Why do we love horses? Why do we want to reach a special goal with our equine friend? Marion van de Klundert is one of my licensed Branderup Trainer colleagues. During Summer Academy I had a nice chat with her about the differences between Process and Product in training horses?

Marion, why is it important to separate between Process and Product?

Marion: There are many differences between horses and humans. A horse lives much more in the ‘now’ and is not interested in any end product. On the contrary, we humans are especially interested in the end product, that is in our nature. A horse as a prey animal has to feel comfortable in the moment – for the now, a human plans for tomorrow as well. When you start working with a horse and you are only thinking about the goal, you are too much focused on the end product and you only think about the future. That does not really help the horse to learn. For example, how to teach the horse to go four steps backwards; he first has to understand what he should do. We need to build up communication. Let’s say you start from the ground, standing in front of your horse. You touch his nose with your finger and start to push a little. As soon as he moves only his body backwards at your request, you should reward him immediately and take away all pressure, don’t forget to exhale. If you repeat this a couple of times, the horse knows what you mean, and will start to offer you more. He can do one step, later two and if you practice enough he can do as many steps backwards as you like. But if you forget about the first rewards, and keep on asking him to go more backwards because you want FOUR steps immediately, he will not understand how to get the reward and will be stiff, angry, against you or he will freeze. These are states of mind where he can not learn. If you want your horse to be sensitive to your thoughts and energy you need to be aware of this. You will need a Process -oriented way of training.

Does this mean you should not have a goal?

Marion: You need to make a plan of course. It is necessary to have a long-term vision, then you can sort of visualize the road towards the goal. Instead of the Product you can focus on the Process. But you have to let go of any time schedule. You do not want to reach your goal tomorrow or next year, the horse will tell you when you are both ready.

Bent often says during his clinics: People do not know what they want but they want it now…

Marion: That is a beautiful and truthful quotation, but in the sentence it is hidden, that people have a goal and a time schedule. Having a goal is good, but having a time schedule, especially when people do not know what it is they really want does not help the horse to learn.

Wanting things is good but wanting it now in horse training is not the way to get there. And another thing is, for example: if you teach a horse a transition from walk to trot, you best do it whenever the walk feels right. Only when the horse understands what you mean (e.g process), you make it on a certain place, like the letter “A” (e.g. product). The letters in the riding arena are not the points the horse needs, if you want it on the special place too soon, the horse can not learn. It must understand already before you set it on a special place. People get sometimes too focused, and that does not really help the learning process.

That is an example from practice. We always speak about the two spirits and the two bodies. As a human we need to start to get into the horses spirit, before the horse can come into ours. We have to cross the border into the horses mind. The horse needs to get on the same road we want to travel.

So better spending just a good time together without exercising?

Marion: Of course you can just go into the forest and be together with your horse. But maybe you will walk in circles and always come to the same place again where you started from. The most important thing is harmony of course and that you experience things together. Is the forest a good experience? Yes! But one day you know the forest and you know it all, so you do not make any progress. So you need the combination of the forest with bad weather, for example. Make experience together and share things. If you get as many positive feelings together as possible, you will grow together. A human being is happy to develop.

And the horse?

Marion: A Horse is a horse, of course. It does not need to develop compared to the human development. But it feels the emotion of its rider. It will feel when his rider is happy and positive.

What do you recommend pupils that are very ambitious?

Marion: It might be a good idea to think about what the horse needs. If you want to win prizes you need a horse that wants to work with you. You have to consider the goal: Is it the process or is it the product, that is mainly the difference again. If you see the competition as a product and not see it as a thing on the road, you will get stressed and stiff. So I think that is also an explanation for an academic rider: A lot of academic riders do not want to do a test, because they do not want the feeling of a competition and the stress a test brings. But if you see the test as a check on your road, like am I still on the right track, so then it is more a check. You will find out what works and then you can pay attention to your homework.

Does learning make us happy?

Marion: Sometimes it occurs that you as a trainer know the road but your pupil is not happy about it in the moment. For example we are working on a circle in trot. The pupil is unsatisfied with the circle, so I come over and check: I ask about the rider’s feelings? What made you feel in trouble? I often get the answer; Nothing works! Ok, but what did still work? Did he have control over the speed? Yes, that was ok. What about the direction? That was ok too. And how about the circle form? That was not so bad. So what was difficult? I lost the bending of the horses spine. Ok, when did it still work? In walk, to the left. Ok, let’s go back there and see how we can build up again.

So if you sum up you will see: there where so many things that worked nice with the horse and so little that did not. We have to reflect about the success, afterwards we go into details, fix them and let go about the thoughts of the end product. Cut up the process into pieces and work about the little pieces and then check if the process is fine again. Work as if you were in a factory constructing four-legged chairs: There you might accidentally have a chair with three legs in end production. For the end product the correction comes too late but if you check the process you can stop the machine and find the missing link to the lost leg. Then you are happy after fixing the leg.

Do you have any rules working with progress and process?

Marion: Simplify everything and split it up into small steps. Take one step after another.

Can you give me an example like working with the shoulder-in?

Marion: A new student will get more guidance while practicing on little things and steps. Sometimes it helps not to talk about the name of the exercise, we talk instead about communication.

Then you come to the level of side movements. We talk about what it should look like and what it should feel like. Learning a shoulder in is no different from learning the circle. You need to split up the exercise in, for example, speed, direction, stellning, bending and collection. There are then five points to pay attention to. And in the weeks after that we add some points, we add them piece by piece so it is really simple. Keeping 1 to 20 points in balance, and then you know where the priority is. Make sure the student focuses on the process, then you’re all fine.

I always tell my students to focus on what to do, because if I teach them “Do not think about the pink elephant” that advice gives the opposite picture in the human mind. A horses mind can melt together with the humans mind. They both think then about “the pink elephant”. This example is funny, but what if we think about: “My horse should not spook and fall on the outside shoulder?” I tell my students what to do and to focus on what is going right.

What do you think about writing plans?

Marion: With a new pupil I always sit together and make a plan, kind of a roadmap. Of course the pupil will have to find it is own way and also his horse and I can be their navigator, or process manager.

If you know it is all about process than you can let go of all the tension, in a process there is always something that goes the right way. It gets easier being happy and spending a good time with the horse, than forcing the horse to be an end product. That is always nicer for a hobby. Remember we are allowed to ride, we do not have to.

Thank you Marion for the Interview. More about Marion’s work you will find on her website!