The English language has just 26 letters. And out of those letters we can express an infinite number of ideas once we learn how to string those letters together into words and sentences. We begin that process as children, first learning A-B-C’s. Initially we have no idea what the point of all those shapes and sounds might be. According to my friend, Heather, who did her doctoral thesis on childhood language development, there is an ah-ha moment for the child when he or she realizes that there is a correlation between the shapes, sounds, and words.
I thought that was really interesting and helped me to formulate yet another training analogy!
When we begin training with a horse we start with the equivalent of the “alphabet”, those basic components upon which everything else is constructed. For me the basic components (A-B-C’s) are simple things like “look this way” ,”move your feet”, and “stop”. We can work on these basics in a stall or round-pen or on a lead rope. Actually all three is ideal. This is not un-like kindergarten where children learn letters exist and how to say them.
But there would be no point in teaching children the letters of the alphabet without the teacher recognizing that the goal is to get to reading and writing. In other words, it is the stringing of the letters together that is important, not the letters themselves, per se. I view horse training as a process of developing a mutually agreeable language: the language of “feel”. And, while we start with “letters” the point is to get to “reading”, reading each other through feel.
So, I’m not going to spend a lot of time making “A”,”B”, or “C” perfect as stand alone things. I want to see the horse have his own ‘ah-ha’ moment about the conversation we can have once we understand each other. This is why I don’t delay starting to put things together as soon as possible. If I have just a few things going pretty well — stop, go, and turn — I can construct just about any thing I might want to do on horse back out of them.