The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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 Post subject: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2015 7:59 pm 
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These days I have been wondering under what conditions people prefer demanding to asking and rewarding. Of course sometimes they simply do not know that they can solve problems in a prosocial or positive reinforcement based way, or they do not think that they can solve them easily, quickly or safely enough by asking instead of demanding. But these are not the situations that I mean.

Instead, what I am talking about are situations in which it seems to be a matter of principles. For example, when somebody says that he needn't ask for something because it is the most normal thing in the world that the horse just does it when the human says so. Often when hearing such statements, I am asking myself what would speak against using positive reinforcement in these situations. This is because for me positive reinforcement usually does not feel like something I do because I have to but mostly like something I do because I can. Therefore, it is interesting for me that for some people or in some situations it seems to be the other way around, so that they prefer demanding because they can.

Do you have such situations in which you could solve a conflict prosocially but prefer not to consider the horse's opinion, or even prefer confrontation? If so, in what situations does this occur and what are your reasons? Or even if you do not experience this yourself, do you have any ideas about what makes other people want to do it that way?


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:56 pm 
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Quote:
For example, when somebody says that he needn't ask for something because it is the most normal thing in the world that the horse just does it when the human says so.


I think that's exactly why people don't ask, but demand. They simply don't know of any other way, or if they have heard of another way, are skeptical. They could be skeptical from their own experiences, or more likely, people who have more experience, or are considered professionals, don't believe it works. Why, in their mind, should they know better than someone who has worked with horses all their life and is successful at it? Once, I was telling a friend about liberty training, and she said she had never heard of it. She also didn't know what positive/negative reinforcements are. She's a very smart person and is very loving to her horse, but she simply doesn't know any other way of interacting with them than the traditional way. I think this is also true for the majority of horse people.

Quote:
Do you have such situations in which you could solve a conflict prosocially but prefer not to consider the horse's opinion, or even prefer confrontation? If so, in what situations does this occur and what are your reasons? Or even if you do not experience this yourself, do you have any ideas about what makes other people want to do it that way?


For me, things are rarely, if ever, black and white. This is one of those grey areas. For example, I would rather use positive reinforcement and just ask, but it Rose was having colic and the only way I could save her would be forcing her onto a trailer to get to a vet that could do surgery, yes I would do whatever it took to get her on that trailer. Would I want to force her on? No, but I would anyway to save her. I know this isn't a very every-day type scenario and doesn't apply that often, but I hope you get what I'm saying, that I would override her opinion if it's something that really matters. If the debate was If I wanted to do an exercise that she doesn't want to do, then I wouldn't make her do it, but would take her opinion into account and act on it. She doesn't want to trot? Then we'll walk. Small things like that don't bother me. Would any of you, using my example, make your horse get on that trailer? If not, what would be your reasons?


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:32 am 
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Thanks for your reply, Haley! In your trailer example you describe a situation in which forcing the horse gets you a necessary result whereas not forcing her does not get you that result. I guess most of us agree on what we'd do if the choice was between overriding the horse's opinion and letting him die. ;) What I meant were situations in which both ways are equally likely to get you that result and still you opt for demanding.

I really do not mean this as a rhetoric question, because personally I can imagine such situations. For example, tonight Baca (who has been the softest angel lately, by the way :love:) suddenly got a biting and attacking fit. Not dangerous, but a bit annoying. In this situation I knew that I could most likely solve this by being smart, precise, positive and rewarding, and I also wasn't angry at all. But still I grabbed his muzzle, held it and said to him in a rather strong voice that he must stop this behaviour NOW. Next time he tried to attack, I simply flung my leg into his direction to chase him out of my space. And as I said, this was not because I thought I had to do this. I just didn't feel like talking this through with him, somehow.

Neither in the situation itself nor retrospectively I can produce any rational arguments for why I chose this reaction, and in most similar situations I would have solved it positively. So I am wondering what it is that sometimes makes people not want to solve something positively, even when they know they could?


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 3:40 am 
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I think the only time we really demand anything is at dinner time and they have to stay at their own bin. Bear gets very cheeky and tries to sneak and steal Marlee's food. We could of course take him back to his spot and reward him but he ends up coming over to us to get treats for going back. So we made it a rule that they have to stay in their spots until they have all finished their feeds and once we put the hay in all of the bins they can start swapping again. Which means sometimes we have to push/growl at bear a little.
Its similar to the way we push him if he tries to push away one of the others when we're not playing with him. We just put one hand on his nose, one hand on the base of his neck and just firmly push him aside and then ignore him. Anything more than that turns into attention which he likes. This I suppose is the only other time I tend to demand. We do sometimes deal with it by rewarding him standing on his tree stump which also works.


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 10:55 am 
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That is an interesting question.

I have got only one horse and no family, so I have got more time than many people. That means, that I don t have to push anything. So no, I never prefer demanding. Though I have to admit, that I nearly did this weekend, when Zermi refused to give his hoofs and I thought, that he dearly needed a trimming. It was the first time for ages that I nearly lost my patience a bit and I had a glimpse of a thought, that I will have to demand this now. But luckily, we managed to shift the energy into a playfull one again and we could make a fun game out of our discussion. This trim took me a lot more time than normaly though. And I had to let go of any impatience and result orientated thinking. Once I could let go, it started to become fun for me as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 11:57 am 
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Yogini wrote:
I have got only one horse and no family, so I have got more time than many people. That means, that I don t have to push anything.


As I said, I absolutely do not mean situations in which you HAVE to push something but in which you WANT to. Still I think that the point you make is very important, not just in terms of time but capacity limitations in general. For me, whenever I feel that I want to demand rather than ask (which luckily is the absolute exception) this happens in situations in which my resources are used up in one or the other way. For example yesterday, I came home from a 12 hours day at work during which I had needed lots of concentration. I felt a complete lack of motivation to put more effort and thinking into the things I do than what is absolutely necessary.

For me this can change my thought process. Usually when a horse does something "problematic", my thoughts are that I know I could solve this in the quick and easy way (just making him see that he must stop) but that I do not have to do this - simply because it is so much more interesting, more fun and more rewarding to get the horse to do it by himself. This way of carefully providing the context in which he can do well. In normal situations this makes me really happy. However, when dealing with capacity issues and being somewhere at my limits, I feel like this motivation is lacking in me. Then my focus tends to be on the immediate behaviour and that I want it to stop, whereas in a fit and awake state I could not care less and my focus is on the process.

But it's very interesting for me that I seem to be the only one who has this. :smile:


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:31 pm 
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Yes, you are right, it is not only time that matters, but also other resources or capacities.

Quote:
But it's very interesting for me that I seem to be the only one who has this. :smile:

At the moment, I have no duties in the stable, so that Zermi can be without me for a day or more, without problems. That means, that if I am too tired or feel sick or anything like that, I can decide to not see him (which I do very rarely). So meeting him is always a pleasant part of my everydays life and never a duty. That might make a difference. I for example might not go and see him after 12 hours work in full concentration. That is the luxury of having a horse in full board residential. But I actually want to keep horses myself one day, so I will have to confront with this topic then once more...


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Wed Mar 18, 2015 12:38 pm 
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I have to add, that the day, I wanted to trimm his hoofs, I had a kind of mental stress. I thought, that if I won t do it immediately, his hoofbalance would become bad and I don t want this to happen. I did put myself under a kind of pressure. I think mental pressure is another good reason for getting into the demanding mode. I mean when one doesn t have to do the one thing exactly now, but one thinks one has to...


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2015 6:58 am 
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I had a friend with whom I discussed the best way to work with a horse until I realised that we didn't wanted the same. That is one important reason, I suppose, for not wanting to solve problems with positive reinforcement. They don't seem to want to consider the horses opinion all the time. Instead there are situations in which this is wanted and situations in which the horse easily has to do what the human says but these situations are separated from each other clearly.

Another reason could be that they don't love the details of the results of working with the horses initiative and considering the horses opinion as much as I (and I think others here too) do. I use positive reinforcement, the initiative and the opinion of the horse especially because it has the effect that the horse uses its own initiative and therefore it becomes a real dialogue in which both participants can say what they want and don't have to behave accordingly to (m)any rules. There are many other reasons why I do it this way but I can not notice them often when I read from other horse people. And if someone does not know these reasons or does not consider them to be important for himself, then there is not be such a big advantage for him.

When I imagine these reasons not to be so important for me, I think that I would not use positive reinforcement this much. For example, if riding was my main goal than I would just want to find a way to make it work. And also if a second goal was to be friendly to my horse, then this would not exclude all the demands. Instead, demanding from the horse to carry me around is okay because I care for it, that there is enough food and a secure place to be and sell a lot of money for it (something I was told in another forum once ;) ).

I think that the focus of many people is on the what? rather than on the how? and the why?. They want to do xyz with the horse and the most important thing is that this is no problem. Demanding is the way problems are usually solved and that is why it seems to be an easy solution. Because we are taught in riding schools to demand, within time this comes naturally from us. We don't have to put a lot of effort into it. I suppose, easy solutions and little effort is what many people like especially in their free time when they try to get rid of the stress from work.

Another reason could be that you could differ between the problems. Some problems could be seen as a result of disrespect and not as an exercise you teach to the horse. If it is a problem with respect than you may be more likely to show the horse that it has to be respectful. And you can't support this massage with carrots :huh: . You can only do that when the horse already respects you.
I think this is most often the case with behaviour that is seen as „normal“ because horses show it in the herd (e.g. moving away when the „alpha“ comes near) or because it is so easy to do with most horses (e.g. leading them with a halter, brushing them). So if the horse refuses to do so, it cannot mean that it isn't able to behave in this way but instead it tries to dominate the human and therefore needs to learn that it has to respect the human ;) .

For me the capacity limitations are a big topic because I have so little possibilities to improve them with horses.There still are situations in which it is very hard for me to solve problems the way I want. But I know about the advantages and the possible results and I love them. That's why I keep on learning and optimizing my behaviour. It really needs a lot of effort but luckily I enjoy the difficulties as well because I like to learn more about how I can solve problems and it gets easier as more as I choose the prosocial way. It is very interesting to see how my preference of how I want and like to behave changes with my abilities, in the moment as well as in the long run.

Nevertheless, I think I can understand why others do it differently. The situations in which I don't solve problems (only) with positive reinforcement occur when I am tired, exhausted or not in a good mood but still have to do something with the horse. But in this situations I still prefer to use positive reinforcement and all the positivity I can collect instead of demands and pressure. And even in situation in which I'm a bit overwhelmed I add as much positive reinforcement, gratitude and blithesomeness as I can. For me this is a big step further because some time I was not able to do it this way. When I was overwhelmed I could not think positive anymore and could not see all the wonderful things the horse does anymore.


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 Post subject: Re: Preferring to demand
PostPosted: Fri Mar 20, 2015 9:24 pm 

Joined: Sun Apr 07, 2013 11:22 am
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I prefer to ask, and try to do that as often as I can. However, if it gets dangerous for me or for the horse, then I demand that this stops. I also demand that my own limits are accepted. I call that "veto-right". I also accept the veto-right from the horse. I try to get out of these situations with positive reinforcement first, but when this does not work fast enough, I demand.


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