Sunday, January 23, 2011

A New Kind of "Training"

Heres a little background before I continue: As a teenager, I got enthralled in the "Natural Horsemanship" techniques. I approved of the ideas of a horse being respectful (aka, human in dominance), submissive (that may be caused by fear or pain), and obedient (I always liked to believe it was willing on the horse's part, but through a lot of self analysis by what I actually believe should be correct, I have come to find my previous "training" methods were in coercive attempts to "make" the horse do what I wanted).

I was a good follower of Clinton Anderson methods, and believed in his statements like "Whoever moves their feet first loses" with the idea that we need to constantly keep our horse's feet moving to ensure "respect" or dominance from the animal. It seemed like a correct idea to me at the time, and thats what I did in working with horses. I also followed the progression of pressure in his methods whereby you ask first with say a raised (or pointed) hand, cluck, lift the stick, and spank with said stick it needed.

Now, my thoughts on this method are changing. I no longer agree with "needing to move my horse's feet first" or a series of pressure progression through the idea that at the end there will be pain to force the horse into submission of what the handler wants. My idea, or what I would like to see and change towards, is a horse of willing compliance, or a better term as a willing partner. I want to work with my horse where we are both willing to work together as a partnership. I believe this cannot be successfully accomplished through the threat of a reprimand, mind games of dominance, or any other method whereby the human or handler makes the horse comply through force or aggression.

Im evaluating my own work with Milo (or any other horse) I would use that threat of reprimand, or pain, to say make him stay forward on a longeline. I would use these mind games of dominance, respect, and submission to consistently tell my horse that I am in charge and you must do as I say. I dont like this idea of a forced partner, because that isnt a true partner. While I may agree that the horse should see you as a leader, it is in a different definition. I want my horse to look to me for guidance, security, and direction. But not because Ive forced him too, but because he wants to and sees me as that safe protector.

These new ideas for me have become more apparent since my last lesson with Sarah. Where she noted that I was overriding and pumping with my seat, and my response was that I felt as though I was constantly telling him to go, go, go. And once she had me ride in a quietly secured and soft seat, my horse very willingly stayed forward - it didnt require me constantly telling him to keep going. This is where Ive made a connection to how Milo mustve been thinking through all of my riding like this: it's like when your a teenager (or even an adult) and someone tells you to do something, so you do it, but they continue to keep telling you long after you are already doing said thing. Clearly, you are going to get frustrated, or aggrivated because you are doing what they are saying but the nagging continues. This is what I believe was going on with Milo and I. Simply because I kept telling him to do it, he wanted to "rebel" against it and not do it (and trust me, this is the type of thing Milo would most certainly be capable of, as it is evident that he was). But when I finally just asked for forward and once he did, I quit asking, he very willingly kept going forward. Milo mustve had the biggest relief when I finally stopped repeating myself.

So back to the topic, I want to change my riding habits. In my mind, I already know that I no longer agree with these ideas from "Natural Horsemanship" training that force, coerce, or inflict any demands from the horse. I want a willing partner to work with me, not for me, or against me. And I believe that this can not only be accomplished under saddle as referenced, but I want to see to it that my groundwork methods are altered to accommodate these new ideals. I will just have to learn now, how to longe or perform groundwork in ways that I dont know, as my only knowledge of groundwork are through methods that I no longer agree with. Hopefully Sarah can shed some guidance on this, and I am very interested in reading Peggy Cummins book on Connected Groundwork and placed an order for it. I cant wait until it comes, but it releases February 11. 


Anonymous said...

Very good post - but then you know we're on the same page on these issues. I've never liked Clinton Anderson (sorry to his fans) - I think his methods work - a lot of coercive training methods "work" in the sense that the horse mechanically does what you tell them to - but I think by sacrificing true connection and partnership - the horse is a compliant slave.

I don't do that much groundwork except to work on a specific issue, but I'll be interested to see what you think of Peggy Cummings - a lot of people seem to think highly of her.

Story said...

@Kate - interesting you should mention Clinton Anderson...I'm in the process of reading his latest book right now and while it's an interesting read, there is a certain "attitude" that I just don't really care for (I can't think of a better word right now).

I know I've said it before but I'll say it again...I just can't believe the effectiveness of positive reinforcement with Dee. And that is something I get a huge amount of satisfaction from.

paint_horse_milo said...

Story, Im glad you mentioned the positive reinforcement too, it was something i forgot to mention. I always seem to have to remind myself that the horse learns from the release of pressure, not the application of it. Milo hugely responds to my verbal praise, and release of an aid, its something I need to put greater efforts in my working with him to remember to apply.