This is a phrase I use to encapsulate an aspect of classical training philosophy that I have found very useful over the years. Horses learn fastest when they do things the right way more than the wrong way – we all do! As a musician, I know that if I want to reproduce a passage accurately in a performance situation, I have to practice it many times correctly at home. If I make a mistake in practicing, I need to repeat the passage several more times correctly to “unlearn” the mistake I made. To prevent this, I begin by practicing things slowly, and perhaps simplified so that I will be more likely to do things correctly from the start. Then I gradually increase the level of difficulty for myself, adding in elements like speed, nuance, ornaments, etc. as I get more comfortable with the piece.

We can use a similar process when working with horses. It is not always practical to slow things down literally, because much of dressage requires forward momentum, but the principle of trying to set the horse up for an exercise, movement, or transition in such a way that they are more likely to do it correctly is exactly the same. Sure, in a dressage test, elements generally must be demonstrated at a specific point, but this is the performance situation that we are building up to in our training, not where we need to begin.

An example of this philosophy occurred to me recently as I was teaching a working student the nuances of lunging. Done properly, lunging can be an integral part of the training process, helping to establish the correct responses and balance in the horse without the additional burden of a rider. Already, we are looking at a way to set the horse up for future success – lunging simplifies the requirements on the horse so that they can learn basic elements of dressage more easily. When my student tried to ask her horse to canter, she was dismayed to end up with a wild launch into the wrong lead, which led to the horse getting rushy and trying to pull out on the circle. When she brought the horse down, I pointed out that she had not been strategic enough about how she set up the canter. Especially with a young horse, it is very helpful to ask the horse to pick up the canter at the moment it is turning towards a wall or corner, so that it has some external support in choosing its lead. This means you have to prepare the horse in advance so that by the time it responds to the cue (which might take a couple repetitions with a young horse), it is in the optimal location. There are also factors of how balanced the horse is in the trot proceeding the transition. If the horse is playing around or anxious in the trot, this is not a good time to ask, regardless of location. When my student payed attention to all these factors, she got several perfectly relaxed transitions into the correct lead.

This philosophy is important to keep in mind all the way through the training process, and to keep the trained horse tuned. Think about ways that you can make your horse more likely to succeed in specific exercises during your practice rides, and reward that success before trying to increase the level of difficulty in the exercise.