More fluency, please
Flow of movement at ease
Especially when thinking about higher-level lessons we picture a horse to ideally reach its highest level of elegancy; it should appear to effortlessly show the most difficult motion sequences with the greatest ease. Think of a really well performed passage; there is no hopping and staggering from one hind leg to the other but the movement should be rhythmic, dynamic, evenly distributed, and fluent instead. Similarly, we frequently want to achieve a good flow of movement when working on certain tricks. For example, we want our horse to retrieve a certain object. Our goal is that it quickly and directly runs after the object we have thrown, skillfully picks up the object, and brings the item back to the trainer without delay. We aim for a kind of fluency that is characterized by the smooth and natural succession of learned elements in a chain of behavioral responses. Yet, we frequently see horses experimenting a lot before finally picking up the object or even losing the item while retrieving it. So, the amount of fluency can tell whether a horse has internalized a task in its totality or not.
Working on fluency
That is why we repeatedly work on improving fluency in Rplus training: on enhancing suppleness, and on skillfully performing lessons with the greatest ease. All too often it becomes apparent that many riders expect or presuppose quite a lot at very early learning stages without having worked for it. Yet, it requires several thousand repetitions on average until a chain of behavioral responses is fully incorporated; several thousand repetitions from the beginning to the end successfully reproduced and rewarded. Of course, the more complex a chain of behavioral responses is, and the more physically demanding a lesson is for the horse, the more partial steps are necessary, and the longer it takes to reach the amount of repetitions necessary to really internalize this lesson.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
So, I like to practice recurring patterns with my horses and in my courses. This allows me to achieve many repetitions in a rather short amount of time. For example, after having worked on shoulder-in in its basic form, I like to practice shoulder-in with the help of an imaginary line on the floor that resembles an eight.
An eight can be imagined as two voltes that are linked, and we are moving along while respectively changing lead. Each arc of each eight allows us to practice shoulder-in for a couple of steps, and by changing leads we simultaneously improve fluency on both sides. Furthermore, we are able to repeatedly practice the introduction of shoulder-in, the fluent implementation, and the end of this lesson, as well as straightening the horse in quick succession. Traditional master riders have been using the eight as basic pattern to study the art of riding for a long time. Our work with positive reinforcement enables us to link traditional knowledge with current scientific knowledge.