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 Post subject: Pressure
PostPosted: Mon Sep 20, 2010 6:27 am 
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Joined: Sun May 23, 2010 7:14 am
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"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
-Victor Frankl


So I've been thinking about the whole 'pressure' concept in regards to horse training (it applies to dog training as well); this is a theory that I know works, but I wonder if there is a better way? In the training world, the general concensus is that horses work off of pressure and that by finding the release of that pressure, they learn to do what we want. And it works. It works because they are smart and hey, no one wants to be under pressure, which causes resistance, which is stress, right?

My question is this: Is my applying pressure the best way to train? Getting the horse to look for the pressure to stop is a tried and true method, that's for sure. Many clinicians have made a ton of money teaching the novice how to 'communicate' with their horse this way. But when I watch my own mares with their foals and my own herd interraction, I can't help but wonder at what might be an easier methodology. And so began my experimentation with using even more positive reinforcement and less pressure.

I have a mare here that would rather kill you than move away from pressure. If I increase pressure--say, ask her to move away from me or walk in a small circle around me, she not only tries to kick my head off, she also attempts to stomp on me, rear at me, bite me and...well, you get the picture. She's pretty serious. But so am I. She must learn to give to any pressure I put on her.

The first day I worked with her was nothing short of a rodeo. She went into Drama-Queen-Killer mode and I went into "You can't do that" mode. We fought for about 30 minutes and I gained very little upper hand, but at least I convinced her that moving her shoulders and then her hip away from me when I asked was really not a big deal. I used pressure and release, negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement in combination. It sort of worked. But getting her to walk on the lunge line in a nice way? Yeah, that's another tornado-with-spurs situation altogether. Still, at the end of that first day, we ended on a decently good note and I put her away and fed her, then pondered the situation for the evening.

Next morning, I went out and began Clicker Training her--using positive reinforcement almost exclusively (I did have to tug on the leadrope when she tried to run over me as I took her through the yard). But while I began teaching her about the click and the treat, she started feeling happier to me. Well, who wouldn't like getting treats for just standing there?

Later though, when I asked her to move away from me and she tried to kill me, I just got out of the way, growled under my breath and started over. Every time her ears came forward, I clicked and treated (C/T) her. Within about fifteen minutes of no fighting, arguing or attempted murder on either of our parts, we were happily playing in the yard moving left, right, forward, back and having fun doing so. She began to get the idea that we were just walking together and our relationship took a turn toward friendship rather than me just telling her what to do and how to do it. I am her leader and that's good with her since she's a little frightened of the world in general and the Clicker Training using positive reinforecement almost exclusively has resulted in my being able to work with her feet, touch her belly (this used to be a bone of contention punishable by my demise, I assure you), lunge at a calm walk, load into the trailer and be saddled. She learned to stand perfectly still at the mounting block in about fifteen minutes.

Is this the best training method ever? I don't know, but I do know that the traditional ideas of the horse learning by our promise to release pressure simply doesn't always work with every animal. What is your take on this? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

*****PRIVATE one hour riding lesson for $50, (normally $75) with mention of http://www.285Bound.com, email LopingAlong@msn.com; must be within 20 miles of Conifer, CO

Tanya Buck was born and raised in Carmel, California, where she grew up on a small ranch. A graduate of UC Davis, she majored in Animal Science with a concentration in Equine Reproduction, and a minor in English.

She is certified through UC Davis as an Equine Breeding Manager, is a certified horse show judge, and a Reiki Master. Currently, Tanya and her husband live in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with five horses, four dogs, three cats, a couple of parrots and a bunch of fish.

Besides her passion for horses, Tanya is an avid Scuba diver, an active bicyclist, and loves to hike, snowshoe, read and write. She is currently working on two books, one fiction that needs an agent now, and a creative nonfiction about training horses written from the horse's point of view.

Tanya has been helping to bridge the communication gap between horses and humans for over 35 years.


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