The Importance of Timing

Two weekends ago, I attended the Pennsylvania Horse Expo, which lucky for me, is only about an hour from my home, and offers a ton of free demonstrations and seminars from trainers all over the world. There was one trainer who I went to see early Sunday morning whose work really resonated with me. His name was Angelo Telatin, and in his demonstration he talked a lot about timing. The information was gold, so I wanted to share it with you, as well as some of my own thoughts on this subject.

There is no way around it, timing is critical with our horses. In fact the timing of our responses to our horse’s behavior is one of the most influential ways that we can communicate with them. Many horse people talk about “timing and feel,” but what exactly does this mean? Well, timing is applicable and can be discussed in several different situations. First, let’s look at simple pressure and release. If you are applying a form of pressure to your horse, for the purpose of motivating him to do something, let’s say its tapping him with a stick to get him to walk forward, and he begins to kick out. If you stopped tapping for whatever reason, (maybe his kick startled you, or you just didn’t want to make him angry) you have just taught your horse that kicking is the correct response to being tapped with a stick and will be effective in stopping the pressure. A few more repetitions and he’ll have that kick down pat. Rather, if you continue tapping through the kick, not whacking him as punishment for a wrong answer, but not releasing the pressure until he takes a step forward then stopping the tapping immediately – this correct timing of your release will help him understand exactly what you want (when I tap, you walk forward).

Now, let’s look at a reward example. Many of us like to feed our horses treats, but you need to have criteria for how your horse behaves when he receives a treat. If he comes over and nuzzles your jacket, nips at your hands, and is generally in your face about the food, then he is learning that nosing you, nipping, and investigating pockets equals a food reward. But if are aware of the timing of when you feed that treat, and you only ever feed a treat when your horse is standing quietly with his head away from you, the food pushy behavior will not develop. He may give it a try but will also give it up if you create some boundaries and never provide that food reward during nosy behavior.

Going back to pressure, timing is also important for knowing when to increase pressure. If a horse is trying, if he is searching for what you want, then you don’t want to increase the pressure or he will only become frustrated. On the other hand, pressure is used to motivate, so going back to the previous pressure and release example, if you are tapping your horse to ask for forward movement and he is falling asleep in the sun, you need to increase that pressure just until he wakes up and realizes something is being asked of him.
Considering these examples, it becomes easy to see how we can accidentally train our horses to do the exact opposite of what we want, and all by being too slow, too fast, or inappropriate in our release or rewards. Fortunately, just being aware of this concept can help us improve, so when you make a mistake, acknowledge that your timing was off and make it better the next time!

Finally, enjoy this week’s video on this subject, and leave a comment with other bad habits you can think of that can be a result of bad timing on our part!

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