canter. Before I canter... don't you think it would be wise to decide how long I want to canter?

Did you know that many people often make the mistake of asking for canter, thinking the horse should just keep going until they are asked to stop? This is horrifically boring for horses. There is no defined progress. There is no destination. This is an example of expectations set too high. Horses don't just canter forever. They use muscles like we do. How would you feel if someone got behind you and asked you to jog. And the only message they gave is that when you quit jogging you will be flogged, whipped, or spurred? Wouldn't it be nice if they gave you some defined parameters? Even if they spoke a different language and you couldn't clearly understand the parameters, wouldn't it be nice if they showed a positive intent to help you understand and feel good about your effort, in an attempt to understand?

So let's say I decide to canter. And lets say I ask for 5 strides of canter across the arena (by the way this works with everything, not just canter)... I have 8 possible means of progress to reward my horse for. And if my horse offers just one of them, I should acknowledge him with a pet, some form of praise, or some reward he can understand. Even if it's just a small, short lived reward (or what I call micro reward). He'll feel it. He'll know that I notice his effort. He'll appreciate it and offer more because of it.

Here they are. All 8 of them.

Faster responses - in other words, he responds quicker than I expected to my suggestion to canter.
Lighter responses - in other words, his response is softer and lighter than I expected.
Better Attitude or smoother response - in other words, he seems be more relaxed and happy about what I'm asking than I expected.
More consistent response - in other words, he shows signs of understanding, repeating the same quality response several times over.
Response with better alignment or balance - in other words, he or she, shows better carriage, frame, and strength, with less resistance.
Responds for a longer period of time - in other words, he shows slightly more endurance than I expected.
Response in a smaller space or different spaces - smaller spaces require better balance, therefore any effort to show endurance or better responses in a smaller space is worth rewarding too. New spaces require higher levels of concentration.
Response from a greater distance - if I were on the ground I might ask him to respond to different rope lengths, or at liberty. Each new length is worth a reward.
If my horse responds in way that is short of my expectations, I often run through the list before I ask again. Did he give me at least one of the eight reasons to reward him? If he did, I'll acknowledge him and start again, in an effort to reach the original goal.

If he fails time and time again to reach my original goal, it means my goal is too big. It's time to start smaller. If he reaches my goal early, it might be time to expand my goals. Food for thought, right?

Here is an old video I did years ago, when I was a Parelli instructor, explaining how to help a horse maintain gait for longer. Check it out. It's just concept, but it shows how to reward small efforts.

In case you're wondering, you can read why I'm not a Parelli instructor any more.

Here is what I want to leave you with. Be reward oriented. Don't expect the world from your horse. Reward small efforts early and let them grow organically. Use this principle and the 8 measures of progress for everything you do with your horse, and maybe even with your human relationships.

"Progress equals happiness!" Tony Robbins

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Don Jessop - Blog Welcome

Hi! I'm Don Jessop

With Mastery Horsemanship

I write to inspire, educate and encourage you on your horse and personal journey.

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Don Jessop


Don opened up a community, full of people on the same journey you are!
To share LIVE Q&A's and help people and horses transform Confidence.

Don Jessop


Don shares his  passion for writing with his passion for helping horse owners see the horse and themselves for who they truly are.

Don Jessop


Don believes every horse owner should have access to the Principles of Horsemanship and he shares them freely here.

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