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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 10:30 am 
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This topic was split from Titum's diary, because I think the concept is important and should have its own thread. Please add your experiences!

Yesterday I made an observation again that is quite common in my interaction with my horses, but apparently seems counterintuitive for many people. The situation was that I was trimming my horses' hooves and at one point, Titum pulled his front hoof away and offered a front crunch instead. I verbally told him it was nice but not what I wanted to do, and asked him if he could give that hoof back to me. His reaction was a second front crunch. This continued until I stopped trying to get the hoof instead of the front crunch but just rewarded the front crunch. Immediately afterwards, Titum gave his hoof to me. For the rest of the session, there were two more instances where Titum offered the front crunch, but these times I rewarded at once, with the result being that each time I got the hoof back immediately.

Titum is such a good teacher, and of course he is right: Why would we do the task I had in mind all the time, and his idea none of the time? That's not how our interaction works in any other situation, either. And it mirrors the changes he had gone through back then in 2007 when we started working with the horses' initiative and suddenly they became much more cooperative and willing to do something that was against their own preferences than they had ever been before.

I just think it's funny, because many people still seem to believe in such a simplified model of operant conditioning, assuming that if you reward after a particular behaviour, this will automatically make the horse perform the behaviour more often, and less likely to perform other behaviours. I think that's simplified because it was so not the front crunch that I was rewarding. Actually I am not sure I was rewarding anything at all, or just communicating something. Nice topic, the function of treats in relation to a behaviour, the kinds of messages this can give to the horse and the influences of this on the horse/human interaction. Volker, I think we will have a lot of things to discuss soon. 8) I just need some days to sort my thoughts on this first...


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 1:03 pm 
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Hm, you made me thinking and considering about my practise by rewarding for.

Romy wrote:
because many people still seem to believe in such a simplified model of operant conditioning, assuming that if you reward after a particular behaviour, this will automatically make the horse perform the behaviour more often, and less likely to perform other behaviours.


I believe, I belong to these kind of people. ;) When I will clean Pan's hoof he will trie to pull away them. Would I immediately reward him now for that, then, so I think, would he do that more often or eachtime, and exactly this is not the reaction/behaviour what I want to accomplish. Precisely because I've noticed how fast Pan learns, I am a bit sceptically and cautiously. Not that I larn him the wrong thing as well... So what I prefer is, reinforcing only desirable behaviour, and thus I can't imagine how it should work otherwise: rewarding him for pulling instead of handing his hoof to me. Send I so not a wrong signal? I don't know if in such moments a horse can be sensitive enough and differentiates between rewarding for desirable behaviour or for good feeling or therefor that he wants just plain to communicate with me on this way. But I am looking forward, Romy, if you have your thoughts sorted. ;) :f:


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 2:16 pm 
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Unfortunately I have no time to reply right now, so I will just add a quote and two links, and then post my own thoughts about this in the evening.

In a post about reflective listening in the Encouraging politeness sticky, Sue beautifully explained how and why it works for her horses to be rewarded for unwanted or even aggressive behaviour. Well, actually the word "rewarding" is misleading in that context, I think, but anyway they were given a treat and contrary to what you might assume from a mechanistic operant conditioning framework, this did not make the behaviour get worse. I will simply quote the whole part of her post here as it is just so nice. :smile:

windhorsesue wrote:
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


Sue also explained it in more detail in her diary, if you want more food for thought: Reacting to kicking in non-negative ways (for Part 1 see Leigh's diary)


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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 4:31 pm 
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Romy wrote:
Volker, I think we will have a lot of things to discuss soon. I just need some days to sort my thoughts on this first...
I'm much looking forward to it :). This is very interesting stuff indeed.

I'm convinced that the default framework of operant conditioning as it is taught by clicker trainers is not giving enough credit to the complexity of the equine mind. Operant conditioning may be an important part of learning theory, but it is surely not the only one.
Also, the communication with the clicker is very much limited to a binary response: yes or no. It's actually less than that, it's just yes ;).
If I'd raise a child with a mindset of black and white, it will think in black and white only. To think in between, to read between the lines, has to be learned - on both sides. So I can imagine that a horse with a long history of only black and white answers to its behaviour, will react very different to what Romy did with Titum. But a horse like Titum, who has experienced a whole range of grey tones in his communication with humans, will be able to understand a complex message like: "'Here's a treat for your ideas - I know it's boring, but could you please wait a little longer?"

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 25, 2013 8:03 pm 
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Houyhnhnm wrote:
But a horse like Titum, who has experienced a whole range of grey tones in his communication with humans, will be able to understand a complex message like: "'Here's a treat for your ideas - I know it's boring, but could you please wait a little longer?"


That's what I believe, too. Thanks for reminding me that it might be different for horses who have been interacting with humans in a different framework, I had not thought about that. But I think you are right. If the horse has learned that interacting with humans is solely about performing behaviours and receiving highly action-contingent, specific rewards that are carefully scheduled, with the goal to increase or decrease the frequency of specific bahaviours, the horse might start viewing the interaction as something that is solely about performing behaviours as well. And probably he will become very good at guessing which behaviour is the right one at any given moment, according to the standards of his human. Reminds me a bit of a lesson my now retired boss has taught me: People will become what you say they are. I guess the same can be said about horses.

In my interaction with my horses, I often give rewards when the horses have just performed a behaviour that was different from what I had asked for. In the case of "problematic" behaviour, I think this has a high potential to take the danger out of it and turn it from an uncontrolled, defensive reaction into a communicative act. I have experienced a similar thing when starting to embrace and reward Summy's wildness a few years ago. From that point on, I have never felt in danger anymore, because the quality of his jumpy movements has changed completely. But Sue has written about that more eloquently than I ever could, so I'll just skip that whole issue of dangerous behaviour.

For me, the same logic of rewarding in a way that is less contingent on what could be considered as good and bad behaviour applies to all kinds of situations, actually. I guess that has to do with what I consider to be the function of a treat. Being an action-contingent reinforcer that signals "Yes, this is the correct behaviour!" is only one of its functions for me. Perhaps more important than that is its function to reassure the horse that we still are on talking terms. Giving a treat to my horses tells them that I have seen their behaviour, that I have realized it is important to them, and that I am willing to consider it in our interaction. This does not mean that I want them to perform this specific behaviour all the time from now on - just like nodding my head in a conversation does not mean that I want my conversational partner to always repeat that same phrase. Interestingly, when talking about human communication, it seems so obvious that acknowledging the other one's contributions won't result in an obsessive repetition of a partiular one. So why is it that people think so when it comes to horses?

I guess one of the reasons for this is the reductionist thinking that some people use when reasoning about horses. On the one hand, communicative feedback is reduced to giving treats versus ignoring. And then it becomes logical to assume that it will necessarily increase the frequency of the unwanted behaviour if you give a treat in response, simply because if there is no other feedback, how could the horse possibly differentiate between the treats you are giving as a reinforcer, those that you are giving as an acknowledgement, and those that you are giving just because he is cute? But in most horse/human interactions, that luckily isn't the case. Instead, humans give all kinds of feedback, which I think matters a lot in shaping their actual interactions with their horses. But for some reason they usually neglect it when they talk about that interaction, where they solely focus on the most salient feedback: the treat.

I will use the Titum example from the first post to explain what I mean. When Titum is offering me a front crunch while I want to trim his hooves, I give him a treat ("Yes, I've seen your offer") but at the same time most of the other components that usually are part of my way of rewarding are missing. That is, I don't turn towards him but remain in my hoof trimming position, I hardly even look while I am giving the treat, and whereas I do smile at him and quietly say something nice, that is nothing compared to my excited response when he has performed a behaviour that I like and want to reward. Therefore, everything in my behaviour is signaling to him that whereas I have perceived his suggestion, I am not particularly interested in playing along at that moment. So he can just as well go back to giving his hoof back to me - only that now he knows I am still talking to him and still being attentive to his needs.Therefore, there is no danger that he will be trapped in that boring hoof trimming situation without anyone hearing him.

The second aspect of this reductionism is concering the behaviour side. When talking about horses, I feel that often people either reduce what's happening to things as concrete as single moves or movement sequences, or to things as abstract as those big fuzzy concepts like respect or trust or dominance. I feel that the level in between is often missing, the one that is still concerned with the things you are actually doing together with your horse, but on which these are meaningful, complex interactions and not just moves. However, that is something for another post as I need to bring my horses back in now. :smile:


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 12:07 pm 
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Few questions I have:

How my horse be supposed to know for what I reward him in a situation, if I do that for any kinds of attention (f. e. here the hoof pulling instead of giving this)?

But is it not the same:

When we f. e. walk together (he besides me) and he overhauls me, then might I still give him a treat therefor, although he should keep at my side. Plain because he'll communicate with me. It's just his signal to me to say "Well, I will back to my family, and this a. s. a. p." But rewarding just for that would still spells him, that I do it for ignoring me and of my intention, right or not? How is he supposed to learn, being attentive to me and pay attention to what I want from him, if it pays for him doing his own thing all the time? Do you know, what I mean? (I hope I have expressed it in a way which everyone can understand. :blush: )

:f:

Edit: ...and myself making much more interesting for him, doesn't ever work. Unfortunately...


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 12:40 pm 
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TakeItEasy wrote:
How my horse be supposed to know for what I reward him in a situation, if I do that for any kinds of attention (f. e. here the hoof pulling instead of giving this)?
It certainly is a thin line in many situations and I guess it gets better, the deeper the relationship gets.
Basically, I would say that the differentiation happens via situational factors, body language, modulation of spoken language, different way of delivering the treats, and so on. Especially horse are so good at taking in the whole situation at once with all its subtle nuances, that it would surprise me if they didn't use that contextual information as well to base their actions upon.

TakeItEasy wrote:
When we f. e. walk together (he besides me) and he overhauls me, then might I still give him a treat therefor, although he should keep at my side. Plain because he'll communicate with me. It's just his signal to me to say "Well, I will back to my family, and this a. s. a. p."
Well personally, I think I would not reward him for that. If he really is ignoring you and just walk on, I would not see that as successfully communicating with me.
Maybe I gave him a signal that could be misinterpreted as moving ahead of me - then I could reward him for reacting to my request.
Or maybe he is a very shy horse, who always hides behind me in difficult situations - then I could reward him for his boldness.
Or maybe I asked him to take the lead and show me where he wants to go next - then I could reward him for his initiative.

I believe it's all very much dependent on the context - on his agenda and my agenda, on his mood and mine, just on so many factors that it's hard to formulate a guideline for it. Maybe the best guideline to go by is to follow your heart, as platitudinous as that may sound :green:.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 12:52 pm 
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Lena dear, that's what I had tried to explain in the fourth and fifth paragraph of my previous post, but I will try again. However, before I will write about horses, I want to ask you how it is possible that when I say "yes" in response to something you say or do, you immediately know whether this means:

"Yes, it's okay" :smile:
"Yes, that is sooooo great!" :)
"Yes, let's do that!!" :cheers:
"Yes, but..." :huh:
"Yeah, right..." :roll:
"Yes, if you really think so, but I'd rather not" :sad:
"Yes, now I understand." :idea:

I could continue the list and fill up the entire page with messages that can be contained in a single yes. Now you could say you know what I mean because I usually don't stop at the "yes" but add a lengthy explanation. However, if you watch yourself while listening to the replies someone is giving you, you will know what he wants to tell you extremely fast. In fact, often there are no words needed at all. It's easy for humans to understand all these nuances, simply because conversation does not only consist of an arbitrary signal (like the word yes). Instead, there are all kinds of other signals in your body language, your voice and your facial expression that disambiguate the meaning of the things you say.

I think horses are no less sensitive when it comes to picking up and interpreting those signals. When you give Pan a treat, he will not only perceive that there is a treat, but also see in what way you are giving it, and be able to conclude what you mean by it. Of course there can be misunderstandings as they can occur in any conversation, but I think that it is amazing how rare they are.

Houyhnhnm wrote:
TakeItEasy wrote:
When we f. e. walk together (he besides me) and he overhauls me, then might I still give him a treat therefor, although he should keep at my side. Plain because he'll communicate with me. It's just his signal to me to say "Well, I will back to my family, and this a. s. a. p."
Well personally, I think I would not reward him for that. If he really is ignoring you and just walk on, I would not see that as successfully communicating with me.


I totally agree, and I also do not interpret ignoring as an attempt to communicate with me. :smile:


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 1:19 pm 
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Thanks you both!

Sorry, Romy, if you bored about my questions. Perhaps I should ask you face-to-face, then it's easier for me to tell you what I mean, instead of writing such stuff... :blush:


Houyhnhnm wrote:
Well personally, I think I would not reward him for that. If he really is ignoring you and just walk on, I would not see that as successfully communicating with me.


Romy wrote:
Houyhnhnm wrote:
TakeItEasy wrote:
When we f. e. walk together (he besides me) and he overhauls me, then might I still give him a treat therefor, although he should keep at my side. Plain because he'll communicate with me. It's just his signal to me to say "Well, I will back to my family, and this a. s. a. p."Well personally, I think I would not reward him for that. If he really is ignoring you and just walk on, I would not see that as successfully communicating with me.

I totally agree, and I also do not interpret ignoring as an attempt to communicate with me.


That just was an fictively example. I don't mean not exactly his ignoring me, rather more that what he'll say with it. In this way he will communicate with me and it seems very important to be for him, to get to his family (he bothers) - quickly. And I won't ingore his signals but rather signify, that I've heard and understand him. That is similar to Romy's post to Titum's front crunch, rewarding for communicating. Isn't it? I would like to know if Pan can differentiates.


Last edited by Lena on Fri Apr 26, 2013 1:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 1:38 pm 
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TakeItEasy wrote:
Sorry, Romy, if you bored about my questions. Perhaps I should ask you face-to-face, then it's easier for me to tell you what I mean, instead of writing such stuff... :blush:


Not bored at all. :kiss: I just wasn't sure what exactly it is that you would like me to elaborate on, because for me it read like you were asking how he could possibly differentiate between different meanings of treats. And that is something I had tried to explain before, so I simply didn't know whether you had not read it or did not agree or wanted to talk about another aspect of it which I had ignored in my posting. But yes, we can discuss this all afternoon. :f:

TakeItEasy wrote:
That just was an fictively example. I don't mean not exactly his ignoring me, rather more that what he'll say with it. In this way he will communicate with me and it seems very important to be for him, to get to his family (he bothers) - quickly. And I won't ingore his signals but rather signify, that I've heard and understand him. That is similar to Romy's post to Titum's front crunch, I reward for communicating. Isn't it?


For me there is a difference, because when Titum stops doing what I had asked and makes an alternative offer, he is directly making that offer to me. If I had not been there, he would not have made it. It is a direct message to me, intended to elicit some reaction from me. If, instead, he had just pulled his hoof away and walked to the hay pile, I would most likely not have given him a treat for that. Simply because with that he would not have tried to do something together but signaled that I am playing no role in his plans. He would not have cared whether I was there or not and been focused on an external goal (eating hay) instead of me. So I would have had to work on that (trying to get back his attention) or left it at that and done something else.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 26, 2013 1:45 pm 
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Let's swap our ideas on it and discuss later. :kiss:


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 27, 2013 2:12 pm 
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Thank you so much,
this discussion is at amazing timing as i struggle myself with these issues.
we just had a second visit from my friend the dog clicker trainer and it was really upsetting for both Geronimo and me. i'm trying find a way to explain this without insulting or upsetting her, as i sure am no 'clicker trainer' expert and i have a lot more i can learn about CT, but the reality is that somehow 'classic clicker training' seems to make Geronimo bored, nerves and frustrated. this is not the first time i encounter this with Geronimo. so reading all this is quite reassuring for me in my internal debates.

Romy it is amazing that you are able to explain so clearly what i feel and help me interpret to words the communication differences. the different Yes, the richness of the dialog that is going on (back and forth).
it is similar in our language here.

treats as a multi functioning feedback (w or without click) that go together with a varying tone, body language and intentions within a journey of continues broadening of mutual language, experiences and relationship while learning from each other. as oppose to 'training'.

between us (me and the horses) each horse invented a 'cue' that they are giving to me if i'm too blind to read the more subtle communication signals (mostly with Geronimo its a a kiss. a front stretch or a kiss from tequila etc...) that each horse establish for himself to say: "lets do something else", "hey - look at me", "its boring", "this is too much for me", or "i want another carrot"...

there is so much delicate dynamics within this rich 'horse - human' dialog that is hard to capture the in words or "direction for use".

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 27, 2013 6:29 pm 
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Glad that it was helpful, Anat! :)

anat wrote:
but the reality is that somehow 'classic clicker training' seems to make Geronimo bored, nerves and frustrated.


Really interesting for me to read this, because I observed something similar with Pia today. She was training with Lena who has some learning to do in the 'giving feedback' department, and is still somewhat focused on producing certain exercises that she had in mind, regardless of the pony's contributions to the dialogue. That might work with Pan, because he only falls asleep then and stops putting effort into the training, but Pia got really pissed off with Lena. She just doesn't seem to think in terms of exercises but simply reacts to what the human is signaling to her. Accordingly, she didn't know what to make of that behaviour and looked like she was saying "Hey, woman, don't you see that I am talking to you!?"

However, the great thing was that once Lena started talking back and adjusting to Pia instead of getting frustrated and wanting to give up, Pia was fine as well. In the end they were training together instead of the human trying to train the pony and the pony trying to train the human, and Pia was just as focused and relaxed as she is with the children or with me. I guess everybody needs a Pia or Geronimo or Lily now and then. :green:


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:21 pm 

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Its interesting to me that this comes up right now, because Outlaw is the opposite...

He is content to repeat exercises that he knows well, but when it comes to just reacting to my body language, he will be much more hesitant and will continue to offer every exercise he knows (or just freeze).

That is certainly a reflection of how I train, for sure. I'm very focused on exercises (I know, I'm bad), and less so on just straight communication - a little bit because he doesn't walk forward without a lot of convincing. This leads to problems such as when I ask him for a leg lift and want him to hold it in the air a millisecond longer - he stomps his foot 3 times, sees that that was wrong, and then freezes and doesn't know what else to do. Then it becomes a problem to get him to even do his previous stomp.

I also find that it is extremely difficult for me to have this 'richness of dialogue' you are all talking about. Perhaps because this is still so new to me - but I have to consciously think about where each of my arms and legs is and which one is doing what movement, where my balance is and what my hips and head and shoulders are doing, what I am asking my horse to do, what my criteria for treating right now are, when he has fulfilled them and its time to reward, doing the click and giving the treat and starting the whole process again. And then on top of that I try to remember to use touch and voice, as well as visualization and intent and working with my energy - and my head goes crazy with the amount of conscious information to process and watch and decisions to make each second. So half of this richness of dialogue falls through the cracks. I can barely keep my body in order and watch for his response... I guess that will change in time?


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 27, 2013 7:56 pm 
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Alla wrote:
So half of this richness of dialogue falls through the cracks. I can barely keep my body in order and watch for his response... I guess that will change in time?


I think so. Just imagine what it is like to learn another language and then immediately apply it when talking to people. Probably in the beginning it would be hard enough to use single words, then with some practise you could speak in phrases, and then still later in whole groups of sentences. But before you can detect the nuances of what someone is trying to tell you by attending to the way he is wording something, it might take a longer time.

In terms of body language communication, however, I think it would be easier if people stopped thinking so much. Again and again, I see that children can talk to horses in a nuanced and often rather specific way, and that's probably not because they are thinking so much more efficiently. Instead, they seem to simply take the communicative signals of the horse in automatically, and then adjust their responses to that.

I saw this with Azhar just yesterday, while he was interacting with Lena's huge pony. Pan was in a rather annoyed mood and it looked like he might even attack the children. And Azhar, who is ever so soft with my horses nowadays (and I have sometimes wondered how he would manage to get along with a horse who is less subltle) just walked up to the pony and pushed him back with a hip cue. I have never seen him be so clear and determined, and the pony reacted immediately, looking not the slightest bit annoyed but just interested and open to communicate.

So that leads me to think that whereas the language learning analogy might have its benefits, it also has its shortcomings, because a verbal language is a rather arbitrary system of symbols that you just have to learn, whereas body language communication seems to come so much more naturally, if both partners let it happen - and most of all, if they stay open to the feedback of the other one on the smallest possible scale. :f:


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