January 30, 2009

What's in it for me?

"What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers"
(Martina Horner, President of Radcliffe College)

I am curious of other riders, other disciplines, and am looking for the opportunity to learn more whenever I can.

A while ago I read on the blog belonging to one of the Swedish “Academical” riders (a pupil of Bent Branderup). She said she wanted her horses to think it so fun to work with her, that they should crowd to get out of the pasture when she came.
I gave this quite a good thought.

A few years before that I read an interview in a magazine with one of the Danish GP-riders, I believe it was Anne van Olst (team Bronze medallist Beijing). She said she always had sugar lumps in her pocket while training, and whenever her horse had done something good, a sugar lump appeared.
I thought about that too.

You know, us horse people can be very conservative sometimes.
I grew up with dogs, and had a lot of fun with them as well as with the horses in my teens. In the 70ies, discipline was the thing, but things started to happen. Someone found out that you got better results with praise and something in your pocket. Later came the clicker training, but then I was out of dogs and into cats. Cats are not particularly interested to be trained, so I leave that to the horses and let the cats go on with their wonderful, independent life.

Still it's a no-no for many horse people to give the horse any treats.
But horses and dogs are quite different, aren’t they?
Well, research has shown that the horse’s primary motivational factors are sex and food.
The entire digestion system of the horse is constructed to eat, continously.
Then imagine what a fabulous aid we have got to motivate and to make the learning process go faster.
So many riders get angry and frustrated when the horse doesn’t do what they wish, but completely forget to praise and reward when they do the right thing.
And the human is to be the intelligent party?
Good fortune horses are kind, I say.

To our training I fill my pockets.
I praise Fame when she does right (that's my “clicker") and a carrot appears. Often a short break to stretch the neck on long reins.
And my horse gets very eager, and tries to do all the tricks by her own, and often before I have asked for them.
Sometimes she gets too eager and forgets to listen.
"I know, I know, let me"
But if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t matter. We will try again the next day.
And we have fun.
She’s always coming to me when I am to fetch her.
She’s leaving the hay in her box when I come with the bridle, and puts the bit into the mouth by herself.
Gives a soft neigh to greet me when she hears my voice in the stable (yeah, yeah, might have something to do with food but it is nice anyway).
I don’t care what the end result will be.
Riding is so much about the road, and not the goal.
In the meantime we are enjoying ourselves, both of us.
I believe that when you get too obsessive of your goals, there is a larger risk that the horse turns into an instrument. People start to take shortcuts, often detrimental to the long-term health and interests of the horse.

Everything around us, in the modern society has to go fast. Quick results. Quick fixes.
Horses are not made that way.
They need time to build muscles and strength to be able to keep healthy and to perform.
They need us to take the time necessary, and enjoy the ride.


Anonymous said...

My big girl also comes out of the field to greet me at the gate. She leaves her spot at the round bale to come to me.

Whenever I am struggling to teach her something, I have to just remember that it needs to be fun for her. A little praise goes a long way. It is way too easy to emphasize the punishment for things done wrong.

I don't feed her by hand, because someone else has made her a bit nippy...but she gets lots of praise and a little grain both before and after our ride..

I think mares, like women, work harder for praise...and grow bitter with punishment.

Helen said...

Hello. I just found your blog and love it. Everything you wrote in the above post is everything I believe in, regarding the training of horses.

I am a clicker trainer of one year's standing but have always used food rewards.

The thing I love about the clicker is that you can make it clear to the horse EXACTLY what the reward was for and use it to develop more of the same - increased engagement of the inside hind, for example.

Clicker or no, being sucessfull is all down to great timimng really, isn't it, even if it's just the timing of the realease of pressure.

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments, Alberta and Helen.
You know, sometimes I believe that riders are too embarrassed to praise the horse because they feel they would look stupid in the eyes of others.
They think the execution of a movement has to be perfect before the praise comes.
They are afraid that other riders close by would perceive them as acting up to be “better than they are” if they praise.
That’s sad, because I feel that not only the horse, but the rider also needs a pat on the shoulder. Often. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
We are so very well aware of our shortcomings, all of us.
So we just have to go on and enjoy quality time with our horses, and shamelessly praise them when they do right. And maybe give ourselves a pat on the shoulder as well.

Helen said...

Please could I copy and paste a few lines (with credits of course) from the last paragraph of your 'Back to Basics' post onto one of my blogs (Clicker Training Three Baroque...)? I've already taken the liberty of putting a link to your blog on there, because I'm sure that my readers will love it too, but I'd like to directly quote you on your "good days" thoughts, on the same post as the link, if you didn't mind.

Please don't worry if you'd rather I didn't - it's just that I love what you have written.

HorseOfCourse said...

I'm happy to share, Helen :-)
That's what's nice with internet, sharing thoughts and finding new friends.

Helen said...

Thank you very much.