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Advice from Frederic Pignon - Be patient

January 09, 2019

Loosing your patience means all the work you have done with your horse is now lost. You’re back to zero. Or perhaps even a few steps back because your horse doesn’t trust you anymore. Liberty Training star Frederic Pignon gives us this very valuable piece of advice. But how do you keep calm when a horse drives you crazy?

It’s not easy to always stay calm and collected in these hectic times we live in. It demands a lot of self-control and ‘parking’ your daily stresses to be completely ‘Zen’ when training your horse. Yet it is very important. “If you are always busy and rushed, then horse riding might not be the best hobby for you. Horses become nervous from your stress and in that state of mind you easily end up in a downwards spiral of misunderstanding and frustration”, Frederic Pignon explains. Frederic is famous for his Liberty training but is also a gifted rider.

“Lose your patience once and you lose the trust that you’ve build up. Lose your patience more often and you run the risk of your horse never trusting you completely. For Frederic and his wife Magali, who has competed on the highest level of dressage, it has become a way of life. “Especially for me it was challenging initially”, Magali confesses. “I am by nature a bit impatient. At some point my Grand-Prix horse Dao was getting worse at his exercises because I was trying to force him to do certain exercises and he did not understand me at all. I remember the frustrating rides and feeling very guilty afterwards seeing the lost look in his eyes.”

When training a horse, it’s important to focus completely on him, not thinking of a grocery list or your busy schedule at work. “A horse always knows. By being distracted you are not open to the signals he is giving you. You don’t ‘listen’ to what he has to say”, says Frederic. According to the Frenchman horses are very wiling animals and they gladly do as you ask. “But the key factor here is that they understand what it is you’re asking. Sometimes it can take a while before they get it. If you can’t find an inner peace to wait for your horse to understand you run the risk of pushing forward and trying to make them do it. A horse will never understand things forcefully. Being impatient just doesn’t work. By being more patient and giving your horse the time it needs to understand what you are asking, you keep that bond of trust between you and your horse.”

Frederic explains himself:” You can try and teach a horse something new by making him, using force. In the end the horse will do what you ask. But not happily and not with enthusiasm. In more difficult circumstances such as busy competitions or show grounds, the horse will easier refuse. I always want a horse to open up to me, to come to me. He will only do so if he trusts me. Trust is developed in every day handling of your horse and by working together.

Frederic teaches his horses new exercises step by step, listening to the horse to judge if he is ready to take the next step. He also tries to take into account different moods. Not interested today? Let’s try something else, something fun and we’ll practise the hard stuff another day. For the horse I keep it simple and fun to do as I ask.

Does this sound a bit too soft for your liking? Magali laughs and explains:” We are very clear and consistent in setting boundaries for our horses. But not based on a ‘we are your boss’ mentality. We set boundaries, for example do not walk over us. Set boundaries a horse will understand, to create peace and structure.

According to Magali teaching a horse is easier when the horse can set the pace. “I give them guidelines, I decide the pace and direction. If I ask them for a specific movement, I give the cues and encouragement. But then I wait for a response so the horse can think about the proper solution. If he does what I asked of him, I praise him a lot. That makes him happy and because I let him discover it on his own, our bond has strengthened.

“When a horse loses his enthusiasm for working together, I’d consider that a much bigger loss of time than one or two failed training sessions. It’s okay when a movement doesn’t come together as it should. Put your pride aside. All athletes experience an off day so why should your horse not deserve one?”

Frederic gets irritated by people saying their horse tricks them and needs to be shown who’s boss. “Horses can be tired, extremely excited, or be in a bad mood. But tricking you? That’s something a horse simply doesn’t do or understand. They are very cooperative animals. Very often they simply don’t understand. Sensitive horses can be very reactive to unreasonable behaviour from their riders. Just remember, tricking you or purposely trying to annoy you is a human emotion. If your horse does not respond correctly to you, he doesn’t understand you. Horses don’t purposely do the wrong thing.”

The French couple both share the opinion that riders need to be more creative when finding solutions when things don’t go as planned. And avoiding force and conflict should be a priority. The strong bond Frederic has with his horses does not come from using a magic potion but comes from him being so patient.

Avoiding stress in horses and being patient also means your horse will learn things easier. “Teach the elements of the training scale one by one. Give your horse time to process new information. But don’t keep repeating the same movements or exercises. If the horse doesn’t develop and improve, he never understood the movement in the first place and you need to find a different way to teach him. Question what part of the exercise he didn’t understand and how you can adjust it, so he will understand. Be happy with the smallest improvement but do that small part or the exercise correctly. Skipping certain movements will only mean going back to basics further on in his development.”

Frederic says it is dangerous to think in strict goals and timelines, as in riders wanting to reach certain levels within a fixed timeframe. “If things don’t go according to plan, it doesn’t mean the horse is stupid. Be flexible and find solutions. Apparently, your training plan doesn’t suit the horse. Unfortunately, in these circumstances people usually blame the horse instead of the quality of training. And this is how beautiful horses go to waste because people can’t be flexible and adjust their methods to the horse.”

Interview with Frederic and Magali Pignon.

Source: BIT Magazine – The Netherlands

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