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You cannot make a horse respect you; you can only be the sort of person a horse will respect!
Quote Mark


The Third of the four Ps


In order to make planning and practise successful, one must develop the skill of patience which is often referred to as a virtue.  If this is the case, I strongly believe it is a virtue that can be learnt.  We often look at somebody and label them as a patient person or an impatient person, you may even describe yourself as a patient person or a not very patient person However, it is not quite that simple, if you think carefully, I suspect there will be areas of your life in which you are extremely patient with – they may be a hobby, an animal or a sporting activity.  There may be areas of your life where you consider yourself to be very impatient such as being stuck in a traffic jam, computers or annoying work colleagues.  So it can be seen that patience is not something that is predetermined by the genetic makeup of the human being.  The level of patience can change with individual activities or items.  At the start of a relationship with someone we can be extremely tolerant of their bad habits and patient with their learning.  However, that patience can diminish if the person involved chooses not to improve their behaviour or learn from their mistakes.  Equally, we can start out being extremely impatient – with our computer system, or a piece of technology - but as we learn about its operation, understand its workings and the results that it delivers we can become more patient with that piece of machinery.


Most often, our loss of patience is caused by our feeling of being out of control.  If we were to list activities with which we were most impatient we would begin to identify things that we do not understand or things that are beyond our control.   People or circumstances that rob us of time are often the things that we are most impatient with - being stuck behind a slow driver or being in a traffic jam causes us to become impatient - we have things to do, places to go, people to meet. The same thing happens when we are stuck in a queue or when a computer won't work properly – we are out of control and being robbed of something precious to us – our valuable time.  This causes us to become impatient, to want to overtake or hit the "delete" button.


Perhaps by planning our training more and by understanding the way in which practise will improve our performance and increase our chances of success, we will become more patient with our learning – we will understand the processes more fully, enabling us to foresee the benefits of being patient.  I have not always been a patient person – in my youth I would often lose my temper with inanimate objects, with all the stupidity of Basil Fawlty beating his car with a branch!  However, I slowly came to realise that losing my temper, being impatient, was not actually serving my purpose particularly well and was at best quite ineffective but more importantly it actually was causing me to lose more valuable time, interfering with my performance of the task in hand and certainly making it less pleasurable.  There are ways to develop patience; most of them require a simple change in attitude.  Take, for instance, being stuck in a traffic jam - this is only an inconvenience which wastes your valuable time.  However, in most situations you have no control over the activity of the other cars in the traffic jam.  It will take as long as it takes for the traffic jam to clear.  So, you have 2 options: find a different route or accept that you must use this time in the traffic jam to the best of your abilities - to concentrate on problems that you may have been having in your life; slow down your thinking and relax.  One thing is for sure - if you become impatient or angry you will lose more time and become more stressed than if you accept the situation you are currently finding yourself in and do your best to use the time that is available to you.


When working with equines, people often say: "Ben, you have a great deal of patience!" and it is true – with equines, I do have a great deal of patience, but one of the keys to my success is being able to "see the glass half full".  I use small improvements in behaviour – a step forward, a turn of the head, standing still for a few seconds longer – to re-set my "patience clock".  If, when working with an equine you expect a perfect behaviour to occur too soon, then, for sure, you will find it difficult to remain patient for long periods of time.  I personally break patience down into smaller steps; for instance, when asking an equine to load into a trailer rather than seeing the whole task I mentally break it down into small, manageable chunks and then I set a mental "patience clock" and I work with achieving the small step – the turn of the head, the look towards the trailer - and I work to achieve that.  When that happens, I smile to myself, praise the horse for its good behaviour and I'm extremely excited about the progress I have made.  This allows me then to re-set the "patience clock" in my mind until the next behaviour can be achieved - in most instances this means that I only have to remain patient for about 60 seconds at a time.  The other habit I have developed to encourage patience is to understand how I would like to be treated in a similar situation.  If you imagine yourself in a learning situation, whether that be learning a theoretical subject such as mathematics, overcoming a fear or phobia or developing the ability to play a musical instrument, imagine the effects that an impatient trainer or instructor would have on your learning.  Would a teacher losing their patience and becoming cross or raising their voice to you encourage you to learn?  I don't think so.  This simple mind shift always helps to remind me to do my utmost to maintain my patience.  Patience is a strange thing – once, during a demonstration, a lady came to me and said: "This is great, Ben!  I really like what I see but it's not for me".  I obviously enquired why the topic of behaviour wouldn't be able to help her.  She claimed that its methods would take too long; she didn't have the patience for that sort of activity.  Rather than remonstrate with her I accepted gracefully her decision but enquired whether she had a horse.  It turned out she did – one that had a difficult problem – it would not walk through water.  I told her it was a common problem and asked how long she had had it.  Her answer was since she had bought the horses, 5 years ago.  Now, to me, spending 5 years solving a problem is true patience!  I personally don't believe I have that type of patience – to wait 5 years and still find the horse will not go through water.  Patience is not just about long, drawn-out acceptance of one's lot or a problem hoping for behaviour to suddenly change. Patience is about developing understanding.  It is about allowing the equine the time to think.  More often than not, during training sessions, an equine may well take 10-15 seconds to make a decision about the correct course of action and yet, how many of us are truly prepared to allow the equine to have that much thinking time before a response is given?


I believe patience is an essential skill that must be used to complement the other 3 "P's".  If we can be more patient with our equines we will find that they have a greater capacity for learning than we ever imagined.  If we can be patient with ourselves we will find that our learning accelerates at a phenomenal rate.  Pause for a moment and ask yourself in which area of your life are you most patient and why.  Perhaps you feel more in control in this area or maybe you just find it enjoyable.  Maybe there are no ways to shortcut the activity involved, therefore you have to have patience to work step by step to reach your goal.


One thing is for certain, without patience you will find it difficult to sit down and make a written plan of your training programme because your impatience will drive you to want to get started – you don't want to waste time with that boring writing and planning!  Let's get started and make a difference!  However, the time taken at the start of the training process to make a good plan will pay dividends towards the end of the training programme where you will save lots of time because the training process has been set out correctly.  If you have patience, when you practise, whether it be with yourself or an equine, you will allow the learner to achieve success because they will have time to think and because you will understand that learning is a difficult process that needs time to be successfully completed.  So the steps to achieving patience when working with equines is first, to choose to be patient because we understand learning and its importance and secondly, we must understand that we do not have to be patient for hours on end but alternatively that we can "set our patience clock" for small intervals of time that are rewarded for good tries.  A good exercise to assess your understanding of time is to take a stop watch and try and judge one minute with your eyes closed, set the clock running, close your eyes and only open them after what you believe to be a minute.  Don't count, just sit there and wait.  Allow your judgement of how much time has elapsed to be the guide to when you open your eyes.  People open their eyes early are often, but not always "impatient" people.  But people who are able to sit quietly and sometimes go considerably beyond the minute are often very patient people. 


The greatest demonstration of how our perception of an individual can influence our patience with that animal can be seen when we look at abused or rescued dogs or horses.  Those animals which have been known to have come from a background of abuse are treated with a great deal of understanding and acceptance that time will be a good healer.  The dog that shows clear signs of nervousness or fear is given a great deal of patience by its loving owners because they understand the reasons and causes behind this fear and nervousness.  And the same can be said of rescued horses – we understand that they are fully justified in their fear and nervous behaviour so we allow them time and show great patience in their handling.  The difference comes when we observe an equine that shows signs of nervousness or fear but is not known to have come from a difficult, abusive background – for whatever reason, it shows nervousness and fear.  I believe in most cases, the handler's patience is less in this situation than they would exhibit towards an animal that they knew to be justified in its behaviour due to previous handling.  An equine that has had a bad ride in a trailer or an accident and shows fear of going in the trailer is given as much time, understanding and patience as is required.  The equine that has never loaded before but has shown a similar level of fear or nervousness around a trailer is often given less patience and consideration.


So we can see that patience is a matter of personal choice; a matter of balancing the need for getting the work done and achieving learning.  It is not always big chunks.  Sometimes it's the patience to wait 10-15 seconds for a response to a cue during the learning process.  Patience is not about giving in, allowing the equine to have or do whatever it wants – patience is not about spending endless hours failing to achieve the required tasks.  For me, patience is a tool that we use to get the most from our equines. 


© Ben Hart


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