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Phases in training. When NOT to use them.

Don Jessop

There are two important reasons we use phases in horse training.

What are phases? Simply put, it's the escalation of pressure from zero to whatever is effective. It's when we start with a small suggestion to move, and slowly add energy, in a supporting fashion, until the horse responds, usually followed by a release and reward. For instance, when backing my horse, I might lift the reins as phase one, then gradually increase the tension on the reins and even add a kiss or a cluck, to encourage life and energy in the direction I want until my horse yields backward, then I release the pressure and reward the behavior and, if I'm smart, repeat the cycle until he responds to phase one (the initial signal) without the extra support.

The two main reasons we use phases in training are:

1. To prevent heavy handed horsemanship from novice riders or people with bad habits of demanding without asking.

2. To increase sensitivity. Dull horses need encouragement (that makes sense) laced with rewards. Using phases and rewards, dull horses tune into smaller and smaller cues or signals. They become more sensitive and smart with phases.

When NOT to use phases:

Believe it or not there are times in training where using phases has adverse effects. Here's a couple examples...

Safety. Sometimes a horse can: jump on you, kick at you, leap in the air too close to you, bite you, strike at you, etc. In these moments, there needs to be a sudden and effective boundary set. Gradually escalating through phases is detrimental to your success with boundaries. You don't have to be mean or rude, but you do have to be effective. Slowing down allows too much time for the horse to feel right about stepping on your toes. Can you imagine that? Imagine a horse literally standing on your foot. You wouldn't kindly whisper a suggestion for them to move. You'd tell them abruptly. When safety and boundaries are needed. Don't use phases.

Here's another example of when NOT to use phases...

When you're trying to send a black and white message to your horse about positioning. Imagine asking your horse to stand still for the horse shoer but your horse keeps fidgeting about. In the scenario it's fine and effective to let them know moving about won't serve them. I let them off the hook the moment they settle into the right place, but I let them know if they aren't standing in the right place. And I don't suggest using phases to let them know. When the message needs to be binary, reward vs consequence, phases get in your way. The old saying goes, "The longer you let your horse be wrong, the sooner they feel right." Using phases slows things down and can allow the horse to feel like standing in the wrong place is just fine with you.

Using phases is a slower, intelligent method to help horse learn to yield to your subtle signals. It's makes people kinder and more thoughtful about their communication. It's an important part of training. But not using phases still has its place in training. It's useful to be conscious about that reality and notice when using phases will enhance your relationship and when it will detract from it.

Thanks for reading. See you all again soon. Don

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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