Yesterday I gave an advanced tricktraining/clickertraining clinic at Equihof (Josepha's yard
) again, and there was a very interesting experience with one of the participants.
She came with the horse that she had for 15 years, and that she described as her biggest disappointment and failure. To start positive.
The mare was very dominant - and so was her owner. To top that, the owner also was a Parelli trainer and that combination made her demand movements and exercises (of course backed by upping the Parelli phases if the horse didn't follow through). As she was a professional horsetrainer who dealt with problem horses, this obviously worked for her very well - but not with this mare. Because this mare was very reluctant to work along under these conditions. Her reaction to every demand of her owner was to put her ears in her neck, stand motionless like that for half a minute, and then, slowly and very reluctant, performing the task.Her entire body was saying to her owner: 'Don't speak to me in that way!'. And that caused her owner to be very cross with her because she never responded respectfully enough. There was a cold war going on between them.
So instead of training exercises, we focused on the relationship, with the main exercise for the owner to say to the horse after every click
: 'Good girl, very well done!'. First that came through gritted teeth and later on it actually sounded like she might mean it. The change in the horse was gigantic. After hearing her owner say only twice that she liked her and was proud of her, her ears popped forward, she relaxed and gave everything she had to offer, old exercises with a quick response, new exercises that she hadn't even learned yet, giving 100% because finally she heard her human say that she liked her horse. And that, combined with that the human now had to ask for everything instead of demand made her just want to give her life for her human.
I was really touched and impressed by this radical change, from being 100% against everything the owner did, to giving 1000% because finally he owner seemed to like and respect her. THe hughe change was that now the ears wer forward, the tail had stopped swishing, she was relaxed and started offering more movement than asked for, tried everything, even exercises she found difficult or had never done before and following her owner around not because she was made to, but because she wanted to please her with everything, to be able to pick up the slightes wish of her human. And it wasn't just me making this change up, but the spectators saw it too.
At the end of the hour the hour the owner of the horse turned to me, raised her shoulders and asked me; 'So what's different now? I don't see any improvement. She still doesn't do everything I ask and we barely learned anymore tricks. Instead of pushing my demands through I now listen if she doesn't want to do something and ask it in a different way. Right. So she has won. What do I gain by that? What's the point of training then?'
I thought that was a very good question. The entire thing made me very sad, to see a horse give her heart to her owner just because for once her owner told her that she was a nice, good horse after all - and realise that the owner just couldn't see that, or couldn't accept that anymore after such a long history together.
But the question itself is very good: what do I want from a training, what is my goal in a session? Because everything I ask from Sjors can go wrong and still I leave very content, and all the exercises can perfect right and I still feel like we've failed.
Or more to say: feel like I myself have failed. Because for me a training session isn't about doing exercises. I do ask for them and I love highly collected exercises and movements, but whether they succeed or not isn't the point. Tomorrow there's another day with new chances.
My goal isn't that the horse likes me better. If I wanted that, I could narrow my doings around the pony's to bringing them to the pasture - of course never taking them out of it
- and feeding. They would love me to bits for that. Of course now I feed them too, but I also take them out of the grass and into the paddock, and the apples, hay and grain they get isn't unlimited. I do make some very unpopular decisions over here.
My real goal in a training session is that the horse starts to like himself better. If the horse feels sad, tired, stressed, depressed, dull or bored at the end of a training, I've failed. Very simple. I want them to walk away prouder, stronger, more relaxed and feeling good about themselves and their life more than before we entered the paddock. That's really my only goal, so that's why I don't really care if Blacky doesn't want to do a canter today, or doesn't do the pesade tomorrow.
I knew that I didn't bother about that before too, but I couldn't really figure out why because I really am a perfectionist. And this expercience and this question gave me the answer: I am a perfectionist, but as everybody I'm a perfectionist in what really matters to me. And for me that's how the horse feels, not a stupid exercise or the way a movement is done. I do aim for a good, healthy (perfect
) way of performing every exercise in the end so I constantly try to tell them how to move better, but the exercise in itself isn't my goal, neither is getting them to say yes to everything I ask. Sometimes they do need to say yes and I will make that very clear to them, but that too (asking them to move away from a riding truck, setting boundaries in what they can and can't do with human body's
) is only for their well-being. That might sound corny because every trainer uses that phrase, so I'd rather put it different: my goal for every training is that the horse comes out happier than he went in. That's what makes training fun!