Assuming you have done that, and you know what your big picture is and where you are going to start, then you need to think about planning vs logging. In other words, how much planning do you do ahead of time, compared to just writing down what happened. For me, the bulk of what I write, I write ahead of time. I like to have a detailed plan of what I am going to do, and if I know my learner well, then what comes afterward is just an acknowledgement.
I have a specific acronym I use. Whether or not to share it here is what took me a while to think about. I am opting not to share it for two reasons. One is that I think it takes a lot of explaining, and that will make it seem like a complicated system when it isn't. The other reason is that I think everyone needs to come up with an approach that works for them. I do share my template with people in person and will probably be opening that up for internet sharing as well in the near future, but it will be an interactive session as opposed to just a blog post.
I realized in my musing, that I could boil my own template into the commonly known, 5 Ws and an H: who, what, where, when, why, and how. More specifically:
- WHO are you training- this may only be pertinent if you have more than one learner and maybe additionally if multiple learners share a journal. If you have specific journals for specific animals, then this is self explanatory.
- WHAT are you going to train- in my own template, this means what am I going to work on in this session? If I want to train a horse to load into a trailer, then while that may be the overall goal, for a daily plan, I'm going to write down what I hope to accomplish that day. This is why I have to know my learner and have to be able to break things down and know when to stop. A horse who has had problems in the past is going to require a very different one session training goal than just refreshing the comfort level of a horse who hasn't trucked recently. My goal for the former could be walking up to the bottom of the ramp on a loose lead. That would be enough for the first session. The goal as refresher might be to actually get into the trailer and just hang out for a few minutes.
- sometimes my "what" is simply an exploratory session or an assessment. If I am starting something new, and don't really know how the horse is going to respond, I write "assess comfort level of....", etc
- WHY- I'm going out of order from the traditional because I think WHY is a worthwhile question to ask early on and will greatly affect the approach. Do I want to get the horse to load because I have somewhere to take him next week? Or because I want to teach him to self load as opposed to leading him on? Or because I have a new trailer that he's never been on? Why am I undertaking this lesson at this moment? This will greatly help decide the next Ws and the H.
- WHEN- what time of day am I training? If you always train at the same time of day and then one day you switch, that may very well affect how the session goes. Things like daylight, temperature, bugs, and feeding times all affect how our horses react to us and to the environment. Again using the trailer as an example, where will the sun be at the time I plan to train? Will it make a glare inside the trailer or make it look like a black cave?
- WHERE- This can be as simple as stall vs aisle vs arena. Sometimes when we have a behavior that we want in the arena, it makes sense to start it in the barn. Thinking about it ahead of time can help me to consider this.We also want to consider who and what else is around. Are other horses turned out nearby? Is there activity happening near the area I want to work and will that affect my success?
- HOW- one could write the how as a beforehand plan. How will I approach this goal? Will I use targets or mats or rope cues to advance my trailer loading? This is a useful question to ask if the previous session didn't go as hoped. Maybe a different approach would work better. You could also write the how afterward as in "how did it go?". This is a dangerous question because too often people write "good" or some other nondescript answer. Stick to quantifiable data! Figure out a time or a distance to measure. Describe the horse's response with visuals such as ear position, breathing, head height.
Yesterday I did a training session with my Stowaway pony on accepting an oral syringe. He can look like the world is going to end in such situations but he freezes rather than fleeing or fighting. If I was to write the session up using the 5 Ws and an H, it would look like this:
WHAT- begin improving comfort level with oral syringe. Assess good starting point
WHY- Stow is never a problem with worming, but it would be nice if he didn't stress about it
WHEN- 4:30 pm after coming in to eat
HOW- plan- no halter or lead. Present syringe, click for any reaction toward it. Increase as able in 10 reps
after- initially: head high, eyes wide, stiff neck leaning back, backed a step first three times. Head gradually lowered with each rep. Then I tried putting a hand on his head as I would with a real worming syringe and he backed into the corner. By the 10th rep, I could touch the syringe to the corner of his mouth without him backing or raising head.
I hope this helps show how I can quickly write a plan which nonetheless helps me design a carefully thought out process. Normally what I write afterward isn't even that long but this was an assessment session. Next time my "what" might be "touch syringe to lip corners 10 times". Considering where I ended the above session, that seems like an achievable goal for the next session. Assuming that goal is met, I might write down his body language but that would be all that's necessary.