The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 8:39 pm 
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Every trainer learns that if he asks his horse to do something, the horse should do it. If the horse doesn't do it, he shows that he's more dominant than you and that he doesn't respect you - and as you're the leader, he should listen to you. If you let him get away with ignoring your aid, he in the future will ignore your aid and eventually you at all. So if the horse doesn't say 'yes' immediately to your cue, you need to repeat your question untill he does, and most of the time also put more pressure in the question by making your aids more severe. Then when the horse does respond and does what you want, you let go the pressure and reward him.

That's the traditional way in which horses are taught to respond to commands that they don't want to follow - and it works quite well. So a very good question is then why that approach isn't used in the Art of Natural Dressage?

Quote:
If I ask my horse to trot with me and she is obviously not in the mood, I only ask her for three steps and then quit. I know that in really positive training systems you technically wouldn't take any steps of trot at all, but I keep wondering how much of a difference that really makes to the horse.


Well, if you look at it from a horses' perspective, you can see that the difference is simply dominance.

If your horse says 'I don't want to do this', and you ask her for only three steps (which is better than ten already indeed!), in essence you tell her 'What you think does matter to me, but I'm the boss and I tell you that you need to trot'. You know that you will only ask her three steps, but your horse doesn't! She only knows that she doesn't want to do something, and you then make her do it. Only then if she 'surrenders' herself to your wish she gets rewarded because she can quit again after three steps.

Horses learn always more than you teach them. You think you teach your horse this:

- To trot away on a light signal, which is rewarded by rest

But, if you look at it from a black&white horse perspective, from this assignment of three unwilling steps of trot, your horse learns this:

- I didn't like to trot, and now I'm made to do it I certainly don't like it (just as with humans )
- As not-trotting is used as a reward, the trot is even more irritating (see, the boss tells me trot it stupid too! )
- My trainers doesn't listen to me when I say I don't want to do something (because you still made her trot)
- I get rewarded when I ignore my own feelings, surrender to the human (as you rewarded for listening to your command)
- I get punished when I do show my feelings to my trainer (repetition of the aids for trot, maybe stronger too)
- My trainer doesn't believe me (what if he has a physical problem, for example having pulled a muscle at night when lying in the wrong position and his rejection is based on pain?)


So while you think you teach your horse the cue for trot, you in fact probably as well teach her that she can't communicate with you, that trot is a feel-bad exercise and that you don't consider her opinion as worth listening to. Because again, she doesn't know that you will let her go to walk after three steps again. And then still, even if she did know that, would that solve matters?

I know that when with Blacky I push my demands like this, even when letting go after three steps again, I get three akward, uninspired, uncollecteds dragging steps of trot, after which the walk gets really sullen too. When I listen to him and decide not to ask that canter or trot today because he doesn't want to do it, the next day he does it almost on his own account, showing off that he can do even more than I would want. Because he does have a true choice: yesterday he knew that following my cue to trot or canter would earn him rewards as he is a reward-trained pony. And still he doesn't do it. To me that means that he has a reason to do so, and he knows that he has lost rewards by responding like this. So the next day he is even more willing to show me that he can do it.

But it's true, this system only works if you work on a system that avoids teaching through corrections. Because you're right; if you motivate your horse through (slight) pressure, and someday you don't apply pressure when you ask him to do something and he doesn't, then he will totally stop doing it - just as the tradition trainers realise when they tell you that you he will walk all over you if you let him get away with ignoring your command once. Because your horse didn't want to follow it in the first place. That's why the first lesson of AND, not doing anything, getting your horse interested in training again, is so important: you first need your horse to get interested in you as a person. Only then you can inspire him to get interested in learning, and only then you can start training him through a positive training method.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:04 pm 
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You're so right Miriam.
But I understand the others to, as I'm just started with the whole "horse-free" thing, to say it short.
When I ask my horse something, and he don't want it, I'm afraid he doesn't wants it anymore.

I'm afraid he uses the fact he has a choice.
But the longer you think about it *or just write and think over like now* it becomes clearer and clearer.

If you never had a choice, and someday you have, the first you want is to now what happens when you refuse everything. Then you try it the next day, because you want to know if your trainer was sure about letting you do what you want.
And maybe you realize that there's a bit anger too, because of all the time she didn't listened to you.
Then there's the time to forgive and start blanco again. And that's when you start to communicate.

But I understand the way to it is hard sometimes, and frustrating, especially when you don't realize how much you've hurt your horse for days/months/years, by just don't give him a choice.

That's the part where I've cried, hated myself, how could I! Who gave me the right to treat such a beautiful animal in that way. And then the smile comes, when you horse is being willing and happy to work with you, totally free!


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 06, 2007 9:15 pm 
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This is really interesting because I have, of course, had to decide what to do when Cisco says NO. I always believe he has a darn good reason for saying it (because he is not obstinant and does not say it for everything) so it's my job to either try a different approach, or just not ask again, period.

He and I came across this very clearly in trying the first steps of a half pass. If we are walking, or stopped, and I ask for a couple of easy steps, he is fine. If we are trotting, and I ask for haunches in, his reaction is to lift his haunches in a little buck. Just a hop, but very clearly saying something wasn't right. I did not ask again in the same way, and I still haven't. I am still trying to deduce if the reaction was related to his sore back (which is gettting better by the way :D ), if it was the way in which I was asking - confusing with a cue for canter, or is my balance to shoddy for him to be able to comply - or if he just felt incapable of doing it for any other reason. One of the things I did was to ask questions here to help learn the mechanics of the movement, and to try to understand how to do it in-hand, rather than on his back, as this is always easier for him (not having me on his back).

So we can practice it lightly at a walk, to get his mind around the concept, but it will be some time before I ask him to try it at a trot again. The time frame is even longer now, as I feel it requires very good muscle development, and while waiting for his back to feel better, we really aren't doing anything at all. Durign this down time, he isn't exercising some of those muscles needed for collecting and stretching those hind legs under him...so we'll have to work our way back up to it.

But the long and the short of it is...if a horse says no, there is reason. It's up to us to figure it out why they are saying no, and to never, ever, allow ourselves to think that it's just because a horse is being stubborn. I have yet to meet a horse that refused to try something that they fully understood and were physically and mentally capable of doing, for no reason. There is always a reason. One has to believe this, in thier heart of hearts, in order to respect that "a horse is always right".

They do not lie. They aren't capable of lying. Horse's only know truth.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 6:51 am 
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Thank you Miriam for taking on this question- I really appreciate it. I enjoy the intellegent conversation.

Quote:
- I didn't like to trot, and now I'm made to do it I certainly don't like it (just as with humans )
- As not-trotting is used as a reward, the trot is even more irritating (see, the boss tells me trot it stupid too! )
- My trainers doesn't listen to me when I say I don't want to do something (because you still made her trot)
- I get rewarded when I ignore my own feelings, surrender to the human (as you rewarded for listening to your command)
- I get punished when I do show my feelings to my trainer (repetition of the aids for trot, maybe stronger too)
- My trainer doesn't believe me (what if he has a physical problem, for example having pulled a muscle at night when lying in the wrong position and his rejection is based on pain?)


But my experiences havn't been like this. For me I often run into...
~ I lift my energy for trot. Asia speeds her walk a little but is taking her good old time and is obviously not in the mood. I give her time to respond.
~ I may add phase one, two at most, pressure and she trots.
~ After three steps I lower my energy enough that she could certainly quit trotting if she isn't in the mood, but instead she trots along ears up, like "come on, I thought you wanted to trot!"
~ Within 30 seconds we are trotting, cantering, turning, wheeling around to change directions, and she runs along ears pricked, watching my every move, and very motivated to go.

I see it a little like putting my kids in the bath tub- got to drag them kicking and screaming to the bathroom and pry their cloth off, but than they see you putting in the bubbles and toys and an hour and a half later they are shrivled like prunes and I still can't get them to come out.

I'm certainly not above reading a horse wrong sometimes, but I know my little mare pretty well. Once in a very great while she will be lazy in trot for longer (usually when it is nasty hot out) and I'll say "you are right- this is stupid. Too hot today." She knows I quit because she wanted to- we usually run around a few minutes. If we quit in thirty seconds she can figure that out. And it is only natural to take a break after running around- you need to stop and catch your breathe no matter how much you enjoy it!

If I ever used a long phase two and she didn't trot, I would be checking her out for stiffness/soreness. If I used a phase three and she didn't trot I think I would freak out and call the vet!!!


Maybe there is a difference between a horse saying "NO" and a horse saying, "eh, I don't really feel like it, but we can if you want to." Of course if phase one MEANS phase four the horse may go even if they would like to say no. I guess these are the issues I really struggle with right now.

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 7:03 am 
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I complight to those rules: horse must listen, for almost 20 years.
Sometimes I secretly 'let them off' and then I actually felt guilty hoping my trainer and others would not find out!

I asked my trainer some years ago: why is it called 'aid' and 'asking' if the one you question and help has no choice but to say yes?
The answer was this: it is a horse and a horse is for work.

Something then cracked inside me. However I carried on until Owen threw me off so hard I nearly broke my neck and could not ride for a long time because of injuries.

That letterly brought me back to earth, that was the shock I needed apparently!
everything changed started then.
The bits moved first, to some place I don't even know where :)
The whip was never taken out for riding again.
Gladle I never used spurs.

When Ellen Schuthof gave her clinic here (I am sure I already told this), Jamie would not walk.
I know I had to pay the lesson, I know their was an audience watching me, I know Ellen came from a long way... I dreamed of this moment for so long... having a lesson from Ellen on Jamie.
But Jamie would not walk, so I stopped. No lesson, not even a minute.

I said to the audience: he always loves to walk.
When he does not do it now, something is the matter.

They understood! And Ellen applauded me for listening to Jamie, so she really is the best trainer imaginable!

It is so simple: the horse is always right.

Life is simple and wonderful :)

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 07, 2007 7:04 am 
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oh, and a very important thing I use.
I always try to stop before they want to stop themselves :)

Keeps them happy, fit and wanting more.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 10, 2007 3:35 am 
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Miriam and Danee, I think you are both right, and make good points. I do believe that the end result will be different, depending on which method you choose though. Not to make judgement on which result is better.. just to say different.

Danee, in your method you get a happy horse, a good friend who trusts and understands you, who is a good worker, knows what her job is and performs it well, in a relaxed and energetic manner.
She will probably not offer more than what you ask, and won't show much spontenaeity, or teach YOU moves from her horsenatural repertoire, but she will be very dependable, and will only say no if she has some physical reason for doing so.

Using Miriam's method, you get an entrepeneur mentality, rather than a worker mentality. The horse may not be as dependable, or perform as reliably, but they will be motivated to spontaneously offer up new moves, new energy, new pride in their performance. They will probably not be show winners! They will surprise and delight with the independent thought that they contribute to your training. They will not see themselves as lower status. ( And the ways in which you maintain your high status with them will be more subtle.)

But, what is the point of AND?
One of the main things we are aiming at here is encouraging the horse to choose to be in a state of natural collection, and this by definition precludes the use of any restrictions. We have talked lots in the past about what defines natural collection, and one of the most important considerations appears to be the spirit, the feeling of the horse, rather than just a particular body position.

There is an energy projected when the horse is pumped up, proud, excited, showing off.. others have described it much better, sorry. This is not present when we just teach the horse to hold it's neck and head in a certain way, although of course, this training does help to strengthen and teach. It all comes together when the horse FEELS it from the inside, and spontaneously offers this from it's own energy and desire.. and THAT is natural collection.

When we look at why we want to achieve relationships of equality and freedom (entrepeneurial horse), rather than obedience and dependability (worker horse), there is more to it than just the altruistic reasons of achieving the "perfect" relationship with a horse. The pay off is, that through encouraging the horse to be free, express itself, and not feel subservient to us, we are setting things up for the horse to be motivated to offer natural collection.

Think about this.. Which horses in the natural herd play in collection and when, and with who? The ones who do it most are the highest status horses, showing off their strength, power and magnificence. Low status horse may occasionally be motivated to prance a little, but with their own friends who they don't feel submissive to.

It's very easy for me to get our lead mare to go into natural collection during liberty work, but not so easy to achieve with the others. I think these horses first need to be assured that they can raise their status, and when they are together with me, be more and more sure that they are not submissive to me. I know.. this is a very different way of looking at things to traditional, but if you examine it closely, there are solid reasons, not just based on airy fairy peace and love visions.

It's interesting for me to see that the pony foal in our herd, although the lowest of all the horses, is quite confident to prance and pose with me in play, because neither I, nor any other human, have done anything to her to show her that she must submit.. therefore she doesn't see herself as lower status.

Danee, I do know what you mean about overcoming slight resistance in the horse, and the horse then finds it's energy and gets involved in the work. I have recently reverted a little in my training with Sunrise. She's too fat, becoming lazier and less motivated for exercise. The effects are beginning to show in her body to the point where I am worried. AT this stage of our training, she was just beginning to offer me spontaneous play when I suggested, and a couple of times put on magnificent displays of NATURAL haute ecole! But not often or long enough to affect her general fitness. So I have begun insisting on daily exercise again.. just long walking, trotting journeys with me as I run or cycle. During the last couple of months I was trying to let her decide.. and we ended up just eating grass and doing very little exercise.

Just as you have observed with your horse, she resisted a little, I insisted a little, she agreed, and then her energy would come up, and she'd become quite happy about it. Over the last two weeks, her fitness and energy levels have improved again markedly..
BUT>>>>>> I have lost the play again. She's no longer prancing and offering head tossing as she runs with me. She has more energy and stamina for exercise, but she's no longer motivated to show of in exuberance and free spirit. :cry:

I still haven't yet found the right balance.

Best regards.
Sue


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 10, 2007 4:34 pm 
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Indeed Miriam, you hit the nail right on the head. I also communicate with my horses this way but sometimes I ask something they don't like, but never an exercise, more something like beeing washed or have the dentist take a look. With Imperia everything is so much different. She came to me from her mother so everything I do with her is new. I thought her the washing without holding her and making it fun and I can wash her without a problem and without holding her, even with cold running water. If you see Evita who is forced always to be washed she hates it. This to me is one of the many things wich prooves me every day you have to respect the opinion of your horse. Also explaining what is going to happen for instance with the vet is very important. They will listen to your explaination.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 12, 2007 6:25 am 
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Thanks sue, it is a balance isn't it?

Even while my horse is being a good little soldier ("run with mom, don't lag behind, try not to blow past her either")she still tosses her head. She may leap side to side a little is she wants to expel more energy without having to pass me.

I've been trying to show her it is okay to blow past me. Problem is after she passes me she gets so far and then comes back to me and just stops.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 10, 2009 9:54 pm 

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sorry to drag up an old thread. What a great one for a beginner like me.

Karen said, "They aren't capable of lying. Horse's only know truth."

I read in the book, "What Horses Say" by anna clements mews about a horse who was trying to communicate his preference for a certain girl who would ride him occasionally. He would 'turn up lame' when others rode him but for her (the same day), he moved beautifully. Before the owners figured that out, they'd had him vetted on several occasions only to show 'nothing was wrong' (physically).

While this is not exactly a case of a horse telling a lie, it does demonstrate that horses will do whatever is necessary to get what they want (or avoid what they don't want).

their reason for not cooperating could be based on many things but couldn't one of them be simply 'I don't want to?' This is not to say we shouldn't respect that though.

PS the girl ended up purchasing the horse and having a wonderful time with him.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 10, 2009 11:58 pm 
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Hi Janelle,

please don´t be sorry for digging up great threads like this. ;)

Janelle12 wrote:
their reason for not cooperating could be based on many things but couldn't one of them be simply 'I don't want to?'


I totally agree. I know that there are different opinions on that and some people say that (their) horses do what they have been asked whenever they can and that if they don´t, there is a reason why they can´t.

I can´t speak for all horses, but since my horses have learned that they can say no in our training, they also do that if they don´t feel like doing something and there does not need to be a physical reason, a lack of understanding or anything else that makes it impossible to do what I have asked for. "I don´t want to" does happen rather often over here.

I think that some of that depends on the horse (as with people there are some who will say yes to almost everything you suggest and some will say "Hm, I don´t really feel like it, but let´s try xyz instead") and some of it depends on the way the question is asked. If the cue comes along as "Please do xyz!", it can also be the horse´s decision if he wants to do the behaviour that has been asked for, but I think that in this case it is more likely to get a yes than when you ask something like "Do you feel like doing xyz?" I prefer the latter version, but my goal is to have a horse who designs most of our training by himself, so this way of asking is just what works best for us.

But back to "just not wanting" as a reason for refusing to do a certain behaviour. For me this is a reason that I want to take as seriously as any other reason (like pain, not understanding the task...) whenever the situation allows it. I do believe that not wanting to do something is a very valuable cue for me as a trainer and it can give me great feedback about how the horse perceives certain aspects of my training. I don´t want to miss the chance to use it. :smile:

Warm Regards,
Romy


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2009 12:51 am 
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Romy wrote:
But back to "just not wanting" as a reason for refusing to do a certain behaviour. For me this is a reason that I want to take as seriously as any other reason (like pain, not understanding the task...) whenever the situation allows it. I do believe that not wanting to do something is a very valuable cue for me as a trainer and it can give me great feedback about how the horse perceives certain aspects of my training. I don´t want to miss the chance to use it. :smile:

Warm Regards,
Romy


I agree! There are many things my horses would rather not do! Lucy and Jack would be content to stand around and eat all day if I let them!!

And that is why I see my job to convince them to want to do the things that they'd rather not, from having their hooves done to lateral work to following me on the trails to playing ball!! IOW making it worth their while, being sure they are getting something out of it, getting reinforcement of some sort!

As a trainer, I try to stimulate and motivate thru +R, mimickry, targeting, Tiger play, obstacles, etc. Also, much of what I do I see as classical conditioning, i.e. changing their emotions for the better and condition them to more than just tolerate, to 'like' and even 'look forward' to things we do by pairing those activities with treats!

Certainly they sometimes say NO, and like Romy, it is the best information they could give me! Once they tell me, then it's up to me to come up with a new plan, or review an old one or whatever! I often find myself saying "Well, that didn't work!" and moving on from there!

One of the first things I had to work on with Lucy was having her feet touched and handled! And what a great teacher she was for me cuz if she said NO! there wasn't a thing I could do about it but go back to the drawing board and break things down even smaller, up the reinforcement, or take a new approach! Same thing with leading, if she stalled and didn't want to move, that was it! And I am so glad she says NO! so adamantly cuz it has made me a better trainer!

Brenda

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2009 3:00 am 

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My horse used to be antsy about her feet. I used to have other people do her feet but I found a barefoot trimmer and then I got interested in doing it myself so I did clinics and 'took lessons' (paid my trimmer to guide me while doing the hands on myself! nice little break for my trimmer ha ha). I noticed she was much happier with me doing her feet rather than other people. I also had to shift my viewpoint of "you have to stand still" to "how can I make this easier for you?" Sure there are times when she tests me to see if she can wander off to eat hay but I usually try to make her as happy as possible by putting hay in front of her and not tying her up, and holding her foot in the most comfortable position possible (not too high, not angled away from her body too far).

And when she doesn't want to lead (usually she leads everywhere just fine except from the barn out the side door which I use to go to the arena. Hmmm, how interesting! :ieks: I'm going to be working on that!


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2009 11:50 am 
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Back to that 'lame horse'...

I see a lot of horses walking lame with a lot of riders and then walk perfectly sound when someone else gets on for a while.

Why? Because that someone moves with the horse, does not restrict his movement and balance in any way...

That could very well be the case... :)
And also the reason why the horse would choose that girl in the first place without having to lie but telling the truth.

Humans of course like to think that it is a romantic story rather than it is about knowing how to ride....

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 9:32 pm 
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Thank you Janelle for dragging up this old thread so I could find and read it!!!

I especially loved Sues post, because Dannees arguments have also been mine for a while (especially with the comparson with children) and Sues explanation is very helpful for me to get that clear! And also all the other posts are very thought-provoking!

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