The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 3:49 pm 
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Again and again when I hear people talking about dealing with pushy or impolite behavior from horses, their preferred solution for this often seems to be showing the horse that he can't do that. There are several not so nice ways to do it (e.g. hitting the horse), ways that carry no emotional value per se (e.g. waving your arms or rope around you without directing this at the horse, so that he "hits himself" when he comes too close), but also very well-planned and friendly ways (e.g. the slow windmilling that Miriam described so nicely in the Dealing with a pushy horse sticky).

For the last few months or year I have been wondering though if showing the horse that a certain behavior won't work really is the preferred option for me. What do I do in interpersonal relationships with humans? Of course I would set boundaries if my friends treated me rudely, but what seems much more relevant in developing our way of interacting seems to be that I try to treat them like I want to be treated and in that way shape our interaction by giving an example (for related thoughts see Josepha's Human Manners article, scroll down to 'Articles' and then select 'Human manners'). Every social species tends to align their behavior with that of their partners, so it's just very hard to not go along with the other one's ways and you can use that in shaping your interaction with other people. But how to do that when interacting with horses?

One way is by keeping your contact really soft and careful. In Summy's diary I recently described a way to do that by using your fingertips (see 4th and 8th post on that page), but of course the same thing works with body language, too. What I will describe in the following part is my approach to working on mutual awareness. In other activities, like just fooling around and doing funny tricks, I do use some of this, but not all, so this is not exactly meant to be an instruction for walking on tiptoes in whatever you do together with your horse. ;)

When interacting with a pushy horse, I become very soft and careful in my movements, while maintaining a rather high level of body tension. If I approach the horse at all (which usually I don't do but wait for him to come to me and come with me, both on the macro level of crossing the pasture and on the micro level of single steps), I move very slowly.

I try to reply to each movement of the horse, each step, each turn and other movements, by responding in some way. This does not mean that I am always mimicking him. Neither do I reward every single step. But I acknowledge whatever he does by giving some sort of response, even if this is just a tiny change in my own body posture or tension. It's like in a conversation with someone you are really listening to: most likely you will look at him and nod, smile or change your expression either in synchrony with him or complementary. But whereas many humans are good at doing this in conversations which each other, they often forget it when they are interacting with their horses.

Horses usually become very curious when they notice that someone is really paying attention to the micro changes in their behavior, and in turn they will start reacting to your behavior, too. You can encourage this by setting up situations where this is easy for the horse, like when you are standing in front of him (facing him) and move to one side. If the horse is already paying attention, he will most likely make a step in the same direction. If you reward at just that moment, he will see that reacting to you is a good thing for him and he will try to do it more often. When I do this, I always move very, very slowly so that I can clearly see at what point of my movement the horse starts to react. It also gives the horse time and does not break the connection, like for example stepping away quickly would do.

When in that way the horse has learned that it is a good idea to react to your movements, things like asking him to back up by simply moving your hips towards him become very easy. The principle is the same there: first build up your body tension. A good way to do this is by breathing in slowly. There are horses who already back up at this stage, but that is rare. In the next step you can focus on your hips (not look at them though but keep your eyes on the horse) and slowly move them towards the body part that you want your horse to move away. In my experience it's easiest to do it with backing up while facing the horse, but it also works for asking to move the frontquarters over in a pirouette-like way or move the ribcage out. Moving the hindquarters like that seems harder, but also works with some practice. If the horse does not react, you can make a (slow!) step towards him, but usually that is not necessary when you have followed all the preceding steps to build up awareness for each other's movements. Oh, and of course drop all your tension and reward big time as soon as the horse moves.

With time you can refine that mutual awareness by making your body signals smaller and smaller and specifically rewarding for reacting to the smallest. Not only do you get a lot of focus and very close attention from the horse in that way (because seeing the almost invisible pays off for him), it also makes it much easier to later ask him to move his body or certain body parts away from you or towards you during your regular work, so that you won't need specific cues for that but can simply include that into your movement.

Here is a video of working on mutual awareness with Summy, and this is a video of doing this for the first time with Lotte, who is used to groundwork and playing with humans in general but has not done this type of body language communication before.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 4:48 pm 

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Thanks for writing this down. Really interesting.
:yes:


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 4:50 pm 
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Guys, as I was so lucky ( :applause: ) as to have Romy for a whole weekend all to myself and watch her play what a numerous amount of horses I can say that this works tremendously!
It's wonderful in ways I can not describe and it makes my profession much more easy and fun now!

And here was I thinking I was giving tiny cues and being polite... still wasn't enough though.

It even worked on the most moody and easily irrated (arabian) mare in the world of one of my pupils... wow! The 'I am a happy and sweet and ever so attentive mare' effect of one simple session lasted for days! She was the sweetest horse while nornally she is always pushy, snappy, not interested and always angry or irritated no matter what I do :roll: .

Thanks again Romy!

Say, is this a sticky, if not it should be and maybe we should ad videos :)

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 4:57 pm 

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Josepha wrote:

we should ad videos :)


please please do!!! :applause:


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:00 pm 
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Josepha wrote:
Say, is this a sticky, if not it should be and maybe we should ad videos :)


I made it a sticky now, just wasn't sure before if this was interesting or relevant enough for a sticky.

About the videos: either you have to do that when you work with other horses (for example Zilke?) or we have to make some when I visit you next time. I can also make one with Summy, but there you would not see the development, only a horse who is used to that already. But I will try it this weekend! :)


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:12 pm 
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Romy, I think it's both compelling and relevant.

Because I think it's something that we all are wrestling with with horses who are invited to have opinions and freely express them,

and also because coming up with congruent, positive ways to encourage this kind of politeness rather than demand it is SUCH a better approach (and one I have huge amounts of learning to do about -- I've only skimmed your initial post and am looking forward to going back and really studying it, as this is an ongoing thing with "She Who Lives at the Center of the Universe" ;) )

and also (and while i don't think this is as important at the core, it's I think relevant) having a way to encourage this and learning fluency with our equine pals around this is a really helpful tool when faced with outsiders -- be they vets or trimmers or body workers -- or even people who are uncertain about an approach like AND.

One of the strongest reasons I see people articulate as a justification for getting harsh with horses is that 'you have to teach them who is boss or they will walk all over you' -- how beautiful to have a thought-out, effective, emotionally and pedagogical congruent way to ask for politeness -- and to be able to respond to folks who can't believe its possible by just showing it.

So, thank you!!
:f:
:kiss:
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 8:54 pm 
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Thanks, Leigh! :smile: Great that you think it's useful, and I totally agree with you that the 'other horse people' point you made is an important one. I think there are so many people who would like to work with their horses in a more friendly way but honestly believe that this is not possible because you need all that dominance stuff to prevent the horse from running all over you.

Today we managed to make a video of Summy being polite (and me too, hopefully). I edited it into the first post of this topic. Don't worry about the situation where he reared and came way too close, that was all my fault and could have been prevented easily. But that's what he was like when we started working with free choice and positive reinforcement, only that back then I had no way of asking him to move out of my space. Basically I owe it all to him: I had to learn those things, otherwise he would have killed me. :funny:

I am very happy that we made that video. I have never seen myself working in that way and so I think seeing it from an outsider's perspective instead of only as a participant will give me some new ideas to change things for the better. :smile:

A video of a horse doing this for the first time will follow, I just don't know when I will get the chance to play with a new horse.


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PostPosted: Sun Sep 19, 2010 9:42 pm 
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Romy, I just watched your video with Summy and I'm just wowed. Fabulous.

What a tango! :love:

Many thing s to think about and learn from and explore here with how you're engaging with Summy.

And, I must admit, I found your clarity about being engaged specifically with him -- and not with Titum, who was obviously so interested, or Pia (her 'see me now!' move is such a Circe kind of move :queen: I tell you, those beautiful blondes! :funny: ) -- at least as impressive as everything you were doing with Summy.

Beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing.

xo
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 20, 2010 6:53 am 

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Ik watched the video and it was really interesting.
Wonderfull how he watches your steps

I have, however, two questions.

Don't you mind the rearing that close to you? I think it would made me a little bit afraid..
Ik don't espesially like my horses to rear that close.

I see you use a lot of treats. Do you keep on giving a lot of treats all the time or just in the learningproces?


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:08 am 
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Leigh, thanks again! :kiss:

I was lucky with Titum and Pia being so patient. However, Titum has a very effective way of getting my attention: we have agreed that whenever he calls me (neighing at me), I come and give him a treat. So when he realizes that interfering really does not help, he just neighs and then I have to come. Which is cute, but he is so clever and sometimes a bit nasty, walking away to the other end of the pasture and neighing from there. Seems like he enjoys making me run. 8)

Today those two who were neglected yesterday were extra motivated. Especially Titum, with whom I played in a similar manner like with Summy. There are some interesting differences, but I will not hijack this topic further but write that into his diary later and maybe make a film next weekend.

liljebo wrote:
Don't you mind the rearing that close to you?


Oh, I do. :smile: But I think in order to understand why I am not reacting strongly, you have to see where we are coming from: when we started with foodrewards, Summy got so excited about them and it really became dangerous, with him rearing not only close to me but AT me. I have, however, decided not to use punishment and simply "forbid it" but ask him to move out of my space afterwards and reward him for keeping more distance. If you are interested in his journey, you can read the early pages of his diary.

Anyway, we almost completely got rid of the rearing out of excitement (as an exercise it's still there), except when I am behaving wrong. For the big rear in the video you can see it coming seconds before, and I did, but for some reason I wanted to continue the sequence although I knew it was too much for him and he was getting hyper-excited. Actually that's the case for almost all of his rears: I could have prevented them by acting more wisely. So why punish the horse for doing something I provoked him to do?

The other little hops are cued by my body language, some intentionally and some because I was just not clear enough.

Quote:
I see you use a lot of treats. Do you keep on giving a lot of treats all the time or just in the learningproces?


I continue giving many treats. The more the better. ;)

For me it's not so much the treats being a means of getting the exercises, but the exercises as a means for being able to give treats. Maybe that has to do with my main goal in my interaction with my horses: bringing out an entrepreneur mentality in them so that they understand that they can influence their environment through their own actions. And with that goal in mind, fading out the treats is most likely not going to help.

If you want to read more about treats and the way in which different people here use them, check out the topics under 'Foodrewards' in our Links to threads topic


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 20, 2010 9:36 am 
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Romy wrote:
Quote:
I see you use a lot of treats. Do you keep on giving a lot of treats all the time or just in the learningproces?


I do continue giving many treats. The more the better. ;)

For me it's not so much the treats being a means of getting the exercises, but the exercises as a means for being able to give treats. Maybe that has to do with my main goal in my interaction with my horses: bringing out an entrepreneur mentality in them so that they understand that they can influence their environment through their own actions. And with that goal in mind, fading out the treats is most likely not going to help.


I see that what I said here could be slightly misleading, so I will try to clarify.

Of course I don't continue to give the same amount of treats for the same things performed at the same quality. I do raise criteria and doing that I reward less for a given move at a given quality over time. So in a way you are right, I only give that many treats during the learning process. But our learning process lasts forever, if you don't see it in terms of certain exercises which are either done or not done, but as a continuous communication getting more refined over time. So the amount of treats stays the same, but the things that they are given for do change. Hope that's a bit more clear. :smile:


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 20, 2010 3:06 pm 

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Okey thank you very mutch for the answers.
I just try to learn and to understand.

I do not use punishment eather, for i think its confusing for the horse when i'm asking to learn by trial and error, but punnish when his trial is, in my eyes, wrong.
For the horse, there is no right or wrong. He is just trying what works...
I think i would do the same and reward keeping distans and work a lot with that.

With the treats, your second explanation was clear... I do actually the same....
I ask more for a treat as we go on.
I do have a goal, but efter reaching the goal i would make up more goals to work with

Thanks again.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 22, 2010 3:24 pm 
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Thanks for posting this Romy. I really need to remember to stay soft and polite and parient with Bear especially when he gets pushy. It is so easy to get frustrated and to push back and this makes him much worse. For a while I was getting stuck in the mindset of "if only he would just stop being so annoying we could do something fun" which I don't think was very helpful.
Anyway I think we are now starting to get a bit of conversation going with him. We are noticing sooner when he has had enough and he has started stopping and walking away when he loses interest (a big thing for him). I agree that the more attention I show to what he is doing the more likely he is to engage with what I want. I think I might start focusing on rewarding him for little efforts to follow me when I get him to mirror me on the other side of the fence.
I have really learnt from Bear that just because he is in my face and seems enthusiastic it does not necessarily mean I have his attention or that he wants to do anything (unlike Poppy who I spent ages in the beginning trying to convince her just to come over and have a carrot and maybe would she try something).


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:28 am 
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This is very inspiring. I really like how you don't respond to what you don't like (the rearing) and immediately ask for space and reward. I really need to work on praising and not disciplining with my littlest girl. I don't like her pushiness, but it occurs to me how pushy I am with her :blush:

I am going to be restarting clicker training with her, and hope to work towards a relationship like this:)

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 7:22 am 
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In all fairness it is that simple: you get out, what you put in


:funny:

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 2:53 pm 
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Vivid Horses wrote:
I really like how you don't respond to what you don't like (the rearing) and immediately ask for space and reward.


Thank you! :smile: Well, I am lucky as Summy is the best teacher for that. Every horse I met was more polite when I was polite myself, but Summy is quite extreme in that. He is a tank. He can come barreling across the pasture and run all over you and he can calmly walk his path, just pushing you out of the way without even hesitating. One year ago the horses escaped from the pasture and a neighbour (traditional rider) brought Summy back. She had put on a halter and I saw her hanging in the rope while he was pulling her around - ever so calm, almost as if he did not even notice her. She was trying to hold him with sheer physical force, and the result was that he was also interacting with her based on physical force - but of course he was much stronger than her. The thing is that he only behaves like a tank when you act like he was one. As soon as you are careful and polite, he is the most sensitive of my horses in his reactions to my body language.

Yes, I could discipline him with pressure. But besides all the psychological reasons why this is not an option for us, there are some very practical ones. Imagine the relation between the pressure used and the resulting reaction from him as a U-shaped curve. In the first half of the curve (low to medium pressure levels), his reaction would become less the more pressure I used, up to a certain point where a further increase in the pressure would make him react more strongly - which for him would be a point where the physical pain becomes really bad. Now if I decided to use pressure/release based techniques, I would have to go up to that high level of inconvenience before I could even hope for a reaction from him. For all the mild pressure levels below, the increase of pressure would cause his pushiness to get worse.

Of course with time the anticipation of pain would become stronger and less actual physical pressure would be necessary (that's what you see when in some riding schools all the horses start moving faster as soon as the instructor standing in the middle grabs a whip, whereas a horse with no whipping experiences does not even look - in the more sophisticated horseworld that's what some people refer to as refinement of the aids ;)). But even if I could make the pressure invisible with time, the fact would remain that I would need huge inconvenience levels, physical or imagined, to get a reaction from Summy.

The second point is that horses (or any living organisms) adapt to their environment. Their reactions habituate, which means that the same stimulation causes less response over time (although pain is a bit of an exception here). Transferred to interacting with horses, the more pushy you become with them, the less sensitive they get. Again, many lesson horses from riding schools are an example. The pressure levels that their riders often use would cause Titum to explode, but those horses only move a little faster, if at all.

I think everyone here knows that trying to resolve the pushiness problems with pressure based methods has certain psychological effects and does change the relationship with a horse in certain ways (I am not saying those changes are good or bad as that depends on people's goals, but what is clear is that they are there). Often people say they know that and they would prefer it differently, but it was just necessary with their horse because he does not react to less. Well, as I tried to explain above, for Summy and me there are at least two merely practical reasons why we would actually be doing worse when trying to get him more sensitive by using more pressure. I think those problems might be less relevant for horses that are naturally more sensitive (for example with Titum I would not need to increase the pressure to an above pain threshold before he would react), but then the sensitive horses are often not those who cause their owners to say they were pushy. ;)


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 28, 2010 11:32 pm 

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What I found most polite was Titum, and Pia of course. I cannot imagine attempting to play with only one of my boys whilst carrying food rewards without the others joining in, or in Arthur's case blocking the daylight between me and the others! Amazing that the others await their turn to play so nicely. xx

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 22, 2011 11:00 am 
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Over the last days I have been thinking about encouraging politeness, asking myself why this was the way I preferred to solve conflicts and ask the horse to accept my personal space. Probably there are several reasons, but one of them is that I believe it's a way of giving I-messages (or first-person messages) instead of You-messages, with all its consequences.

When talking to someone about his behaviour, you can give a similar message in different ways. For example by saying "You are talking nonsense!", you are giving a You-message. By expressing things in this way you certainly make a strong point. However, statements like this can easily be perceived as offensive and put quite some pressure on the addressee.

Another way would be to phrase it as an I-message, like in "I just don't understand what you are saying". I-messages are especially useful in conflict situations or when expressing something critical as they make it easier for the addressee not to become defensive. Another effect they have is that they put the responsibility for the further conversation to the addressee, who can now become active to change the situation for the better. So I think in conflict situations the difference between You- and I-messages loosely corresponds to the difference between telling someone what he was doing wrong on the one hand, and inspiring him to do better on the other hand. :smile:

When psychology students learn about psychological conversation, this is one of the first things they learn, and probably most people have heard about it in other contexts as well, because it is such an important tool for conflict resolution. However, I don't think it's specific to human conversation but can be applied to the interaction with horse as well - maybe not in its linguistic version, but in a behavioral way.

For simplicity, I will just take the example of a horse being pushy, which probably fits best into this thread. My reaction to a horse coming into my personal space could be a body language version of "You are too close, you are not allowed to do that, you must leave now and you may only come back when I invite you." This sure works to make the horse move away. However, it probably does not make it understandable to the horse WHY I don't want him that close, because the signal I would be sending ("I will make you move away") would not be very congruent to the actual reason for sending him away in the first place ("I don't feel safe that way"). It also would decrease my horse's agency to a minimum: he would not be the one responsible for the good behavior (moving away), because he merely reacted.

If, however, I show my horse that I do not feel safe with him being that close, for example by becoming very careful in my moves, I am sending out a message about myself. It's not just that it is very easy for the horse to react to this by becoming careful himself, due to an almost reflex-like tendency of social animals to get behaviorally aligned with their partners, but he can also be the one responsible for the good solution: if I carefully ask him to move away from me and he does, he has a big share in the solution process, which in turn makes me very happy and proud of him (for some reason my horse moving away when I push him does not have this effect ;)), which in turn makes him more eager to respond and so on. So I guess what I-messages and encouraging politeness actually do is that they turn a conflict into a productive process with two agents, a win-win situation. :)


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 22, 2011 5:05 pm 
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Romy wrote:
Over the last days I have been thinking about encouraging politeness, asking myself why this was the way I preferred to solve conflicts and ask the horse to accept my personal space. Probably there are several reasons, but one of them is that I believe it's a way of giving I-messages (or first-person messages) instead of You-messages, with all its consequences.

Wonderful. The concept is so effective and applied to horses in this way is going to be wonderful, I think. You know, of course, the origins of both I think. Tom Gordon was my mentor for a short time, over a couple of years, and I eventually became a certified Effectiveness trainer. The idea that I could, with empathy own my feelings (and thoughts) in an encounter and explore those of another with active listening was and still is fascinating, even after forty years.

Romy wrote:
When talking to someone about his behaviour, you can give a similar message in different ways. For example by saying "You are talking nonsense!", you are giving a You-message. By expressing things in this way you certainly make a strong point. However, statements like this can easily be perceived as offensive and put quite some pressure on the addressee.

... and of course are not truly listening too and accepting the other person's view, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings.

Romy wrote:

Another way would be to phrase it as an I-message, like in "I just don’t understand what you are saying". I-messages are especially useful in conflict situations or when expressing something critical as they make it easier for the addressee not to become defensive.

I taught that if they become defensive that it was our cue to listen instead of comment. With the horse I struggle so to stop and listen, to think about what may be going on for the horse, and to stop giving MY comments and demands.
Romy wrote:
Another effect they have is that they put the responsibility for the further conversation to the addressee, who can now become active to change the situation for the better. So I think in conflict situations the difference between You- and I-messages loosely corresponds to the difference between telling someone what he was doing wrong on the one hand, and inspiring him to do better on the other hand. :smile:

Ah, such an elegant and precise description.
Romy wrote:

When psychology students learn about psychological conversation, this is one of the first things they learn, and probably most people have heard about it in other contexts as well, because it is such an important tool for conflict resolution. However, I don’t think it’s specific to human conversation but can be applied to the interaction with horse as well - maybe not in its linguistic version, but in a behavioral way.

You remind me of my ethical responsibilities and how I've come to apply them to the horse. The rewards are well worth the effort to think and work at it.
Romy wrote:

For simplicity I’ll just take the example of a horse being pushy, which probably fits best into this thread. My reaction to a horse coming into my personal space could be a body language version of "You are too close, you are not allowed to do that, you must leave now and you may only come back when I invite you." This sure works to make the horse move away. However, it probably does not make it understandable to the horse WHY I don’t want him that close, because the signal I would be sending (‘I will make you move away’) would not be very congruent to the actual reason for sending him away in the first place (‘I don’t feel safe that way’). It also would decrease my horse’s agency to a minimum: he would not be the one responsible for the good behavior (moving away), because he merely reacted.

As I read the above I asked myself if the reader, not familiar with the "Effective" communication model of I messages, You message censoring, and active listening would understand what you mean. Reading on I found that indeed you explain it better I think than I could.
Romy wrote:

If, however, I show my horse that I don’t feel safe with him being that close, for example by becoming very careful in my moves, I am sending out a message about myself. It’s not just that it’s very easy for the horse to react to this by becoming careful himself, due to an almost reflex-like tendency of social animals to get behaviorally aligned with their partners, but he can also be the one responsible for the good solution: if I carefully ask him to move away from me and he does, he has a big share in the solution process, which in turn makes me very happy and proud of him (for some reason my horse moving away when I push him does not have this effect ;)), which in turn makes him more eager to respond and so on. So I guess what I-messages and encouraging politeness actually do is that they turn a conflict into a productive process with two agents, a win-win situation. :)


While "I-messages" do have a risk of being heard negatively when a problem one has with the other person (a negative I message) a positive I-message is nearly always going to be perceived as pleasant and a feel good to the "other."

And you make that so clear. What is even more important, though the positive I message engages the other in the process, is that investment you point out ... that he will be invested because he is a participant in the process of finding the solution - a problem solver.

I taught as a parent trainer, and also to those working with other people in stressful situations (legal proceedings, therapeutic settings, even the commercial workplace).

You remind me of something that would enrich my instruction, and that I should find ways to apply there. Why I've not done so much more before this I'm puzzled about, but I shall do it.

One of my students, in fact, is a Special Education developer and supervisor and we could discuss how best to apply this to her mare, who very much needs someone to listen to her. She would understand the concepts immediately, of course - the owner (but of course the horse would too - LOL).

Thank you so much.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2011 2:57 am 
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Spot on of course Romy! I love your concept of applying "I messages" to our horse relationships.

""You" statements often come from a perceived lack of power. Many people feel that they have to be tough with horses because they don't perceive themselves as having enough personal power to do otherwise. Often, when I see people first discard their (usually ineffectual) methods of keeping safe, it would seem that their belief is true, as the horses do walk all over them. They seem to be operating in a vacuum. They don't have anything to replace the power plays with except "being nice". But I see that nice alone, without certain internal strengths/skills/attitudes, isn't enough, and it can be quite a long road to teach them these things.

This super-attentive method of communicating and synchronising with the horse sounds like a wonderfully simple way to get people doing the things necessary to create that inner strength/skill/attitude change that will make "being nice" effective, help them believe in themselves, AND communicate politeness politely to the horse as well. :thumleft:
Great stuff!

I think this is probably what I did with Harlequin when I took over his training last year and had to first work on manners with him. Although I didn't think of it like this. I just knew that he needed 100% of my attention 100% of the time, so that I could show him what I wanted and be really happy with him, rather than try to solve problems AFTER they occurred and be angry/annoyed/frustrated/scared/hurt. I suppose that this attentiveness would have translated into the kind of body tension and small detail that you describe. I was also actively and consciously modeling polite behaviour for him.

There are a few other catch phrases that I remember from my faraway days as a communication skills/assertiveness/conflict resolution facilitator that seem very relevant with horses too.

"Catch them when they're good." This is great for children and horses (and husbands! ;) )
Overlook some of the "unwanted" behaviours, focus on rewarding and praising the wanted behaviours and voila! Suddenly the balance swings! This is what I was thinking about when I was working with H.

Another is the concept of reflective listening. I think this is what I'm doing now (mostly, ;) -sometimes I still get caught unawares and react from a fear base without thinking) when I treat H or the others for "bad" behaviour, rather than reprimand them.

It's like when my daughter was little and couldn't communicate well. She would react in some way to show her emotions. If I verbalised for her, smiled at her and said something like "Oh, you're very frustrated that you have to lie on your back and have your nappies changed? I know. You don't feel good being helpless huh?" She would immediately relax and stop fighting me, even when she was so tiny that she couldn't possibly understand my words. Later, at three or four years old, when she hit her playmates over a toy, I would smile gently and say "Oh, you really like that toy and you feel like you really want to play with it now." Some parents would look at me in horror! "Punish that child! What kind of a monster will you create!" But she would nod her head, quit fighting, and usually even graciously decide on her own to give the toy to the other child. Consequently, she became very good at speaking in "I" statements herself. She quickly became kind and generous and wise, and could talk about what she wanted rather than acting out. Acknowledging their feelings, even when those feelings are expressed in aggressive ways, helps the child to own their own feelings and learn to express themselves in more appropriate ways, without needing to externalise and make it someone else's fault.

When horses "impolite" behaviour isn't motivated simply by ignorance, but indicates some underlying need or problem that they are having, then I think this "reflective listening" is super useful to them too.. It can be used as an alternative to any kind of punishment, even the mild CT type of "ignore" punishment.

An obvious (and easy to accept) example of reflective listening with horses is when we show them a needle and say "You're a little worried about this right? You know that it might hurt a little and you're not sure you want to let me do this. That's okay. I can wait till you feel okay about it."

Another example is when I go to pick up Rosie's hind hoof and she (still!) threatens to kick me. I smile, CT, and say to her, "I hear you Rosie. You're such a good girl for reminding me that you're worried about this." It immediately takes all aggression out of her response and renders it simply a communication tool that she has. We've been through this many times, so that is now the spirit that she "threatens" me with. There is no real aggression in it. As long as we play by the rules, I trust that she won't actually kick me, just as she trusts that I will listen. She has taken ownership of her own feelings, and turned her communication into her own "I" statement. "I feel worried about you picking up my foot" rather than "you are my enemy because you want to pick up my foot." My active listening has helped facilitate this change for her.


Lately, I've CTed Harlequin a couple of times for kicking out towards me during training at liberty.
I think this is also a way of reflective listening, and my experience has been that it has taken any aggression out of his behaviour, and helped him to feel really happy and confident.
I don't necessarily know exactly what caused the kick - maybe the movement was a little difficult for him and he felt unbalanced and kicked as a way of regaining his balance, maybe he felt too much pressure, even though he's at liberty (because he likes to stay up really close to me), maybe he just felt frustrated because it felt like hard work and at that moment he thought "agh! Why do I have to DO this to get my piece of carrot. I want it NOW!", maybe he felt momentarily annoyed at feeling manipulated, maybe he felt that it's always me making him move, howabout I move! Maybe he wanted a break and but didn't feel confident to turn away from me to get distance.

It doesn't really matter if I don't understand exactly what caused his reaction. When I smile and CT and praise him, I think what I'm effectively doing is communicating to him
"Oh, you're telling me you're a little uncomfortable with something here? You want to move away from me and you don't want me to follow you. Great! Well done for telling me." I use words and body language as well as CT to directly "speak" to him.

My observation (of course!! :D ) has been that this hasn't trained him to be more aggressive or kick me more. It's taught him that he doesn't need to fear my reaction when he has something to say, when his body gets tangled, when he kicks out for whatever reason, when he wants to go away from me. The kicks, when they have come again, have been less aimed at me, he's more careful, even joyous, in his expression with them. He confidently trots off to do what he needs to do to regain his equilibrium.

I feel that I've helped him to translate his communication from a reactive "you" statement, into a thinking "I" statement. He feels empowered. Empowered feelings lead to assertive confident behaviour that respects others rights. :D Win win situation!

And of course, the icing on the cake is that he gets the idea of playing around with Haute Ecole kicks! :D

Thanks Romy for sharing the idea of communication with horses within the context of "ownership of feelings." Cool!

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2011 6:38 am 
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Thank you very much, Donald, especially for highlighing the importance of positive I messages. I have to think about this some more, because in the positive department I give both, I and You messages, but I don't know if my use of them varies in any systematic way. It feels to me like positive You messages make a more absolute statement (e.g. "You are so fantastic!"), whereas in positive I messages (e.g. "I am so happy about what you just did!") there is more emphasis on the horse's/human's power to influence my feelings about him for the better. So probably there should be a difference in using them, but I want to find out if I really do it that way. :smile:

Sue, thanks so much for sharing your reflective listening with Rosie and Harlequin! This is really great stuff and I think it will help me with Pia as well, because I now realize that I have done it in certain situations only, but not in others where it would also have been good: In fear situations, like when putting a needle into them as you say, or when they don't dare to do something while we are outside, I do this a lot, and it helps tremendously.

However, when I rewarded Pia's kicks, I did it more like praising the actual move ("Oh, what a cool kick this was!"), not like acknowledging and supporting her expression of her feelings. In consequence, she offered some really great moves, but her kick frequency got higher. This is why I sometimes resorted to telling her that I did not feel safe and that we really couldn't do it like this if she wanted to keep on training with me. Next time I will try to do it more like you describe and reward her for giving a message, not for producing a funny kick. Thank you! :)


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2011 10:05 am 
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Quote:
However, when I rewarded Pia's kicks, I did it more like praising the actual move ("Oh, what a cool kick this was!"), not like acknowledging and supporting her expression of her feelings.


Good point Romy. I hadn't really thought about it that carefully, and this seems like a valuable distinction you're making. I think with Harlequin, because of his history I'm very aware that his behaviour becomes aggressive when he feels threatened, so I was naturally very focused on giving a supportive calming "I'm okay with how you're feeling" message, rather than a "Wow! Cool moves!" message, without consciously deciding to do it that way. My energy was very low and gentle. So it worked. Now that I think back to what happened, the first time, I remember that after his surprise and relief at my reaction as he trotted away, he felt really happy and experimented again with a high kick. But this was while he was circling well away from me, by his own choice, no pressure to move, and the kick wasn't an expression of discomfort, but a happy experiment. Then I CTed and praised his coolness in the way that you described. So since then, he's offered these spontaneously, but he's chosen an appropriate place. Thanks for helping me to clarify this. I will try to keep it in mind next time I'm dealing with hijinxs and make sure I continue to differentiate between "listening" to a message, and praising a cool move!

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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2011 8:37 pm 
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Just copying over a description of keeping the horse's attention on me while walking outside, because I think it fits into the general framework of encouraging politeness and working on mutual awareness. And it has made going for walks so easy for us. :smile:

Romy wrote:
Quote:
How did you deal with teaching your horse that bolting/lead ripping was out of the question? How do I convey to him that this is extremely important, and more than a minor difference of opinion?


By early detection, early response. ;)

I make sure that I keep the horse's attention. Especially when I have a horse that I am not used to or when we are in a situation where the horse gets distracted or scared easily, I try to make sure that I can get his attention at any given moment.

It all starts in a calm situation without anything that is scaring the horse: you can walk next to him, make a small movement or sound and when the horse looks at you or adjusts his movement to yours, you reward. Do that many, many times and try to make the movements with which you are asking for his attention as small as you can. Within a very short time, you will have a horse who is extremely focused on you, because (1) reacting to your tiny signals pays off and (2) it is hard to detect those tiny signals - so he has the best chance of getting rewarded when he is super-attentive to you.

When the horse is used to that, you can do it as soon as you notice that he is getting the least bit distracted: immediately make one of the small movements and reward him big time for reacting. With some practice you will notice when his attention is about to slip away from you long before it actually happens.

During the AND summer meeting I did this with Imperia and within one walk she was so focused that her attention stayed with me wherever we were, even when there were motorbikes passing, dogs barking or scary objects waiting for her at the side of the road.

The problem with this is that you really get super-attentive horses and later you may have to fade out rewarding for attention a bit, otherwise they will walk next to you in a shoulder-in-like way all the time, always watching you (or that's my experience at least) - which is nice, but then each walk turns into highly demanding brainwork not only for your horses but for you too, because they are communicating to you all the time and noticing THEIR signals will take all YOUR attention if you don't want to ignore them. ;)


Basically it's the same micro-communication that I have been trying to describe in the first post of this topic, only transferred to walking outside. However, there is one little difference: whereas while doing groundwork in this way my horses are free to react or not (and if they deliberately choose not to, I just go away and train with another horse), when we are going for walks this is no option. In this situation I don't just wish for the horse's attention to be on me all the time - I won't go any further if it isn't. If I check for the horse to listen and he does not, I check again with a cue that is easier to detect, but if he still doesn't react, I simply stop in my tracks. I only walk on when the attention is on me again, because I find it way too scary to walk outside with a horse who isn't completely refocussable. :smile:


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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2011 2:51 pm 
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I have done this with Tam as well, from day 1....rewarding his attentiveness. Partly it was a result of clicking for correct bend, because on a circle, if he's looking at me, he's on the right bend for the circle. When I'm working horses in hand, it's easy to tell those that wish to pay more attention to what's outside the circle because even if they are giving the illusion of having the right bend, if you can see the white in outside corner of the eye that should be looking at you, then they aren't looking at you.

With those horses, I click them when that white disappears. If they are having trouble with that, I might just click for the inside ear flicking back toward me. That small amount of attention is all some horses can manage at first, but it's funny that once they realize that earns a reward, they start looking at you to see if they can get it to happen again.

I really do think that with Tam, it has been a cumulative effect of a million (or more) clicks.

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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2011 4:46 pm 
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I do exactly the same Karen :) First attention, then the rest. all the old masters teach as such :)

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:46 am 
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Just a small clarification on what it means for me to be careful with a pushy horse. Over the last weeks I have sometimes read or observed that some people were running into problems when trying to be very polite and not push back at their horse. When the horse was coming too close, they just stood still or took a step back and then politely asked the horse to step out of their space again. For some horses that may work very well. However, there also are horses who seem to learn from this behaviour that in fact they needn't watch out for their human, because if they are pushy or even just slow and unfocused, he will compensate for that. So there is no need to do more effort than necessary. It's an aspect of what I call the girlfriend syndrome (originally coined by Miriam :)), which means that the human is ever so nice and patient and waits for the horse and tries to make it all comfy for him.

However, personally I can only feel good in an interaction if politeness is a two-way street, so it's necessary for me to show the horse that being pushed will not work for me. I do not mean to say that after all it might be a good plan to push back a bit. Luckily, there are other ways of showing someone what is okay for you and what isn't. So what I try to communicate in these situations is this: If you want to behave like that and not pay attention, that's your thing, but not with me because I won't be available for that. So the boundary I am setting in not directed at the horse but only concerns me - and then of course indirectly reflects back on the horse in case he is interested in interacting with me.

In practise, it can look like this: Imagine a situation in which I am walking with a horse and he does not stop when I stop but walks into me or overtakes - and then moves back out of my space when I ask, but does not become more careful over time. So what I do is to stop rather abruptly, so that the horse does get a chance to react quickly due to his movement being primed by mine, if he is attending. If he is passing me, however, and only begins to think about stopping very slowly, I quickly turn to another direction (usually 90° away from him, and never towards him). I walk away for two or three steps and then wait there. Once the horse arrives at the place where I am now, he gets a treat. I can be rather sure that this time he will not push into me, because if he has moved sluggishly before, it will not have been possible for him to do a quick turn, so now he is only just in the process of initiating a flow of movement in the new direction.

The result of this is that soon the horse will realize that if he is too slow, I am already gone. So over the next few trials he will attend to me more, and perhaps even anticipate and prepare the turn. Therefore, he will react to the change in my movement much more readily. Once he does this, I can leave the actual turning away but simply stop walking, and immediately reward him for his quick reaction. So he realizes that it is much better to directly stop when I am stopping, and get his reward right away.

What's important for me during this exercise is that I make sure I never direct a correction at the horse. For example, you could also step towards the horse and make him yield away from you instead of doing your turn away from him. But for me that would not work, because I want to be responsible for my own actions only and let the horse be responsible for his. I decide what works for me, and if something doesn't, I simply don't play along in that way. So the horse can adjust his behaviour to that in order to keep up the interaction, but it's up to him. :smile:


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2013 8:14 am 
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When working along the lines of encouraging politeness and mutual awareness, it is important for the human to be just as present as he wishes the horse to be. This also means that he stays attentive throughout the interaction, not just while he is giving a communicative signal to the horse. To me it seems that some horse-human interactions, if you compared them to inter-human communications, would be more like telephone calls than face-to-face conversations: the communicative connection is present at the very moment when someone wants to say something, and for the rest of the time there is silence.

Of course silence is not a bad thing, and you might (with very good reason) argue that when being with someone, you also don't want to talk all the time. However, the silence during a face-to-face conversation is different from the silence on a phone, and different from the silence that arises when some humans have finished their request to the horse and then go over to the period before their next explicit signal. That latter silence is more like a break of the connection, and whereas some horses seem to be fine with staying on standby, so to speak, others just start doing their own thing in these situations, ignoring the human or perhaps even pushing or biting.

To me it seems that the underlying problem has to do with presence, with the ability to be in the moment and fully engage in the conversation with the horse. This is hard for some people, but luckily there are things that you can do to work on it. The first thing is to make sure you stay fully open for the horse with all your senses. Learning this in the beginning is easier if you keep looking at the horse at all times, even when you do not want him to do something. I do not mean the kind of attention that a cat gives to a mousehole, tensely waiting for something to happen and being ready to jump, but in a more passive way, like a sponge that is ready to absorb everything that might come in.

The second step is to react to everything you do see in this situation. Every look of the horse in another direction, every variation of the way he walks, every turn of his ears. Again, I do not mean an active reaction in which you ask the horse to do something. It can be as minimal as a variation in your tension, or the place where you put your next step, or maybe even just a slight turn of your head (although of course the reaction must be congruent with what the horse was doing and not some sort of arbitrary move). In that way it's not only you who is realizing what is going on, but also your horse gets the chance to have a constant feedback about whether you are still there - or in a more practically relevant context of going for a walk: whether he can count on you being awake enough to notice changes in the situation, including possible dangers (see Sue's wonderful post about Brodie for a related issue: Being attentive, Leigh quoting Sue, Sep 08, 2008, 5th post).

And there is a third step: Checking the connection by influencing the horse without giving explicit signals all the time. I have described this in Titum's diary a few weeks ago, so I am just copying that over:

Romy wrote:
For example, I was observing the way I am constantly checking Titum's readiness to communicate with me, for example by just looking at him and perhaps changing some subtle thing in my way of walking. As a consequence, I see a tiny reaction in him, such as an ear turning towards me and his steps slowing down just a bit. Now you could say that I could also have checked that by using a signal that asks him to stop walking or turn around, and if he did, this would show me that he had been attending to me. And that is true. The problem is just that I prefer this feedback on a so much smaller scale, sometimes constant and sometimes every few seconds. At the same time, this does not mean that I want to interrupt his activity all the time, which an explicit check of his reactions to a signal would do. I guess what I am getting at is the concept of fluency, and the way a more implicit communication can make it possible to have a high degree of that while still feeling in control over what is happening.


And just to make sure that this is clear enough: I think it's perfectly fine to have my horses just do their own thing instead of looking at me all the time, and especially with Titum I am often going for walks on which I am just his passive follower. However, I prefer to only do this once I am totally sure that I can re-establish the communication at any given moment. So for me the ability to tune in to the horse comes first, and only when I am sure that we both have learned this, I engage in activities where we are both busy with his own things. :smile:


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 2:01 pm 
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Why oh why I'm feeling affected...? :blush:

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 3:17 pm 
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Perhaps because you were the one who reminded me that I should make that addition to this thread? ;) I had written something about the human's attention and presence before, but I don't remember if and where I have posted it. So it's great that our walk on Sunday reminded me of this, now we have it all in one place. :smile:


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:33 am 
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Here are the abstracts of two articles that show how (1) being imitated by someone else and (2) engaging in a coordinated activity can activate the reward network in the brain, enhance the subjective rating of closeness and in the second case even promote prosocial behaviour.

The second article is open access and the first one I can send via email, if someone is interested.


Kühn et al. (2010): Why do I like you when you behave like me? Neural mechanisms mediating positive consequences of observing someone being imitated.

Social psychological and developmental research revealed that imitation serves a fundamental social function. It has been shown that human beings have the tendency to automatically mirror the behavior of others-the so-called chameleon effect. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that being imitated leads to positive feelings toward the imitator. But why do we feel more positive about someone who imitates us? In the current fMRI study we aimed at exploring the neural correlates of the positive consequences of being imitated by means of an observation paradigm. Our results indicate that being imitated compared to not being imitated activates brain areas that have been associated with emotion and reward processing, namely medial orbitofrontal cortex/ventromedial prefrontal cortex (mOFC/vmPFC, GLM whole-brain contrast). Moreover mOFC/vmPFC shows higher effective connectivity with striatum and mid-posterior insula during being imitated compared to not being imitated.


Kokal et al. (2011): Synchronized drumming enhances activity in the caudate and facilitates prosocial commitment--if the rhythm comes easily.

Why does chanting, drumming or dancing together make people feel united? Here we investigate the neural mechanisms underlying interpersonal synchrony and its subsequent effects on prosocial behavior among synchronized individuals. We hypothesized that areas of the brain associated with the processing of reward would be active when individuals experience synchrony during drumming, and that these reward signals would increase prosocial behavior toward this synchronous drum partner. 18 female non-musicians were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they drummed a rhythm, in alternating blocks, with two different experimenters: one drumming in-synchrony and the other out-of-synchrony relative to the participant. In the last scanning part, which served as the experimental manipulation for the following prosocial behavioral test, one of the experimenters drummed with one half of the participants in-synchrony and with the other out-of-synchrony. After scanning, this experimenter "accidentally" dropped eight pencils, and the number of pencils collected by the participants was used as a measure of prosocial commitment. Results revealed that participants who mastered the novel rhythm easily before scanning showed increased activity in the caudate during synchronous drumming. The same area also responded to monetary reward in a localizer task with the same participants. The activity in the caudate during experiencing synchronous drumming also predicted the number of pencils the participants later collected to help the synchronous experimenter of the manipulation run. In addition, participants collected more pencils to help the experimenter when she had drummed in-synchrony than out-of-synchrony during the manipulation run. By showing an overlap in activated areas during synchronized drumming and monetary reward, our findings suggest that interpersonal synchrony is related to the brain's reward system.


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:36 pm 
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Great findings, Romy! I read similar things in a book about motivation and was immediately intrigued by it.

Would you mind to copy it also in this thread? Or can I just quote you there?
The reward system - biochemical background of CT

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:38 pm 
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Houyhnhnm wrote:
Would you mind to copy it also in this thread? Or can I just quote you there?
The reward system - biochemical background of CT


I was wondering whether I should post it there, but then did not as it was not about the biochemical background of clicker training (or R+ in general) but about movement coordination. But we can put it there as well, if you want, or perhaps even change the title of the other thread if you want it to be a more general thread about the reward system in horse training and not just CT.

To avoid redundancy, maybe you can simply add a link to the post here in the CT thread instead of copying it completely?


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 28, 2013 1:34 pm 
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We are quite the librarians, aren't we? :funny:

I've linked your posting in the other thread - that should do it. Thank you...

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I'm going to have a practice at refining this with Skylark... Our politeness boundary line to cross is VERY thin, because i'm so delighted to have such a cuddly friend (and i'm a cuddly person too, so the fact that she is the same as me is just wonderful), that I encourage her to come in close. Of course, when we're having fun, or when she's scared and runs to me for help, her idea of close can be on top of me :ieks:, so we definitely need to practice this. Thanks for the video..

I guess I should make a diary for her soon! We have a hand written one in my own diary, so I guess I could write things down and then type them up after...

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PostPosted: Fri Aug 30, 2013 8:21 am 

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Oh dear I think I have been doing the 'just being nice' thing in my quest to be an empathetic companion to my horses. I am not being nice just so they will like me or behave - guess I was trying to be understanding and stay calm rather than react.

Looks like I have a lot of work to do in the body language and communication department :smile:

I only have one that comes in to close when on the lead and halter (not on halter often) and cuts me off sometimes. I have also been guilty of stepping back (or to the side) and making things easy for them which I think Romy or Sue mentioned in a post. Lots to think about.

I will try to watch the video that you posted Romy ....

Enjoyed the reflective listening post by Sue, and yes similar to what I try to do.


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 09, 2014 9:44 pm 
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Romy wrote:
Here is a video of working on mutual awareness with Summy.
I will also try to get one that shows the first steps when I am working with a new horse.


:blush: It has taken me three and a half years, but here we go: Encouraging politeness - First time with Lotte. Lena has filmed us right from the start, so this is the very beginning of getting to know each other and establishing a communication. :f:


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2014 3:18 pm 
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Sweet, Romy! :applause: And it's not only encouraging politeness, but wildness as well :green:.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 11, 2014 9:01 am 
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Really very nice, Romy :f:


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 11, 2014 11:03 am 
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Joined: Thu Sep 12, 2013 9:51 am
Posts: 693
Location: Germany
So nice :giveflower:

And I love the music...


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