It's Time for Horse Training to Evolve - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 11:50 AM
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bsms and BlueSpark bring up excellent points. Other than freeing every horse in the land and never using any of them for anything again, any type of training, natural or otherwise, could be considered abuse. Think about it, when we "train" any thing what are we doing? We are forcing, no matter how kindly or patiently, a change in an animal's behavior from how it would naturally behave. Even natural horsemanship trainers ride a horse which by someone's definition of kindness to an animal could be considered abuse..I mean really, we add weight to the horse's back and expect them to haul us around?

As bsms pointed out, the dominant horses in a herd don't wait patiently for another horse to figure out that maybe snagging that hay is a bad thing and then reward them for moving off, no, they pin ears, squeal and kick..and a heck of a lot faster and a lot harsher in severity than our paltry methods.

I could reward my horse constantly for not running me over, biting me etc but it is not going to do anything when the horse decides to bite me because he is not going to equate all the pats and kind words for NOT doing it with the correction FOR doing it. I had an appy once, big boy grew to idea why but that's another story. He was a mouthy thing and I tried the easy going method..just pushing his nose away, ignoring it, distracting him. One day he tried to take a chunk out of me while I was in my tack box right next to him, got the sleeve of my sweater..I happened to have a crop in my hand, which I had but had never carried at all with him, and laid that thing across his nose..I was only 12 at the time so not too much force but he snorted, danced a bit and guess what, that horse never even tried to even lip at me again. He still got his treats, even hand fed ones and he was extremely delicate in how he took them after that. In a manner of speaking I did just what the lead horse would have done; made it sharp and clear. All my nagging previously to "be a good boy and don't do that" failed tremendously.

I certainly don't and have never abused my horses...I've been more accused of being too soft on them (except for ground manners..I correct those double time quick). I carry a dressage whip occasionally for nothing more than a reminder..I don't lash, just tap or touch as a cue; I prefer not to wear spurs but eventually I will have to if I get up to the level for which I am aiming..still, doesn't mean I actually have to USE them, just wear them. Spurs don't equate to cruelty either..most people only use the occasional touch..they don't dig in or go crazy and leave bloody scratches.

Last edited by tlkng1; 10-10-2013 at 11:56 AM.
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post #12 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 11:55 AM Thread Starter
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Negative reinforcement is something that the horse moves away from, positive reinforcement is something the horse moves toward. Neither is inherently bad or good, its how each is used. Spurs and big bits are not "abusive" but they can be used to train the horse with pain. Used correctly, they can be a tool for giving high level cues, but they are often not used as they should be and by riders who know how to use them.

In writing this post, I did not intend to ruffle feathers, although I knew it would bring up some differing opinions. I simply intended it as a reminder that we all need to understand how our horse's behavior and how they learn and then be open to better ways of doing things. I'm sure there are parts I could of re-phrased that would bring my point across in a better way.
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post #13 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 12:03 PM Thread Starter
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One other point I want to bring up - I probably should have included this in the first post so it was more clear!

I'm talking about training in regards to teaching a horse a new maneuver, or riding a youngster for the first time as he learns to go forward and stop.

@tlking - your post is well written, and I agree with you, I would consider stopping biting, kicking, or space issues as "setting boundaries." Anyone that works with a horse absolutely has to set boundaries and how you do this depends on the horse. You don't teach a horse not to bite using treats.

However, you can train a horse to, go in the trailer, for example using treats or another form of positive reinforcement. This article from The Horse covered an interesting test done by the University of Delaware.

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Last edited by CRK; 10-10-2013 at 12:09 PM.
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post #14 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 12:15 PM Thread Starter
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Here is another article about a study done at a University in France about how positive reinforcement training boosts memory: Training: Positive Reinforcement Improves Horse Memory |

And I loved this book by Karen Pryor called Don't Shoot the Dog, its a good read if you are interested in behavior science.
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post #15 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 12:22 PM
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I do think you have to be careful not to generalize too much - maybe it was intended but it does come over a bit that way
Not all horses in competition yards are bored, sullen, unhappy, and loaded with stable vices. On a well run yard the horses get far more attention that a horse kept 24/7 in the field and if correctly worked with turn out periods they live happy lives - these horses have often never experienced life in a herd, they are born in stables and handled from the 'get go' so what is normal to them is very different to what's normal for a mustang that's lived without humans and fences
Not all people revert to harsh methods and artificial aids to break and train horses and they never have. You can soon tell a horse that's been treated like that
Barry G - I have to disagree about the WW2 comment. My grt grandfather was born in 1876 and died when I was 14. He was the kindest man around horses I have ever known and never needed to raise a whip or his voice around them. Same with the uncle (a cousin of my grandfathers) who most influenced me in the ways of breaking horses - he would be about 113 now and had been breaking horses since he was a boy taught by his father who was taught by his father and so on.... He would spend as much time as it took and never resorted to violence
People mostly revert to cruelty and force when they don't know what they're doing and/or can't be bothered to spend the time and patience to allow the horse learn each step at a time and work willingly with them
Though I will agree that horses do bully each other in the field and can hurt each other far more than the occasional slap we might need to give them alongside otherwise fair kind treatment but
We are not horses - we are humans with superior intelligence.
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post #16 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 12:27 PM
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More attention should be paid to the theories behind horse riding before the novice is allowed to jump up onto the back of a horse and ride circles in an arena. The rider should learn how to counter Newton's laws of physics - hard ground hurts. There is also good practice to absorb about how to control half a tonne of wilful horse flesh. And how to sit correctly on the back of a horse in a balanced position is a matter of theory and practice.

Elsewhere, learning to fly a private light plane involves learning the theory of flight, a demonstration by an instructor, actual practice of control by the novice and a de briefing after every flight. It is uncommon for a trainee pilot to go solo in less that 25 hours of dual tuition. And later, the private pilots licence calls for a comprehensive written examination to have been passed by the trainee. Yet flying is a lot less dangerous to the novice pilot and to onlookers than horse riding - as the insurance companies will quickly point out.

Much more time should be spent by the novice rider in the class room. And more attention should be given to the principles behind horse control and how to sit correctly on the back of a horse. As for novice riders buying unschooled horses off the race track with the idea of training the horse to ride, well, in this modern world - that is a matter of the blind leading the blind.

A horse weighs at least half a tonne; it has the mouth the size of an alligator's; it can run at 25 miles per hour and has four steel shod feet each of which can break a leg or crush a foot of any unsuspecting onlooker. It is an intelligent creature, with a mind of its own, it is motivated by fear and should be approached with care and respect.

The teaching of any subject as complex as horse riding is an art in itself. Not every good rider can teach the novice. It is time we looked more closely at whom is licensed to teach horse riding and perhaps more importantly we considered what syllabus and theories should be taught to newcomers to the sport.

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post #17 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 01:09 PM
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I'm honestly not sure that I share the same opinions as OP. Though I am not very familiar with "classical horsemanship", I did spend a good deal of time in show barns, so I am at least familiar with that.

I rode at a Hunter/Jumper barn for many years. Sure, there were some horses that had vices, but I definitely wouldn't consider the establishment anything like a prison. The horses, for the most part, were all alert and happy.

Anything can be used to hurt a horse. I can smack a horse with a boot if I so felt inclined. Spurs, whips, bits are all training aids. If used properly, they do not create the aforementioned issues.
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post #18 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 01:12 PM
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Big bits, whips, and spurs are not automatically indicative of harsh and abusive training.

It's not the equipment of the method you use, it's how you use those tools. I think we sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees when it comes to training horses, becoming too fixated on a particular training method or piece of tack being distinctly "good" or "bad".

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post #19 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 01:30 PM
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I completely disagree with how you define positive and negative reinforcement.

If a negative reinforcement is defined as anything a horse moves away from, then you are left with coaxing and mental telepathy to use for cues and aids. You apply a light leg cue or aid and you expect a horse to move away from that pressure. It is an aid and not a negative or abusive use of pressure.

Pressure or aids that are used to the extreme so that they cause pain and agony have become abusive. If they only cause a little discomfort (like a fly landing on a horse's side would cause), how is that abusive? But tell us, if you cannot ask a horse to move away from pressure, just how do you train it?

I have personally found the the release of pressure is the only 'reward' a horse needs. It tells the horse immediately that it has done the right thing.

As for bits, I have observed that the simple snaffle is the most abusive bit used. It is hands and techniques that I find abusive -- not the actual bits or spurs. I have seen people hang and jerk on the reins with a simple snaffle until the made open bleeding sores on the corners of a horse's mouth. I frequently see horses that throw their heads straight up in the air with snaffles, not because the bit is severe, but because the rider has little skill and is 'hanging on' by the reins.

Let me use a little illustration: Say I am teaching proper lead departures on the requested lead. I lightly squeeze with my inside leg to maintain 'shape' and direction. I move my outside leg back an inch or two and lightly squeeze to ask the horse to move his hip slightly to the inside. Then, I 'smooch' and squeeze a little more with my outside leg and expect the horse to move immediately into a lope/ canter on the designated lead.

Now, let's say the horse started to take the wrong lead -- I immediately bring him back to a walk and ask again. My ability to interrupt his departure in the wrong lead is negative reinforcement. I stop or interrupt the wrong response, effectively 'closing' that door to him. I am not abusing him but I am letting him know that he gave me the wrong answer or response.

I immediately re-ask for correct lead. I may have to do this many times when I am first teaching proper lead departures. I do not need to jerk or spur or 'hurt' the horse in any way. I only need to close the door to the wrong response. When he takes the correct lead, I do not pet or praise the horse. [That would only completely confuse him.] I simply 'get out of his way', leave the door open and let him proceed for a good ways on the correct lead. His only reward is me staying out of his face and out of his ribs.

When trained this way, horses stay calm and happy and learn about anything they are capable of doing that the riders is qualified to also do. Proper use of pressure and the release of that pressure will get about anything done without abuse.

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Last edited by Cherie; 10-10-2013 at 01:37 PM.
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post #20 of 176 Old 10-10-2013, 01:41 PM
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In their native language, horses learn from the sharp and concise actions of lead horses or higher ups in the herd. If a colt marches up to an adult and promptly lays into it using his teeth, you can bet the other horse isn't going to gently push him away; as was mentioned earlier. My question to you is, why do you think we should do the opposite of what any other horse would? We hear all the time that we're "partners" or that we're "our horses leader" but if he's biting us or otherwise disrespecting us - are we really? Pushing the horse's face away is a slap on the wrist, it doesn't have a consequence other than the pathetic "Pony don't do that!" and it leaves room for more error, making the horse potentially dangerous. Watch a horse perform the swift kick and everyone laughs, watch a human do the human's equivalent of the swift kick and it's automatically abuse. There's a point where a line Must be drawn for us to have strong consequences for strong actions. .. I digress.

A horse's natural language is body language and pressure. It is used all of the time for every situation. Whether the situation is pinning its ears and snaking a mare away from another stallion in the wild, or pinning its ears and snaking everyone else away from the food in a pen. This is something they know, understand and respect. It's something we can very easily translate into human in order to speak with our horses, please see: lunging. It's an easy game really. You apply pressure until the horse moves off, you release pressure and let the horse continue moving and you add pressure back when he misbehaves. We're not patiently nagging a horse to do what we want, are we? You don't stand idly by the horse's hip and tell him to walk on several times over, calling it quits and walking away when he doesn't move, do you? Unless you're standing in the center pointing to the left and using a baby-voice to tell your horse to move, your answer's no. You get snappy, you want something and you want it now. You have just turned into the lead horse. Are you abusing your horse though?

In lunging not moving has a consequence of being chased or having rope thrown at the hip. When biting, people who get "nasty" (like 12 yr old tlking did) give a consequence as big as the bite. In leading, people who get "nasty" will back a horse off using increasing pressure until a foot goes back and nowhere else. Most trainers I know are happy with just a step back, but they're not patiently and gently tugging the rope backward. They're getting big and they're doing it fast. All of this pressure is something a horse understands. It's the native.

The foreign language is stuff a horse -wouldn't- naturally understand and that is where the patient, slow approach is necessary. Things like pulling a cart or being tacked up and ridden around a ring. A horse's natural instinct when galloping isn't to gallop around a 2-acre circle. They learn quick but it's still a strange topic to them. This is where I found (when I was learning to train and watching my instructor train too) the most patience was necessary. My instructor didn't have to get harsh when the first saddle when on and the mare threw a bucking tantrum; she also didn't have to get harsh when the mare's first instinct on the first canter out in the big arena was to go through the grooming area. My instructor corrected her by lunging her or by turning and pointing her back into the arena, where pressure consequences still applied. She learned quickly. Did my instructor abuse the horse? Likewise, when I was learning to train an unruly school horse who was known for charging, biting, and running into and ahead of people walking him I had sharp consequences. I whacked him on the nose hard for biting me and leaving a bruise (when the original response was to push him away), he never bit again. I got up in his face when he tried running me over after a tarp spooked him, he lead quietly after that. He used to charge people in the paddock when they went to catch him, so I charged at him back like a wild person, flailing a lead rope and making all sorts of "squeals" to get him away from me, he didn't charge after that. He's still used as a lesson horse, he's not head shy, spooky, and his ears are almost always forward. Did I abuse him?

Just remember that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. For charging, biting, and leading poorly, the horse was almost always rewarded at the grooming station or ignored - what he wanted. It was opposite of what he did, but it wasn't equal. When the tables were turned on him, he gave me what I wanted and my old lesson barn needed. His consequences were huge but he learned, just as he would have in the herd.

Yeah, used incorrectly, bits can be bad. Spurs, crops and whips can be bad too. But it's my experience that most horse people I've met are a lot more enlightened then people are giving them credit for. It's a matter of learning how to ride properly, being given enough time on the ground with a horse to learn how things work from both perspectives, and being given the room to learn how to ensure a horse is a safe partner.

Regardless, I agree with some of your original points. There needs to be positive reinforcement, and the release of pressure is almost -always- that positive stuff they look for. I'm not throwing an apple at the horse's head while we're lunging to reward him with the hopes that he eats, enjoys and understands why an apple was thrown his way. We do always end on a positive note. The positive "tone" of my voice is used as a vocal reward when something is done perfectly on his part. It's just a matter of balance and being able to show restraint in keeping consequences from turning into abuse.
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horse training , how to train horses , positive reinforcement

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