Archive for October 27, 2009
I recall one of the wisest sayings I ever learned regarding the training of horses. A coach of mine for many years, the late Major David Pardoe, often used to say “never pick a fight you can’t win.” Over the years I have come to realize how profound this sentiment is.I have reached the conclusion there is next to nothing to be gained by trying to beat or frighten a horse into submission. At the worst : you and /or the horse could be badly hurt. At the very least you create an atmosphere of mistrust which makes training nearly impossible.
Horses are extremely social creatures. In a herd they mimic and take behavioral cues from the lead horse. In our stables , schools , facilities and humanized environments horses take their socialization cues increasingly from us , their caregivers, stable masters , riders and trainers. They look to us for feedback and recognize us as their herd leaders for better or worse. If we are wise , we will do our best to make them feel safe, secure , non threatened and yet develop an enthusiasm for doing our bidding which may only be that of fair expectations vis a vis their age , conditioning ,ability and schooling.We must also rule out pain or disease as a reason for antisocial behaviour.
As Larissa discussed in the previous post on treats and their place in training , we must be careful not to spoil the horse or overdo rewards which have not been earned. By the same token I use withdrawal of approval as my primary method of discipline with my horses.This should not be confused with correction , which is a normal and necessary part of training. The whip and spur used only as aids and not instruments of abuse cause the horse very little pain or stress and merely emphasize a point in training.
Discipline on the other hand is clear and emphatic notice of strong disapproval leaving the horse with a very clear recognition of the fact that certain behaviours are absolutely non negotiable and unacceptable. Biting , kicking , rearing , setting out to throw a rider , balking, bolting ,dragging are a few examples I would place in this category
Having clearly eatablished to the horse that a pat,kind word or treat represent various levels of reward: we then have the opportunity to reverse the process ie: a sharp NO, no pats , no treats, no interaction at all and a quick return to the stall with no feedback whatsoever except perhaps a rather loud shutting of the stall door and a somewhat exaggerated stomping away muttering very unhappy remarks such as “bad horse” or “we don’t do that here” or” That is not acceptable!”Now the horse having come to seek our approval has absolutely no problem understanding it’s removal.In serious cases I make rather more fuss of grain for everyone else at night feed and a clear “bad horses don’t get grain ” for the offender.Actually a loud pinging of ONE pellet in the bin is even more effective!
Using this method I have found we have not hurt the horse, we have not frightened the horse, we have developed the horse’s ability to make choices and consider consequences, in short to think about their behaviour and decide to do better.
With horses who have a previous history of being abused this method must be introduced slowly and clearly as the horse’s triggers for fear , panic and acting out may still override their reasoning abilities. Over time , with patience I have never seen this method fail to improve their outlook.
We want our horses to enjoy being with us , to have expectations of good things when we appear.Not only do they become happier day to day it also gives us more leverage when we wish to make a strong point regarding the seriousness of a bad behaviour.
Owning a horse is very much like parenting. The same qualities are needed to have a functional life in your stable as in your family life. Consistency of expectations, fairness, clarity of boundaries and no waffling on those boundaries. Then you will have a barn of sane , happy , well adjusted horses who do not suffer the stress of never knowing where they stand. “A thinking trainer creates a thinking horse” Practice happy,positive horse keeping and never hold a grudge. When you have made your point , let it go. Every day your horse must know they have a new chance to regain your favour. Cheers. Libby Keenan