Space, boundaries and trust
First - background. I've got a rescued 12-15 year old arab gelding - no training until I came along. Been working with him since the end of February, and he can now be caught, haltered, and led by the 4-Hers, lunges nicely, lets me brush him all over, doesn't kick any more and even lets me pick up his feet at this point. I've been developing a bond with him and he is very sweet and wants to please me!
Me - I've been riding on my own since about 2 years old, have worked with racehorses, broke my last horse and have used a variety of natural horsemanship methods along with classic methods of horse training - sacking out, driving, etc. to break and train. Last horse, also an arab, responded really well to my mixed approach, and now does dressage with my mom.
My question - Last night I had a lesson with the trainer who owns the barn and runs the rescue; she uses Clinton Anderson methods to train. I have been using many of these techniques with the groundwork I've been doing with my boy, but I personally like to let him into my space by now. The trainer tells me that he is disrespecting me and I shouldn't let him in there yet. The thing is - when he comes into my space, his ears are up, his eyes are on me, and his expression is saying "did I do good?" I then rub his forehead with my hand and tell him he was a good boy. He licks and chews and is relaxed. Personally I am very satisfied with where he is and would like to move forward with the saddling (he met the blanket two days ago and let me blanket him yesterday too). But the trainer thinks that we need to keep working on the lunging for respect, and that he is not respecting me because he is coming into my space - but he is doing so because I've gotten to the point with him where I trust him and he trusts me. Last night during the lesson, trying to keep him out of my space through the entire session, I could see in his eyes that he was not enjoying himself as he usually does when we have our lessons, and that he was getting frustrated and didn't understand why I wasn't letting him in. I felt like I was being unfair to him because he and I have bonded and I'm usually very nice to him, especially when he does as I ask. (note the word ask).
Trainer also thinks that I should go through a whole set of exercises with whipping the stick/whip around over the horse's head and slapping the ground with it until it doesn't flinch at all, and only THEN should I saddle and mount. All fine and good, but I don't really feel like that is entirely necessary and don't really see the point in it when other sacking works and the horse will also learn more as he is green broke and whatnot. Plus, I like my horse with spunk and don't know that I want him to be totally "dead-broke." I feel like I could have him ready to mount, using my own training style, within the next month - but the trainer seems to think it shouldn't happen that fast. And I'm not trying to rush him - I am just gauging by how well he responds to what I ask of him, and the level of trust that he is showing in me. Does he look to me for assurance and respond to my reaction to something scary? Yes! Does he let me do pretty much whatever I want at this point without showing a fear response? Yes!
I guess I am just feeling like maybe the CA methods are a little too firm for my sensitive arab, and that personality wise - he needs a more gentle and loving touch, with less bossing around and more buddying. He really doesn't respond well when he feels like I am bossing him around. Don't get me wrong - he knows at this point that I am alpha, but he doesn't really understand the alpha dynamic (he was not in a herd for 10 years - totally by himself) so I have to enforce the dynamic at least once per lesson, and I am not afraid of backing him up off of me, and/or hauling off and smacking his shoulder when he nips. I do punish him - but only if I feel like he is being bad and/or could hurt me.
Thoughts? Should I go with my gut?
yes, absolutely go with your gut. The clinton anderson method is his method and works for him, but it is not for everybody. I think the road to the horse this year proved that. Anyway you might pull a little from here and there but it is your way. I also feel the clinton anderson method can be a little too much as well. It works, but the horses don't seem to like you very much when doing it. I say keep up the good work. Sounds like you do a really good job.
It's a matter of style and preference, in my opinion. Many folks like to take the space/respect issue to the point that the horse never approaches you until invited. To me, that's a little too 'machine like' and doesn't reflect horse behavior in a herd. I always allow our mares to enter 'my space' as long as they behave in my space...i.e. no fussing with me or each other, as I consider behaving correctly (individually or as a group) while in my space is the respect that I'm looking for.
I think your gut is right on.
Do what feels right for you & your horse. I'm not a fan of cookie cutter training or faithfully following any "guru" trainer to the letter.
Its all personal choice and opinion. That being said, 'm not a CA fan myself. I've re-trained a few horses that had been trained with his methods. It may be more the original trainer than CA, but that trainer learned under him personally, not just a dvd hound. I've found them to be quicker to startle, more likely to throw their head up and run backwards from new things and headshy in general. I don't feel you have to chase a horse around with a stick non-stop to get respect. There is not a thing wrong with establishing an "alpha" role but just like in a herd after awhile the rest AVOID the alpha, not just out of respect but out of fear.
It sounds to me that you are using common sense & tailoring to that individual horse. That to me is the key to successful horse training. I've spent 20 years learning training methods from lots of different trainers pulling bits & pieces that work for me and each individual horse. Go with your gut and do what feels right.
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okay, thanks guys! PHM - your comment about allowing them in but requiring that they behave in your space really resonates with me!
Quarters - that is exactly what I don't want to happen - I don't want him to see me purely as alpha and obey out of fear - I've noticed that his responses to the trainer, while much quicker and respectful, are not relaxed... he's always on his toes. I want to make sure he stays relaxed around me!
Listen to no one but your horse. He'll tell you what's right or wrong. Bonding with humans was a trait bred into arabs centuries ago. You need to be more observant to ward off a nip before it happens. Then there's no need to hit him. You may wind up with a special relationship that no one else will have with him and it's wonderful.
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