Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- Three Hour Training

A friend of mine is hoping to be accepted as a participant in the Road to the Horse competition. This is a more-or-less annual event in which three contestants each have three hours to do as much training as possible on an unbroken young horse. At the end of the contest, each takes his or her horse through a pre-determined series of maneuvers (walk, trot, canter on both leads, stop, turn left and right, back up, jump a low jump, drag an object...). They also get a short amount of time for "freestyle" -- their opportunity to show off any additional things they've accomplished with the horse.

Clinton has won the event two times in a row, and will defend his title this year against Chris Cox and Stacy Westfall. In the past, his freestyles have included standing on the horse's back while cracking a stock whip, shooting a gun, running a chainsaw, and firing up a leaf blower.

My friend who hopes to compete is very good. He's studied Clinton and other colt starters. He's competed in similarly structured colt starting competitions, and can do the chainsaw / leaf blower / firearm thing. He really wants to compete, and I hope he gets the opportunity...

But I can't help but wonder about the validity of this kind of event. When it comes to training anything -- a horse, a dog, my child, or me -- I'm a "slow and steady wins the race" kind of person.

When I start to learn something new, I get the most out of the process with a measured, methodical approach. Too much information dumped on me too soon just causes Full Brain Syndrome. After a certain point, I can't absorb any more information -- even if the instruction is coming from a world-class expert. I need time to process what I've learned, to assimilate it, and to "own" it.

When I teach writers of any age, I find that they learn best in smaller instructional doses. If I do a "Brain Dump" and deluge them with information, I end up wasting my time and theirs because they can't possibly take everything in at once. Throwing more information at them just to be able to say "I covered it" would do them a huge disservice. It would probably also result in demoralizing or overwhelming my students, rather than inspiring them to move to the next level in their writing.

I always wonder what happens to the horses used in these colt starting competitions after the event is over. In three hours, they have gone from "you can't put a halter on me" to horses that have been bridled and saddled -- then they've walked, trotted, cantered, jumped, backed, and stood quietly while small bombs were detonated around them. What happens next? Surely no one in his right mind would consider these colts trained.

I wonder how these colts respond the next time someone approached them with training tack. How to they react when saddled and bridled the next time? What sorts of mounts do they make a year or two down the road? Does their experience with Three Hour Training give them a jump on other horses of their age? Or does it actually cause a training road-bump further along in the process?

I usually don't allow comments posted on my blogs because I've had terrible problems with Comment Spam in the past. But I'd like to hear what other people have to say on this topic. I'll enable the Comments here as long as the spammers stay away.

Note: You'll notice the comments have been disabled. Some people never learn. See the post from November 15 for details...

I would especially like to hear from anyone who's had any experience with young horses that were a part of a colt breaking challenge. What do you think about them? If you're a fan, please explain why. If not -- why not, and what could be done to make a better demonstration of colt starting skills?