The time I spend with my horse does not always exactly follow the ‘rule of three’ described here. However, in general and especially when I have a specific training project, I find that the ‘rule of three’ makes it easier to:
- Structure our time together.
- Keep us learning new things.
- Build in the movement that is key to the horse’s welfare.
A training session usually works well if it consists of three general parts:
- Something new we want to teach.
- Something we want to improve.
- A few things that the horse already knows how to do well, often used for warm-up or cool-down.
The ‘rule of three’ suggests practicing three repeats in a row, unless the first one is perfect and calls for a celebration.
The ‘rule of three’ is an ideal way to teach something new, work on improving something else and maintain the horse’s enthusiasm to tackle the harder work by frequently relaxing back into doing things he knows well. It helps if the tasks are quite different.
If the ‘new’ and ‘to improve’ tasks have limited movement, it is good to have more energetic well known tasks. If the ‘new’ or ‘to improve’ tasks are energetic, then it may be more helpful to use quieter well known tasks.
In the following video clip, this is our ‘new task’: the horse to sidestep along the rail away from me while I keep my feet still. In the past I’ve always moved along with her. Now I’d like her to confidently move across to the barrel by herself.
In the video clip, this is our ‘task to improve’ because it is a long time since we played with the balance beam.
In the video clip, weaving a row of markers was one of the several, ‘tasks we already know well’, that we did for relaxation and more sustained movement between the new learning.
During the overall training session, we return to the new task three times, with up to three repeats each time. We also return to the task we are improving three times and do up to three repeats each time. When the horse is in the learning stage, each tiny improvement over last time is a ‘release/click point’.
In-between the new task and the task we want to improve, we do things the horse already knows well and where he can easily earn his clicks&treats or down time. We might walk out and about, stop for a spot of grazing, flexion exercises or gymnastic type routines for overall body fitness, or just hang out together.
One of my evergreen training protocols is to ensure confident responses over nine consecutive training sessions before moving on to the next part of the training sequence.
For some tasks, communication may become smooth before nine sessions – but carry on for nine anyway.
For other tasks it may take a long time to get confident responses over nine consecutive sessions. Every horse is different. Every handler is different. Every horse-handler combination is different.
Also see Blogs number 44 and number 13 in the ‘Blog Contents List’ tab at the top of the page for more about planning and thin-slicing.