The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 27, 2013 8:15 pm 
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Edit by Romy: This topic was split from Where do you work with them ?? and is a collection of possible ways to start with your horse, so please share your experiences with us! As this question has been discussed many times in different threads, I will add links to some of these discussions as well.

A possibe start - Just being with your horse
Being useful to your horse - A discussion in Outlaw's diary (continued on the next page)
How to be a friend - Annette's reply to Anni's introduction (also see Volker's post a bit further down the page)
Transitioning from PNH
How to depressurize a poorly confident horse?

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ok I have started playing by myself as said in intro but is there anything else to do that will help and any first exercises to do ???

cheers Ali


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2013 8:13 am 
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For playing in the pasture - which is invaluable for strengthening the bond I believe - I love to role-play as if I'm a horse :green:. I know it sounds strange but it's fun.
When we are out and about I also try to act according to the horses needs, but I am feeling like then I take Mucki out of his life in the more human world. Therefore I am more like the human tourist guide.
In the pasture I feel like I am the horses' guest at their home and I try to behave properly. I let Mucki decide the games that we play, or sometimes I am just a passive observer. I also graze head to head with Mucki (feels incredibly connected for example after a training session), or go on forage walks with him (often with apples in my pockets ;)). I like to see where the favourite places of the herd are, the social spots, the resting places and so on. That's also why it's so important to me to have a diverse pasture.

I believe that all those little details, like just spending time on the pasture, show the horses that I value them as beings and not just as tools. That, and the fact that I am not demanding anything, but only suggest or even wait for initiative from the horses, makes myself interesting to them.

Horses are curious and playful by nature, but play needs some simple ingredients: security, voluntariness and spontaneousness.
The first one is usually given in the herd. The second I have already mentioned and for the third I have to be creative - and above all: childish ;).

This may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but it's what helped me greatly in playing with Mucki in the pasture.
It also got better and better over time as we developed certain cues for initiating play and I got better at reading his cues.
You can also help yourself a lot by using external cues. Like choosing the social area of the pasture to initiate play, or choosing the right time (often determined by weather, or after resting).

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2013 8:46 am 
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Houyhnhnm wrote:
This may not be the answer you wanted to hear, but it's what helped me greatly in playing with Mucki in the pasture.


But it is exactly what I wanted to hear. :funny:

No, seriously, lately it struck me that many people seem to come here and get the impression that there is a "correct way" to start, namely what is described here as the first exercise. However, for me that isn't the way I do it (I do Encouraging politeness first, or if the horse isn't interested yet, I do something similar to what you have just described). And other people here in the forum may have other, great ways to start with a new horse.

Therefore, I have renamed the "First exercise" sticky to "A possible start - Just be with your horse", and when I have more time later, I'll either start a new thread where we can collect all our ways of starting, or I'll simply search for posts where this has been described and add a list with links to them to the "How to start" topic in the welcome section. :)


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2013 9:22 am 
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Romy wrote:
Therefore, I have renamed the "first exercise" sticky to "A possible start - Just be with your horse", and when I have more time later, I'll either start a new thread where we can collect all our ways of starting, or I'll simply search for posts where this has been described and add a list with links to them to the "How to start" topic in the welcome section.
Excellent idea, Romy! I always thought that the question "how to start" is hard to define, but at the same time it defines the "AND approach" (or better the multitude of approaches), which is so important.
I would like to have a starter topic where we can collect all those tips and different approaches. :thumleft:

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 28, 2013 10:08 am 
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Houyhnhnm wrote:
I believe that all those little details, like just spending time on the pasture, show the horses that I value them as beings and not just as tools. That, and the fact that I am not demanding anything, but only suggest or even wait for initiative from the horses, makes myself interesting to them.

Horses are curious and playful by nature, but play needs some simple ingredients: security, voluntariness and spontaneousness. The first one is usually given in the herd. The second I have already mentioned and for the third I have to be creative


Thank you, Volker! That is exactly what I needed to hear! :idea: :clap:


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 30, 2013 1:24 pm 
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What I am going to write is not exclusively about starting to interact with a horse but something I am trying to do throughout my interaction with horses. However, it is especially important for me when beginning to establish new relationship dynamics with a horse who does not know this yet, which is why I am posting it here. The overall principle is to turn the interaction into something that makes sense from the horse's point of view, and then saying yes as much as you can.

For example, when going for walks with a horse, for some people this is a matter of preventing the horse from doing some things and making him do others. One side is the things they are trying to prevent from happening: to make sure the horse doesn't eat, that he doesn't push, that he doesn't stand still, or the other way around, that he doesn't walk too fast. So it's a whole collection of "DON'Ts". The overall attitude becomes one of preventing and avoiding, even when doing it in a way that is mostly based on positive reinforcement. You can also frame this as a collection of "DOs". Do walk on, do stay at the speed I have chosen, do this or do that. But again, I think this doesn't necessarily make it more fun for the horse. There still is a human who is trying to impose something on the horse which he considers important, while often ignoring or even trying to prevent the things that the horse considers important. It's a situation where one party is the influencer and the other one is the one being influenced.

I am sure that there are situations where this is necessary. However, I am trying to be very picky in recognizing these situations for what they are, and doing something else in all the other sitations. That "something else" is finding out what the horse is interested in and what he considers important, and then using this knowledge to turn our interaction into something that is directed at achieving these things. Thus, I try to create an environment in which it is in the horse's own interest to do the things I want, simply because they make sense to him and he wants them at least as much as I do. So my job is to frame the whole activity into moving towards important things.

For example, consider a horse for whom the only thing he wants to do on a walk is eating but not walking on at all. He is planted there like a rock and the only movement he is interested in making is lowering the head to dive into the grass. It's one thing to prevent the eating and try to persuade him to move on, and when he does this, prevent the next eating, and so on. What works better for me, though, is to only make sure the horse doesn't eat but not to do anything at all to make him walk. Instead, I stand next to him and wait, and as soon as I perceive even the slightest tendency of him trying to walk into whatever direction, I do this faster than he can for a step or two, then bow down immediately and pluck a handful of grass for him. If he still is in a walking mood, I offer him to walk on (again into the direction that I know he prefers), go to the next grass and pluck that for him. If I see better quality food somewhere, like clover, I go there and offer this instead. In that way, suddenly walking has turned into something that makes sense for the horse himself - it brings him to the best grass.

For me that is different from just asking for something that makes no sense to the horse and then rewarding him for doing it anyway. This would be the case for example if I asked him to move on and then gave a treat for it. The walking would still be of little use to the horse because it is not in itself directed towards anything that is useful for him. He might even get annoyed, because after all he could also have had the treat much more easily without that stupid behaviour he needed to do for it.

So actually the principle is quite simple. In any given situation and for any behaviour of the horse, I try minimize the "DOs" and "DONT's" but find out whether I can see this behaviour as something where I can say "YES" to his own initiative, and turn that thing he wanted to do into something that is even better. You stop? Yes, I can do that with you and we will wait together (and then I am going to be faster in noticing when you want to walk on, and offer it before you can ;)). You want to eat? Yes, I can find the better grass for you! You want to run? Yes, and I am even faster, and I will run to the next interesting place with you! So it's all about not making things happen but instead creating an environment in which these things happen automatically, and then going with that. Makes my interaction with horses way more fun! :)


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 8:09 am 
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i did a bit of ''look i know where all the nice grass is '' it worked soo well , now he follows me everywhere in the hope that he will get some grass :D
cheers Ali :f:


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 2:43 pm 
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What brilliant threads you have linked to! I think I will have to thoroughly read through 'how to depressurize a poorly confident horse' another time, as it's very long, but extremely interesting!

Reading your replies to this particular thread though really makes me feel so connected to you all, because I feel like you're all echoing the ways that I interact with my ponies too. I love nothing better than to 'play horse' in the field, or perhaps just lay there with them and lounge in the sun for hours on end. I also agree that the paddock is their home, and I am the same as Volker, in that when I am in there I abide by their rules, and carry with me a polite respect and good manners, although of course there is always room for absolute childish playfulness within those rules too!
I do also agree that when we go to more 'human' environments, I do become a little more human and try to be a bit more of a 'guide'. This is interesting with youngsters as everything is new. So I make sure to try to keep my body language very clear and familiar for them.

We do well at being friends, as there is no need for anything else really! I mean, I do have a few 'annoying' requests - picking up hooves is a big one for Skylark, and having vets look at her as of late, but I try to keep these on a level of mutual understanding. I've found that if things are properly explained to her she is most accommodating! The whole thing is a game of refining the art of asking the right questions I guess!

I suppose the way that I begin to interact with the horse is a case of finding a mutual understanding... We must learn each other's language, and learn our likes and dislikes.
After that is when we can begin to soar, and play games, go for adventures, and solve problems together. 'Together' is the key thing, and I think that is a good way to begin, to truly see each thing is equally together - It takes two to tango! What I am currently learning from this is manners. Skylark is becoming ever more confident. She's so comfortable in our space, that she can be rather pushy sometimes. I knew that she needed to focus on manners... Which is what I need to focus on too! It was not long before I realised that my manners needed improvement just as much as hers! I am still learning this - I added something to her food bucket the other day while she was eating - i just barged in and put it in there without thinking. She lifted up her head and looked at me as if to say "how rude!" The rules really must be on both sides.
I also have found myself pushing her back if she pushes me.. It really does become a game of 'push and shove'. So what sort of example am I being then? These are all things to work on, and I find it very interesting that usually what you think the pony needs to work on, is usually something that you do too!

I am currently learning what works between me and Spirit. She's very very curious, and very sensitive to body language. I am finding that when I am in a conversation with the two of them though, I must think even more clearly so that my communication between each of them does not get mixed up.
I hope that hasn't been a completely useless ramble, I feel like I may have gone on a bit :blush:


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