One of my favorite bits of horsemanship advice comes from the late Ray Hunt, who said, “Adjust to fit the situation.” Let’s drill down a bit on this simple prescription.
Every moment with a horse is a “situation” with a unique character to it. The first order of business is recognizing the situation for what it is. Second is having an alternative course of action that you can adjust to. And third is making the adjustment at the right moment.
An example that comes to mind is teaching a foal to lead. Since horses have an “opposition reflex” (a.k.a. positive thigmotaxis), foals tend to pull back when we apply forward pressure on a lead rope. That is a common situation. An alternative when they resist forward pressure is to immediately pull more to one side. Foals have less power to resist lateral pressure and are likely to take a step to the side, which can be rewarded and parlayed into movement on a curve and eventually straight, forward movement.
One of the reasons a good horseman adjusts to fit the situation is that he is always looking for behaviors that can be rewarded, and he is always looking for a good note to end the day on.
For more information on Ray Hunt, visit www.RayHunt.com.