Respect

I looked up the definition of this word and came up with – ‘regard with deference, avoid degrading, insulting, injuring or interrupting and treat with consideration’. Respect is a word that is heard often in horse circles, usually when a person is saying a horse doesn’t have enough respect. This is considered a very bad thing and the horse must be taught to show more respect for humans immediately. I usually start feeling quite uncomfortable when I hear people use this word in reference to horses as it usually means the horse is in for a tough time. Sometimes I think people are actually creating fear in their horses and calling it respect. The methods used to create this ‘respect’ certainly don’t fit in with the definition of the word above.

Which brings me to a very important question, ‘is the person respecting the horse’? Are the same people who want the horse to respect them returning the favor? Or is it a one way street? These are important questions that everyone who handles horses needs to be asking. If the horse is not treated with respect during the training process, then there is every chance that the training will result in a fearful, distrustful horse. And guess what, this horse will then be classified as one that isn’t showing enough respect. And so the cycle continues.

Going back to our definition of respect, how many people regard a horse with deference? Just the fact that they allow us to sit on their backs is an amazing act of giving on their part. To show deference to these incredible animals that do so much for us should be easy, but unfortunately a lot of what they do for us is taken for granted and taken as our ‘right’. Do we all make sure we never degrade, insult, injure or interrupt a horse? I think that not degrading, insulting or injuring a horse is pretty obvious and most people would know if they cross this line. But crazy as it sounds even interrupting a horse is showing a lack of respect. A simple act like scratching the head on a leg is regularly interrupted by people quickly pulling the horses head up and not allowing it. And treating with consideration, this means consider how things are for the horse at all times, how is it for them?

Imagine a relationship of mutual respect between you and your horse. In such a relationship there is time to be aware of the others needs and wants. Your horse is relaxed and happy in your presence, knowing you will not force it into fearful situations that you have not prepared it for. Knowing that you will take moments to tune into it and find out how it’s coping with what is happening. Your horse respects your judgement and feels safe in your presence and because of this resistances fall away and self-confidence grows. Your confidence as a horse person also grows because you now understand how things are for the horse. This knowledge brings a feeling of empowerment and connection for you both. You find the time spent with your horse is now fun and full of adventure and wonderful surprises as you open up to each other, instead of hard work and fighting.

Respect is a wonderful thing if it is two way. Check in with yourself and see if you are willing to respect the horse as much as you expect the horse to respect you. Once you can say yes to this question you are on a beautiful path that could lead you anywhere……

 

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Lismore, NSW, Australia

Ph: 0401 249 263

Email: happyhorsesbitless@gmail.com

Web: www.happyhorsesbitless.com

Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles

 

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The Happy Place

brumby-herd

 

Everyone’s looking for the happy place. This is where life is beautiful, there are no pressures on us and no stress, this is where we can relax and enjoy what the world has to offer. Horses also look for the happy place. When horses are in the happy place they can relax and unwind their muscles, their minds are open to learning, as there is no stress, and they are much more open to their human.

Far too frequently when I’m out and about training horses and their humans, I find situations where there is no happy place. Sometimes people are so controlling, they micro-manage every moment, constantly applying aids and constantly communicating with their horse. After a while horses tire of this and start exhibiting escapist behaviours, which the humans perceive as being ‘naughty’ or ‘resistant’. In reality all they’re saying is ‘hey, give us a break’.

When riding or doing ground-work with a horse, you apply a signal (the aid) wait for the response and then release the aid. It’s a good idea then to just go along as you are and let your horse have a moment to digest the idea, fulfill the job that you were asking for and just be a horse. For example, if you are lunging your horse and you ask for more speed. When the horse goes faster, just relax in the center and let the horse go around, that is after all what you asked for.  Instead I see people constantly moving the whip, giving voice aids and generally driving along a horse that’s already going!

The result of this is that the horse has to tune out the human, it’s necessary for survival. If the human is constantly yabbering away by constantly using aids (this is language to a horse) when it doesn’t mean anything, the horse must tune you out or go crazy. So after a while the horse isn’t responding to the whip anymore, or the voice or the body language, and has effectively been de-trained. At this point most humans blame the horse. Instead of looking at what they’re doing and changing that, they employ more aggressive methods to get the result they want.

Whenever you’re riding or doing ground-work or lunging or anything with your horse there must be more happy places than pressured places. Heaps more. Make a point when you’re working your horse to find places where you can remove ALL pressure. Develop a headspace where this is what you’re looking for. Often people become fixated with applying aids but forget the much more important place of removing all aids and allowing your horse to be. This is after all the reason horses respond to us, not because we’re applying an aid but because they know we’re going to remove it. If you do not remove the aids regularly your horse will stop responding.

Every horse everywhere is always looking for the happy place, give it to them, give them lots of it and your horse will become more and more willing and softer. It’s much nicer for you too; you can spend more time just enjoying being with your horse in the happy place together.

 

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Lismore, NSW, Australia

Ph: 0401 249 263

Email: happyhorsesbitless@gmail.com

Web: www.happyhorsesbitless.com

Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles

 

 

 

 

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Bribery or Reward?

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The use of food in training horses is a controversial topic. Many ‘horse people’ are against using food treats. With all other species of animal food is used in training, so why not horses? In many European countries food is used extensively in horse training. Circus and trick horses are also trained this way.

I started questioning people and found an interesting thing. A lot of people don’t understand basic training theory and don’t know the difference between bribery and reward.

When training, a cue is used to indicate a desire for a particular behaviour, and when this behaviour is expressed, a reward is given. In this way the animal is more likely to repeat the behaviour next time the cue is given. For example, if you want your horse to move forward you apply the leg (the cue) the horse moves forward (the response) and you remove the leg (reward). Horses learn in other ways as well but this is the form of training used most frequently.

Bribery is when a food treat is given BEFORE the behaviour is expressed in order to try and make or encourage the horse to perform the behaviour. Because the horse receives the reward BEFORE it performs the behaviour it has no effect on future behaviour.

Reward is when the food treat is given AFTER the behaviour has been performed and is called ‘positive reinforcement’. It is called this because it REINFORCES the behaviour making it more likely that it will be repeated in the future.

A good example is with hard to catch horses. Using bribery, a carrot is held out to the horse and when it takes a bite the person quickly slips the halter on. The carrot always has to be used to catch the horse and no progress is made in teaching the horse to be caught normally. Sometimes it even results in the horse quickly snatching the carrot and running away before the halter arrives.

Doing it the other way, the person uses body language and advance/retreat techniques to initially catch the horse (this can take time but it’s worth it). Using a small area at first is advised and then when they understand move to a large area.  After the horse has allowed itself to be caught and the halter is on, the carrot is given. It’s a good idea to then take the halter off and call it end of lesson, especially if the horse is particularly difficult to catch. This results in a very positive experience for the horse and they’re much easier next time. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Every time it will take less to catch the horse until after a while the horse will approach you and wait to be haltered.

Once the behaviour is established the reward is given intermittently, perhaps every second time the horse performs the behaviour, then every third time, then randomly, until the reward is phased out completely. This is where you judge your horse and how well the new behaviour is established. Reducing the frequency of reward quickly may be necessary with some horses that are food obsessed and actually INCREASES the likelihood of the behaviour being performed, as the horse never knows which time it will receive the reward.

The effect of using positive reinforcement is that it speeds up training. Something that might normally take months to train can rapidly be established with the correct use of food treats.

The difference in the effect on the horse between bribery and reward is almost black and white. Bribery causes a pushy, rude, and difficult to handle horse and reward results in a willing and easy to handle friend. So perhaps the use of food treats with horses is not so bad after all, it all depends on the way it is used.

 

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Ph: 0401 249 263

Email: happyhorsesbitless@gmail.com

Web: www.happyhorsesbitless.com

Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles

 

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Train the Brain

suzy-and-darcy

I am very fortunate to be able to meet and work with many different types of horses. Every single one of those horses without exception has a brain. Horses are capable of understanding an enormous amount of information and are very good at retaining it. Yet constantly when I watch people work with their horses they are trying to make the horses’ body do things. They want to move that leg over, send the body backwards etc., so they expend an enormous amount of time and energy finding ways to get the horse to do something while totally ignoring the actual ‘horse’. The old school way of training horses was to force them to do something, usually with pain as the coercer, and then repeat it a thousand times so the horse remembers it. For a while this works, as the horse doesn’t want the pain and has worked out a way to avoid getting it. But they still don’t actually ‘understand’ what’s going on, so as soon as they’re left alone for a while they forget it. Then the next time the human wants that behaviour they have to go through it all again.

So the alternative is to recognize that the horse has a brain and train that. If we break the behaviour down into small steps and explain each step to the horse until they understand, before progressing to the next step, we end up with a horse who actually understands what we want. They have a chance to think about it and make a decision to do it. For this reason they retain it. I have found that if you explain what you want in a way the horse understands and then ask them for it, they pretty much always say yes. It’s almost a case of ‘well why didn’t you ask before?’, because they have no problem at all if they know what’s going on.

A case in point. I recently float trained two young brumbies. At the end of that (done in 2 one hour sessions) both horses had to be held back as they tried to beat each other onto the float. There was no fear at any stage. Every single tiny step of floating was taught to them until they understood and then the next element was added, until it all came together and they knew exactly what to do and were very willing. The following week the owners, novice horse people, loaded both horses onto a different float, without me there, and moved them to a new paddock without a hitch. A different brumby from the same herd was floated by someone else by forcing its body onto the float.This brumby also floated but it was covered in sweat, its eyes were bulging and it was terrified. The next time this horse needs to be floated it will not be easy, as the horse learnt nothing except how bad the float is. It had no understanding of the process at all. The two I floated will be happy to see a float again as they understand every component of it, I floated their brains, the bodies just came along.

Really to try and get such an enormous animal to do things by forcing its body is never going to work well in the long run. It’s so much easier to train the brain for both the horse and the human. If you train the brain and the horse doesn’t understand you need to look at how you explained it and try and find another way so the horse does understand. This process in itself is heaps of fun and is full of learning opportunities for the handler!

Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.

Happy Horses Bitless

Ph: 0401 249 263

Email: happyhorsesbitless@gmail.com

Web: www.happyhorsesbitless.com

Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles

 

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Videos with Suzy

Here are some videos that were taken of a talk I did at a local show. Enjoy 🙂 Suzy

 

 

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