Your Horse Needs Soaking Time
To understand “soaking time” you first must understand animals don’t experience time like humans. You’ll never see a horse checking the clock asking, “Isn’t this lesson over, yet?”, even though you’re certain they think it. Dogs don’t worry about time either. I left the house the other day, quickly realized I had forgotten a piece of mail that needed to go out, and returned home within five minutes. My dog greeted me as if I had been gone all day.
I have two horses, a Quarter Horse mare named Jessie, and a feral horse I started named Scratch. When I got Scratch, one of my first tasks was to get him trailer loaded. He was 10 and I wanted a vet-check to have his teeth floated, wormed, and vaccinated. I needed him comfortable with the trailer. It worked out much better than I thought. It was my first time training a wild horse and I thought the last place he would be comfortable was in the trailer.
Soaking Time and Trailer Loading
Once Scratch was in the trailer and standing comfortably I pet him, rubbed his neck, and whispered sweet nothings in his ear for 60-90 seconds of soaking time. Then, we backed out, and either tried again or worked on something else. As a result, Scratch learned to trailer very well. We went to a ranch to help gather cows. The crew needed to trailer about 5 miles back to the cattle. We wanted to take only one trailer, a three-horse stock. One of the cowboys looked at Scratch, a typical small mustang, and asked, “Will he get in the trailer?” While I was pretty certain he would, I didn’t know how long it would take. You see, there were already three horses and five dogs in that trailer.
The cowboys popped open the door. I asked Scratch to go in. The other horses weren’t giving him much room, but when they did, I asked again. Scratch jumped right in. I stepped up, gave him a quick rub, and jumped out. The cowboys gave me a quizzical look, but I didn’t care. The first time my horse was asked to get in an overcrowded, strange trailer, he did it.
My Horse of a Different Color
My Quarter Horse mare, Jessie, never refused to go in the trailer, but she certainly never enjoyed it. No matter how long the trip, she came out sweaty and nervous. She had 60 days training, including trailer loading, when I bought her. She was born 2,000 miles away and at some point must have been trailered out to California. There’s no telling if that was a traumatic experience.
Anyway, one day we were loading her up and I noticed that I just put her in the trailer and did not give her the soaking time I always offered Scratch. No pet. No rub. No sweet nothings. She had already learned the skill of trailer loading, I thought she didn’t need soaking time. From then on she got the same soaking time I gave Scratch. Her transformation was amazing.
She is much more relaxed in the trailer. Comes out more calmly, less sweaty, and takes less training once she is out. She simply needed a little more reassurance.
60-90 Seconds That Make a Difference
Horses are quick thinkers. If you give them a moment, they have the ability to noodle through a thousand scenarios and come to a rational decision, most of the time.
- Make certain you offer soaking time after desired behavior. If you give them a break after bad behavior, you will be encouraging – you guessed it – bad behavior.
- It doesn’t have to be a long time. Sixty to ninety seconds at first, but when your horse starts learning, sometimes 15 seconds is enough.
- If your horse has a problem learning something new, like side-passing or backing up, and struggles with it, take a step, stop, soak, then ask for another step. Then, work up to two steps, then three, and so on.
- Take advantage of the soaking time yourself. Use the few seconds to take a deep breath and think about what you are asking your horse, how you’re asking, and what he is offering. Are you guys on the same page?
Using soaking time as a training tool gives you time to think. It gives your horse time to think.