Story's comment about my post on wash stall training got me thinking. Red's prior problems with the wash stall are an example of what I can a "stuck" behavior. Red's bracing up and to the right on the first walk/trot transition is another example of a stuck behavior. I think these sorts of things can be incredibly frustrating - certainly for us and also very likely for the horse. No matter what we do, the behavior just keeps coming back - it's stuck.
Oddly enough, with Red, both of these behaviors were resolved in the same week. I think that's because I changed some things I was doing. (Note: if you and your partner - here the horse - are stuck, trying to change your partner's behavior can be far less effective, in my experience, than changing your own behavior first.) And in substance, I changed the same thing in both cases.
What I changed was to be sure there was softness before the ask was made, and softness through the ask itself. And this softness had to come from me first - if I did this I could get softness back. Part of this was turning what I was doing into a "whisper", and without any negative emotional content at all. I think many people's first inclination when something isn't working well is to get bigger and more forceful, or to aggressively "make the horse work" - I increasingly think this is exactly the wrong way to go, and I part company with a lot of trainers (including some big name NH trainers) on this issue. I feel the softness is lost by doing that, and it can also result in taking your eye off the thing you're trying to do. This doesn't mean I don't act with intention and focus, patience and persistence, and give the horse active direction - it just means I do it as softly and quietly and in as matter of fact a way as I can.
And I think the reason the learning stuck so well in both cases - really no issues in either case since - is because Red was able to learn and respond because he was soft in the first place and I helped him find a way to carry that softness through the work. A physically braced horse (whether the brace is coming from the horse, human, or both as is often the case) is an anxious, unhappy horse, and horses (and people) who are anxious or worried can't learn well. Since Red wasn't braced - he was soft - he could learn. And once he found he could do these things with softness, he was a lot happier being that way than being braced.
These are really good examples of what my horses and I are working on to do less and get more, but it's the precondition of softness that made the learning possible.