Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Training Motivation in a Wintry World

I'll be the first to admit that I get into a training funk in the fall.  Not the early fall.  That is a glorious time to be alive, be outside, and sharing time with horses. They agree. It's when the damp cold sets in that I find myself wanting to get back inside after chores, rather than spending more time cold.  The leaves are off the trees and it's what's known as "stick season" around here. The trees are bare and everything is a shade of brown, black and gray. Yuck. Holiday season is approaching and then here and I find myself avoiding training. 

But after Christmas, I give myself a stern talking to and know I can't let the whole winter go by like this. Everything is now bright white with snow, the air is colder but drier and we have all acclimated to the winter temperatures. The easiest way to motivate myself into the cold outdoors on a daily basis is with training plans. But first I have to make the plans. This year I even had trouble doing that. After putting it off another week, I finally decided I'd just look at January of last year and follow that.  Once I opened my journal to look back, I was reminded of all the things we'd worked on and the progress we'd made.  From there it was easy to adapt last year's January plans to new ones for this year. And I was really excited to see the horses pick right up where we left off, even though I was prepared to backtrack if necessary after some weeks off. 

In the winter, I plan for really short sessions. Most days it's only 5-10 minutes. That protects hands from freezing. But as a friend used to say, "ten minutes is better than no minutes". That friend is no longer on this earth, but I think of her fondly every time I say it to myself. In better weather, ten minutes often extends to longer. But this time of year, it's plenty. 

In the winter especially, I also develop rotations of training days. I pick five to seven different things to work on and assign them Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc.  That way, I know exactly what I'm going to do each day. I know that when training time comes (I find it also helps to have an appointment time each day to go out for training), I can go into the tack room, pick up my training journal, and see what day we're on. I check back to the last time I worked on that particular day's skill to see where we left off and if I made any reminder notes to myself. Then I can go straight to training with no further planning required. 
Kizzy is a good measuring stick for snow depth.

If I have to skip a day for any reason, the next day I pick up where I left off. For example, Monday was Day 1, but yesterday (Tuesday) the hoof trimmer came.  We spent a lot of time standing in the cold for that, and of course worked on behavior that makes that go smoothly. So I didn't do any additional training sessions. Today I will go on to Day 2. Tomorrow we're supposed to have a high temperature in the single digits (Fahrenheit).  There's a good possibility that I won't do anything which requires removing my gloves, such as handing out treats at a high rate of reinforcement. So then Day 3 will be Friday (thankfully, tomorrow's cold is only a brief arctic front!). That way I spend the same number of sessions on each skill in a month. The only exception is that I plan one day per rotation for hand walking. If the weather does not permit, such as icy wind or icy footing, then I do skip that day because it's likely we'll have a couple of those in a row. I go straight to the next day's plan and come back to hand walking the next time it shows up in my rotation. 

Once warm weather returns, my training plans will become more complex, and training sessions longer and more numerous. But for deep winter, I am glad to be able to have a routine that allows me to maintain some training which the horses, ponies and I all enjoy. 

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