If you spend more than two minutes asking a horse to do something (going through an open stall door, loading in a trailer, catching, moving away from pressure) WITHOUT REAL VISIBLE PROGRESS every 30 seconds, you are doing something wrong. It is not the horse’s fault. You’re not giving the right cues.
Stop, try something different, and again apply the rule. If you are not sure what do do differently, then ask for help from someone who knows. Learn from them, and try to apply what you learn to the next goal.
What are you seeking to accomplish with your horse? Load them in a trailer? Cross a stream horseback? Give an eye treatment? Give an injection? Clean a wound? The principles are ALWAYS the same. This rule works for administering vet treatments too – injection compliance, giving oral or eye medications…. whatever.
Each problem you face as a horse handler is an opportunity to deepen your relationship with your horse. Your vet and other professionals should be trusted partners in this endeavor.
The 2 minute/30 second rule should apply to anyone working with a horse, including trainers, farriers and vets.
I created this rule many years ago as a guideline for my veterinary staff. I was having problems with staff that could not get certain things done (i.e. not able to load a horse in stocks or not able to give a resistant horse oral medication), and they were getting into prolonged and ineffective battles. I felt this was unnecessary, unproductive and dangerous. So I created this rule as a guideline for my staff and we still use it today. But the concept applies to anyone asking anything of a horse.
SET YOURSELF AND YOUR HORSE UP FOR SUCCESS (Ray Hunt). This makes lots of sense when it comes to our endeavors with horses and in life generally.
Ask yourself whether you have managed THIS horse and THIS situation before with confidence; whether you can do it alone (or with help), and think about the consequences (for you and the horse) if you make a mistake. If you think you honestly need another person to help, then be sure they are a confident horse handler who actually CAN help and does not make things worse. You need to work in harmony with the helper, or it may be easier to work alone.
Think ahead and make things as easy as possible for the horse to do the right thing. For example, park the trailer so the floor is low and flat, turn on the lights in a dark room so it seems less cave-like and less scary to enter. Consider the hazards in any location and reduce them, if possible. Consider the safety and security of the enclosure. Will that wall or steel fence hold up? Only after considering these things should you proceed.
We should all be able to achieve what we are asking of a horse within 2 minutes. In each 30 second increment (if someone else is watching) we should be able to show and explain to the observer the progress we are making toward the end result. Things should look easy and happen quickly, or we are probably doing something wrong and we need to stop and rethink what we are doing, and maybe try something else.
If you try several things and they do not work, you may need to stop and ask for help from someone who can achieve the 2 minute/30 second rule with that horse. There should NOT be a lot of drama if we are doing things right with horses. And results speak for themselves. The horse is the final arbiter. If you achieve your goal easily and quietly, you did right. If you fail to make progress toward your goal, you did wrong. And its ok to admit it. Yes, accidents do happen, but most accidents can be avoided with thought, preparation, and technique.
It is NOT about the horse and the labels we put on them - “stupid”, “mean", "hard to catch". It's about you and your relationship with that particular horse.
Here is an example of how this works: You try to load an unfamiliar horse in a trailer by standing on the driver's side of the open door and driving them through (lateral lungeing) to enter the trailer. The horse sniffs the trailer and then backs out rapidly. You try this again and again. It does not seem to be working. You should either be able to get the horse in the trailer in 2 minutes, or be able to show visible progress each 30 seconds.
If you cannot break the problem down into its components and describe to an onlooker how you are making progress, you should probably stop and try something else. Maybe you should try entering the trailer and try asking the horse to enter the trailer with pressure, or ask a helper to exert some well-timed pressure from behind. Again, use the 2 minute/30 second rule to evaluate this new approach. Is this working? If not, try something else. Are your activities with the horse going in the right direction? Is the horse learning, or is a confrontation building?
Tips for safety & Success
Things should (almost) always look easy with horses. You should be able to accomplish your goal quickly, easily and quietly. If this is not happening, then you should stop, breathe, and ask yourself "Why?" Then try to approach it differently and again hold yourself to the rule.
The 30 second part is to help you break your goal into manageable steps. It's not about "getting the horse in the trailer", its about ONE step toward the trailer, or a subtle yield. Accomplish this step during this 30 seconds, then ask for the next step, then the next.
While some situations with horses allow room for error, many others do not. You should always try to be realistic about your ability and skills when it comes to your horse. Are you asking too much? Sometimes you don't have a choice but to ask. Other times, you do. If you have a choice, maybe you could ask less or ask for part of your goal. Set your ego aside. Are you trying to prove yourself to others or are you genuinely concerned about solving the problem with minimal struggle and stress? The horse knows the difference.
Always ask yourself: What is in the best interests of the horse? If you keep this key question in mind, you will usually make the right decision. When in doubt, openly seek help from a qualified trainer, vet or other qualified professional. Whoever it is should also be able to conform to the 2 minute/30 second rule. By all means hold them to that standard too!
No matter what you are doing regarding the training and handling of horses, your mindset is perhaps the most important thing. In my opinion, self-awareness and ability to honestly reflect are arguably the most important skills people handling horses can have. What happens when you approach your horse is not just about the horse and it's attributes, it is about the relationship between the horse and you.
How are you responding to your horse? Are you fearful? Can you manage your fear? Can you begin to overcome it? Pay attention to the tiniest details you can perceive in order to improve. Break the task into small steps. Succeed at each tiny step.
As you proceed through your life with horses, pay attention to the little things and always try to become a better caretaker and horseman. In my opinion, this study of myself and my relationship with horses is a large part of the fun and challenge of horsemanship.
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