Training

 

Every concept we want to teach a horse can be broken down to smaller and smaller parts until they are small enough for the

horse to accept the step. The steps, or parts are put together until the horse understands the concept. 


These steps are taught by applying  pressure to the horse with an aid, a signal, from the rider or handler. When the horse offers

even a tiny correct response he/she is rewarded by the complete release of pressure. The pressure is not painful - simply

enough to motivate the horse to want to change something. When it’s the right something, the pressure comes off. This is the

basis of all communication with horses. We apply pressure. Knowing that we want something, the horse offers this and that

until he/she gets it and we release. It’s a game. It’s fun. It’s interesting, not scary. The amount of time the pressure is released

depends entirely on the horse’s response. The harder the horse finds the work the bigger the reward. As the horse understands, the rewards can be smaller and smaller. This produces great relaxation, light aids, self carriage, and the desire to solve the question when pressure is applied. Other rewards such as patting, rubbing and scratching are fine, and should be used, but it is the pressure and release that forms the communication.  I love to give my horses food treats, but they are free in my work, and rarely hand fed.


Pressure comes from the legs, hands, seat, body weight, eyes and voice. Each aid creates individual, educated responses.

Blending the aids allows us to control the speed, gaits, bend, balance, energy, focus, length of step, length of frame, height of

poll, and the angle of the horse at the same time, for a sophisticated performance.


Horses resist work they find, scary, painful, incomprehensible, physically impossible, badly requested, or boring.  We may not

feel that way, but if they do, we are far better off to respect that and approach the work a little differently. As a result,

punishment plays a very small role in my work.


Horses are social animals, with a hierarchy. They move up and down within the herd based on their ability. As it would be

very counter productive to hurt one another, they use, among other things, intimidation to gain rank. When we are part of the

herd - and we want to be thought of that way - they may use intimidation to move above us in rank. This is the only activity I

will routinely punish. I will be a little sharp to gain a horse’s attention, or convince him/her to make an effort, and quite sharp

to correct aggressive behavior.


Requests are smooth and punishment sharp. It is not the power of a correction that makes it work, it is the quick, sharp

motion. Powerful corrections can hurt the horse and do far more damage than good (without even considering the moral weakness inherent in beating an animal). None of the reasons horses resist work require punishment.


Horses often try a reasonable option that does not work for us - stopping at a jump for example. It’s what I would do. Why is it

wrong for them? To help the horse decide it is not a reasonable option, we offer a correction that makes him/her momentarily

uncomfortable (such as a light stroke of a stick behind the saddle), and we offer a generous reward when he/she chooses the

correct option.


Reward is far more important than correction. A horse can be wrong many, many ways, but right only one way. Rewarding the horse then is kind and fast, and it helps develop relaxed communication.


When I start with a horse, I want several things. First, the horse should look at me. Focusing on me, will mean the horse sees

the cues I’m giving and it means he/she will be less likely to be distracted by anything else in the environment. Second, I want

the horse to respect and trust me. This happens by causing him/her to do things, such as stop, start and turn. If I compel the

horse to do it he/she will learn to respect me. If I never hurt them in the process, he/she will learn to trust me. Third, I want the

horse to want to be with me. That we are part of the same herd. Forcing the horse to stay undermines a lot of otherwise good

work.


                When these things are accomplished we start to work towards our stated goals, one small, sure step at a time.

           

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