Anyone who has ever tried to learn anything – be it music, sports, etc – has heard the old adage: practice makes perfect.
With horses, however, especially, as riders we need to realize that practice, in fact, makes habit. This emphasizes the need to do things as properly, deliberately, and concisely as we can. Whether you are introducing sidepass, canter pirouettes or even just stable manners, consistency and accuracy are paramount.
Obviously, horses, like people, learn differently and at different paces, and will excel or struggle based on their conformation, upbringing, or personality (to name but a few variables), and so it’s up to us to be clear and deliberate. Break the exercises into steps as needed, ensuring that each time the movement (or behaviour) is requested and performed, it is done as accurately as possible.
Provided it’s a movement they are ready to try, you can try it once to test the waters, and determine how and where correction is due. The best way to introduce most ideas is at a walk, taking the time to ensure the horse is straight, balanced, and accurate. For movements that require various elements, or are a mixture of movements, break it into pieces to ensure that each aspect is learned and understood.
For example: the leg yield. Teaching the horse to move laterally away from the leg can be taught from a halt, first, to introduce turn on the fore and turn on the haunch. This way, should the horse lead with his shoulder, he understands the concept of moving his haunch away from the leg, or reducing the degree his shoulder is leading, because he understands how to move them independently of one another, and the request for each. Because he’ss learned to use his body parts independently, he’s also better equipped to understand corrections related to the exercise.
If, whether the third or thirtieth time, the movement gets sloppy, rushed, out of balance or otherwise incorrect, it is crucial to take a step back, re-assess, slowdown, and try again with deliberation, otherwise the sloppy, rushy, off-balanced attempts will become the horse’s habitual response.
It is our responsibility to take the time it takes to ensure the horse is learning the correct lesson correctly, so that he makes a habit of doing the correct thing. Try to keep it simple and keep it fun, and your horse will shine.