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Practice Makes Perfect?

We've all heard the phrase, "practice makes perfect", but have you ever stopped to think it through, to break it down? Webster's Dictionary defines practice as a "repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it."

When we practice a specific drill or movement, our end goal is that of perfection. But, are the things we practice perfect? Let's say I want my horse to do a 360 degree right haunch turn. In order for that movement to be perfect, my horse needs to keep the right hind foot stuck on the ground as the pivot for my turn. Also, my horse needs to maintain forward motion, crossing the left front across in front of the right front while keeping the body, from head to tail, in a straight line. But wait, there is more! My horse must also maintain even steps and a steady rhythm, being neither too slow or too fast.

So, how do I practice to make my turn perfect? I could just begin by pushing my horse around in a circle, hoping he will figure it out. Though I may get the turn I want eventually, this is not a constructive way to practice. Drilling something over and over, with a lack of understanding from our horse as to the correct outcome, only creates frustration and generally leads to unwanted, poor behavior. Our horses will try many different answers to our questions, but if we ask too complex a question, one that they cannot find a correct answer to, they will eventually quite searching for the correct answer and do whatever they find easiest at the time.

I ask do I practice to make my turn perfect? The key is in breaking the question down into foundational steps. It is imperative that my horse is able to complete step 1 perfectly before adding step 2, then must be able to perform step 2 before adding step 3, and so on. If my foundational steps are not perfect, then each and every step following will be a little worse and a little worse until what I am practicing is far from perfect and those unwanted behaviors begin to surface.

Therefore, as you begin to create your horsemanship goals for the new year, make sure that you are taking the time to break those goals down into foundational steps. Steps where your horse can find not only the right answer, but the perfect answer. The only way for practice to make perfect is to practice perfectly.

Have fun and enjoy your partner!

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