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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 1:42 pm 
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This topic was split from Developing trust, freedom and emotional connection....How?

I think I can relate to that "What to do now?" feeling a little, although for me it's not that much about self-doubt but more like a lack of motivation (and with that a deterioration in the quality of my ideas and suggestions) that I usually get when the horses and I are producing sequences of arbitrary exercises for too long.

For me the solution is in something that you brought up some years ago, Miriam, although in a different context: putting exercises into a context in which they make sense from the horse's perspective. Or my own adaptation of it, which is transferring the exercises into an environment in which they make sense, preferably when we go for a walk. I think there are two aspects to that, one of which is more about the exercises per se and one is about filling the gaps. I think the sense making part is rather obvious, for example my horses are so much more interested in moving sideways if that means moving towards a corn field. ;)

But the other nice thing that training in a natural environment does for us is that it always provides an answer to the question what we should do next, simply because there is a path in front of us, so the default is just walking. No need to think about that. If I do have free thinking capacities, we are free to change that, for example we can always walk the path in shoulder-in or canter jumps or slalom or whatever. Or I can use natural obstacles or environmental markers (e.g. cantering to the next grass spot), which provide us with all kinds of ideas on what to do with them. But that is something I can just fluently incorporate into an ongoing activity, so there are no breaks and thus no specific glue needed. So in addition to your "methods" and Volker's "relationship", I think I'll just throw "purposeful activities" into our bowl of possible glues. :)


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:12 pm 
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So now with all the glue-talk I can't get this line out of my head anymore ('If you were a horse, I'd turn you right into glue' from the Ex girlfriends suck-song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLbWoaoDh-4 :green: :green: :funny: )!

This is such an interesting thread! Putting exercises into a context is a good solution for the glue in between too, like going towards the cornfield where you will do stuff towards the corn, or simply following a trail. I guess that I always put that too much into the horse-camp though, as if he was the one who needed the context - but actually I needed a context for the entire training as well in order to find the balance between asking & following.
Of course I know that a big part of AND is spending undemanding time, not always asking/telling the horse what to do - but because of your replies I now suddenly realise that the past years I would always spend that undemanding time with... Planning what to do next! :roll: :funny:

So for an action-junkie like me it's quite good to be tied to the ground for a while and actually learn from scratch how to do that, not doing/planning/preparing anything but simply be or move together. I guess that's the basis of a real good, elastic glue that you can use to connect everything with (for some reason I tend to visualise exercises rather more like chunks instead of elastic thing).

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 2:28 pm 
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Miriam wrote:
but actually I needed a context for the entire training as well in order to find the balance between asking & following.


This is an aspect that I had completely forgotten. But you are right, what the walks also do for us is that they take the responsibility for the role switching off my shoulders, in terms of thinking about who is following whom and whether anyone is following at all. That is, on a walk I might choose a route and the horse is simply coming with me, or alternatively, he may choose his route and I am coming with him, and this may change from one moment to the next. But still we are together, which feels completely fine in that context, whereas in the pasture I would feel like an awful stalker if I followed him when he is walking away. Funny how just that context completely changes my interpretation of his behaviour ("He wants to be left alone because he does not want to interact with me anymore and probably dislikes what we have been doing..." versus "Now he just does what he wants to do and I can join in"). Wow, I feel like I have had tomatoes on my eyes for never having noticed this contradiction in my interpretations. :ieks:


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 3:04 pm 
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:funny: I had to laugh so hard when I read that - because in just a few words you describe exactly what I meant (and couldn't make clear in hundreds of words myself)! :funny:

Speedy and I are genuine paddock (sometimes pasture) trainers, and paddock automatically seems to put me into a work-think-question-do stuff together-mode. So of course I let him walk away if and when he wants to - but that leaves me with nothing else to do but ignore him (aargh, my mother heart is dying! :ieks: ) or follow him around (stalker alert, my god, how needy can you be??? :ieks: ) - and when can I ask him to go and do stuff with me again (will it make me too bossy? how do you stay equals?).

And I completely agree that it's 100% situational as well, because when I would go out on a walk with Blacky & Sjors and they start eating grass along the road, I often just let them and call it a break and ask them to go on again when we're done. And when I want to leave again, I actually don't really mind telling them that I want to go: they told me they were going to eat, so that means we've both had our share of decisions, and the same goes for choosing directions (although they are a bit more limited over here). While in the paddock I always start fretting if I am allowed to tell the pony's that the grass-break is over and that I want to train again (am I being dominant? Do I have the right to tell them to play with me?)

Perhaps the difference is that during a walk, the path& direction are quite simple (if you want them to be), you can simply follow them as the goal is quite clear all the time; while when training in a paddock you 'own' every step you take - everything is your decision (and for me it's quite hard to switch from that hyperdrive thinking to the time between the exercises when not asking but following).

So now I wonder why I wrote all of this down as Romy did such a perfect job already. :funny:
I guess I just want to be able to train in a paddock with the mindset of an outside walk! :sun:
(and the good news is: I'm getting better at it already :yes: )

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 4:40 pm 
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Miriam wrote:
And I completely agree that it's 100% situational as well, because when I would go out on a walk with Blacky & Sjors and they start eating grass along the road, I often just let them and call it a break and ask them to go on again when we're done. And when I want to leave again, I actually don't really mind telling them that I want to go: they told me they were going to eat, so that means we've both had our share of decisions, and the same goes for choosing directions (although they are a bit more limited over here). While in the paddock I always start fretting if I am allowed to tell the pony's that the grass-break is over and that I want to train again (am I being dominant? Do I have the right to tell them to play with me?)


For this difference that I also make between my pasture training (where they are free to leave/eat/do anything) and our walks (where eating needs my consent) I have a simple reason that feels logical to me. Well, actually it's a combined reason with two parts. First, it's the horses who make me go out with them, and I am the one who is doing them a favour. Thus, the way I see it is that by the mere fact of initiating a walk, they implicitly agree with the (one) rule that we have for that, namely that eating is only possible when I allow it. So I do not feel that I am making them do something they do not want, I just put a restriction on a horse-initiated joint activity.

The second part of my reason is that on a walk I am stuck with them. Therefore, when they make a decision (e.g. to eat), this does not only determine what they are doing but also what I am doing. If that wasn't the case, I would simply let them stand there and eat for as long as they want, while I walk on or go home or do something else. But as that is not possible in our environment, we need to find an activity that is fun for both of us. So taken together, they make me go out and then I have no chance but to stay with them, and therefore I need to have a say in what we do.

This is different in the pasture, because if they decide not to train, this only means that I have free time to work or do something with another horse or do my own thing, all of which I like a lot, so the horse opting out has no costs for me. And also, I want them to know that they can opt out anytime they want to, and that there also won't be any negative consequences or risks involved for not attending to me, because otherwise their cooperation and attention would lose its value for me, both subjectively and as a feedback about my actions. But that is another story. :smile:


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:21 pm 
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Ah, you've been pondering over it as well! :D

Quote:
First, it's the horses who make me go out with them, and I am the one who is doing them a favour. Thus, the way I see it is that by the mere fact of initiating a walk, they implicitly agree with the (one) rule that we have for that, namely that eating is only possible when I allow it. So I do not feel that I am making them do something they do not want, I just put a restriction on a horse-initiated joint activity.
(...made a cut over here...)
we need to find an activity that is fun for both of us. So taken together, they make me go out and then I have no chance but to stay with them, and therefore I need to have a say in what we do.


It's actually similar to how I see our training/playing in the paddock/pasture. I'm asked to play with the pony's (the fact that Blacky and Sjors run to me and volunteer exercises/Speedy comes trotting from the pasture to the paddock is interpreted by me as enthusiasm for trainnig ;)). And we enter the ring in a mutual agreement that they will not hurt me just as I won't hurt them, I can ask things of them and they can ask things of me.

I might add one more explanation why it's easier to deal with a horse leaving you during a walk than during a paddock training.
Today I decided to experiment with those two types of interaction, first playing with Sjors in the paddock and then exploring the orchard with Blacky. As the gates were open, I was a bit cautious with Blacky. First I asked him to follow me and he did (I pointed him to the best apple trees along the road as well ;) ), and then at a certain point he walked away. My first reaction was to call him back, but then I decided to follow him instead. Blacky went to the far corner of the orchard into the fruit patch, then to the pear tree that grows in the middle of it and ate some pears, and then went to the pile of garden waste next to it. He started digging into it and then dug up some pear and started eating those. I let him stay there for a while, then turned him back to the orchard and then followed him again as we slowly weaved our way to the paddock again.

The thing that Blacky's walking away made me realise, was that the horse's behavior out of the paddock is much more interesting to watch. It's so much fun to see him explore, to wonder where he's going, to try and see what he sees and how he handles his environment, simply because there is so much environment!
When you look at a paddock on the other hand, it's almost barren. When a horse walks away, the human sees on of two things: the horse starts eating grass from under the fence or he will go and stand in another spot. How interesting is that?! :roll:
In the walk-mode it's easy to follow the horse and not to feel a stalker because you're simply interested in what he's doing - I couldn't get enough of seeing the world through his eyes. In a paddock/pasture the thing the horse is doing after walking away often isn't that interesting to watch, which makes it even more easy to start feeling disconnected and think too much/leave the horse alltogether/becoming pushy.


Quote:
And also, I want them to know that he can opt out anytime he wants to, and that there also won't be any negative consequences or risks involved for not attending to me, because otherwise their cooperation and attention would lose its value for me, both subjectively and as a feedback about my actions.


Very true. When I train in the paddock and Speedy leaves (funny thing is that most of the time it isn't even after an exercise, but after getting rewards, cuddles etc; maybe he wants more action?), I let him do his thing for some time so he knows he was right to go away and he can get the space he wants/needs.
Then if he doesn't come back but keeps on grazing, after a while (something like 5 minutes) I go to him and find an activity to do that we both enjoy together and pick up the training from there again (and try not to become boring/nagging again). So in practise, come to think of it, most of the time Speedy returns to me on his own, I guess that the other 20% of the cases I ask him to come back to me again. Blacky and Sjors in the paddock always return on their own, it's just the waiting that would kill me. :roll: 8)
I personaly don't like to end a session when a horse leaves, because leaving as a trainer can be percieved as a correction (negative punishment). That's also why I will come and collect the pony after a while, because I want to end the session together, on a good note, doing something we both enjoy, closing off with the favorite exercise of the pony (Speedy and Blacky are big back crunch fans and Sjors likes the cross-legged bow), feed them all the food that I've left and then we all go to bed. 8)

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 10, 2013 10:45 pm 
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Miriam wrote:
The thing that Blacky's walking away made me realise, was that the horse's behavior out of the paddock is much more interesting to watch. It's so much fun to see him explore, to wonder where he's going, to try and see what he sees and how he handles his environment, simply because there is so much environment!


Oh, indeed! I love that so much as well, just walking behind them and letting them guide me through the forest - and observing how they differ in their activities and even their ways of looking at the world. For example, Titum has that contstant "looking ahead" focus into the distance and it always seems like he clearly knows where he wants to go, whereas Pia runs from point to point, and also her mind seems to be right where she is at any given moment.

Miriam wrote:
I personaly don't like to end a session when a horse leaves, because leaving as a trainer can be percieved as a correction (negative punishment). That's also why I will come and collect the pony after a while, because I want to end the session together, on a good note, doing something we both enjoy, closing off with the favorite exercise of the pony (Speedy and Blacky are big back crunch fans and Sjors likes the cross-legged bow), feed them all the food that I've left and then we all go to bed. 8)


That's such a good thing to do, especially because events are remebered in terms of their peak and their end, whereas what happens in between and the duration don't matter that much (well, at least for humans it works that way, but perhaps for horses as well). So ending on a good note certainly has its benefits. I am just not the person for it. I am someone who is always available, should the other one decide that he wants to do something with me or needs me. But I usually don't actively initiate or end interactions. I do passively initiate them, for example by looking and smiling at the horse or person so that he knows he is invited to come, but I don't call or ask, and I also don't suggest to stop unless there is a practical reason for it. I just let them fade out, and perhaps also passively provoke an end by moving closer to the most delicious grass, asking for exercises with less enthusiasm, rewarding for the easiest, least challenging things and so on. Perhaps not optimal, but it seems like the horses got used to it. :smile:


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 12:02 am 
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Romy wrote:
(...) I also don't suggest to stop unless there is a practical reason for it. I just let them fade out, and perhaps also passively provoke an end by moving closer to the most delicious grass, asking for exercises with less enthusiasm, rewarding for the easiest, least challenging things and so on. Perhaps not optimal, but it seems like the horses got used to it. :smile:


This situational stuff is so interesting! My god, that I've never even thought of it as such a big factor when training horses at liberty! :ieks:
I just read your thoughts on fading out ;) at the end of the training and thought: that sounds so organic and natural, but when I don't give our training sessions a clear end-ritual, the pony's actually won't let me stop most of the time. Speedy will actually trot to the paddock gate and block it from me by positioning his body next to it. :roll:
And then I suddenly realised: you're talking about a pasture, I'm talking about a paddock! Because indeed, when training on the grass all it takes for me to stop the training is to stop asking exercises and the grass is ready to distract the horse again. But a paddock is a much more artificial, nearly distraction-free zone, so even if you stop asking questions, you're still the only interesting thing (well, the only living thing & foodsource 8)) around and he might still be (hyper)focused on you even when it's time to stop. So I guess you need certain mental cooling down rituals to make sure that the horse realises that the training session is over and that you're going to leave, but that it's not a correction.

And here I was, always thinking that the only difference between working in a paddock, a pasture or in a forest was that if there's a car nearby, the horse always has to stop when you say stop - while instead it changes everything for the mindset of both the horse and the human! :idea:

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 2:53 pm 
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Miriam wrote:
And here I was, always thinking that the only difference between working in a paddock, a pasture or in a forest was that if there's a car nearby, the horse always has to stop when you say stop - while instead it changes everything for the mindset of both the horse and the human! :idea:


Yes, context changes everything. But I think that this is not only the case for the spatial context (where we train) but also other types of context such as the context of the current activity. An action that may be completely logical while we do one thing may seem like an arbitrary or even annoying thing in another situation. For example, when Titum is about to walk onto the road, not noticing that there are cars approaching us (or not realizing that they are dangerous), I might make a sharp backwards movement with my body language or step in his way to block him. And then he stops immediately and does not look offended at all, just curious. However, if I would do the same impolite gesture in the pasture, he would lay back his ears and give me that annoyed look of "How dare you?" :funny:

This also is one of the main reasons why in my interaction with my horses I have to decide what to do in the moment itself and cannot use any methods or rituals that were set up by someone else in another situation. To me this seems most relevant for methods that involve offensive acts towards the horse, such as shooing him away from his food or driving him forwards. These actions per se might be no problem at all when I do them in a certain context, for example because I urgently need the food or because it's poisonous or because I want to protect the horse and therefore make him move away or want to protect another horse that he has been attacking. However, if I take these actions out of their context and for example shoo the horse away just because I can or because I want to get a certain message across, it becomes arbitrary and hard to understand, I think.

However, for me this is not only the case with offensive acts but similar for other rituals or formalized activities as well. If I do something in the pasture and don't react to my horse's attempt to communicate because I cannot, this is one thing, but if I ignore him without any actual reason just because that's the way it is done, I don't think I could do this in a way that makes my behaviour seem natural and logical for the horse (especially when at other times I do react to his attempts to communicate). But this could be just about me as I generally prefer doing things in a way that is afforded by the current situation instead of basing my actions on more abstract rules or conventions or other supra-structures. :smile:


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 8:16 pm 
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Romy wrote:
For example, when Titum is about to walk onto the road, not noticing that there are cars approaching us (or not realizing that they are dangerous), I might make a sharp backwards movement with my body language or step in his way to block him. And then he stops immediately and does not look offended at all, just curious. However, if I would do the same impolite gesture in the pasture, he would lay back his ears and give me that annoyed look of "How dare you?" :funny:


I guess that might also be explained by the pasture/paddock vs walk difference: when the pony's are walking outside the paddock they always seem to have a goal, seem to want to go somewhere. If you block that in a rather rude manner, the curiosity still remains and that seems to be able to even out the negativity of the block/correction.
However, when in the pasture you're walking without a clue ;) from the pony's point of view, or - even worse - because you invited him to walk and then you correct in the same rude manner, it will only leave a negative taste in his mouth.
That's the kind of situation (when you made the request to do something in the first place) I think you automatically need to be extra careful when giving new cues (can also be perceived as corrections) or even corrections.


Quote:
To me this seems most relevant for methods that involve offensive acts towards the horse, such as shooing him away from his food or driving him forwards. These actions per se might be no problem at all when I do them in a certain context, for example because I urgently need the food or because it's poisonous or because I want to protect the horse and therefore make him move away or want to protect another horse that he has been attacking. However, if I take these actions out of their context and for example shoo the horse away just because I can or because I want to get a certain message across, it becomes arbitrary and hard to understand, I think.


A couple of weeks ago, when walking out Sjors took a big bite out of a poisonous plant. I had no option but to reach deep down his mouth and was rewarded by my thumb getting crushed between two molars (no worries, I survived, with a hell of a lot of pain, but I survived 8) ).
When I look back at that situation and all the other poisonous plants-situations we've had in the past, this is my ideal:
Pony moves to plant and threatens to eat it, I discover this right on time, block the plant/shoo him away (depends on the situation), we walk along.
Now where during that episode did the pony learn that the plant was poisonous and that my intervention was for his own good? Nowhere. And that's the same in a lot of situations. Yes, we humans see the context of our behavior, but the horse just gets to see our behavior simply and not much else because we shield him from the danger.
So in my experience in most cases the horse never knows he's escaped danger - he only knows that suddenly the trainer staged an intervention and he has to follow that order.

However, it still leaves the problem that corrections/blocking/harsh cues cause stress to the horse.
Your solution I guess is to only correct right there and then in the dangerous situation, in order to minimalise the amount of corrections the horse will get in his life.
My solution is to practice those interventions and turn basic questions into demands during groundwork every now and then (stop, move), so that in a dangerous situation the horse won't be alarmed by the 'this is an order' communication and so that in a stressful situation the cue itself can be kept small.
To me it sounds like we both try to find a way to make dealing with corrections as safe & easy as possible for the horse.

And of course a good sense of timing helps as well in keeping the corrections/block small and the fingers in one piece. 8)

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 12, 2013 12:42 am 
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Miriam wrote:
However, it still leaves the problem that corrections/blocking/harsh cues cause stress to the horse.
Your solution I guess is to only correct right there and then in the dangerous situation, in order to minimalise the amount of corrections the horse will get in his life.


Indeed, I try to only correct in the dangerous situation itself, but for a different reason. It's not in order to reduce the total amount of corrections but to avoid arbitrary corrections. I completely agree with you that the horse often does not perceive the danger or problem, because how could he possibly know that a plant is poisonous or that it's forbidden to walk into the neighbours' property or sniff a pedestrian's handbag (while he has always been free to sniff my treat bag)? And still I believe that the horse perceives a difference between an arbitrary correction and a correction that arises out of an emergency situation - simply because I perceive that difference.

Humans (and I guess horses even more) are extremely good at reading someone else's emotions and intentions. They pick that up on the basis of tiny cues from the other one's body language or emotional expression, and probably from a whole lot of other cues that I am not even aware of, such as smell or heart rate. Therefore, I am sure that they can differentiate between me rudely stopping them because I am frightened or uncertain on the one hand, and me doing the same in the context of a deliberately planned training situation on the other hand. Just as it's easy for me to notice the difference between somebody shouting at me because he got a fright (even if I do not see the source) and somebody shouting at me because he wants to show me that he has the right to do so, or deliberately wants to test how I will react. Or what always felt worst for me personally: when somebody forced me to do something I did not want, while he was in that calm, controlled state of mind. Gives me the creeps when I think back to such situations (but just to make sure, of course I do not mean to imply that anyone is doing that with his horses ;)).

So actually the reason why I avoid arbitrary corrections is that I want my horses to know that I only act in an offensive way when I have an urgent reason to do so. In that respect, for me the "rituals versus spontaneous decisions" is about context just as much as the "paddock versus pasture", only that in the latter case it's the environmental context whereas in the first case it's the emotional or intentional context.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 16, 2014 8:56 pm 
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While I was in Scotland, we had some nice conversations about the benefits of being faced with objects and other environmental stimulation while going for walks. Ali's father put it like that: Objects align your and the horse's perceptions and actions, and in that way you are getting synchronized without any need to produce this intentionally. I could not agree more, and I am writing this post to elaborate on it a bit and perhaps discuss it with you.

This function of objects is in line with recent research on the role of objects in human actions and interactions (you can download a great summary article by Patric Bach and colleagues here). Perceiving objects automatically activates mental representations of possible uses and goals. This is called function knowledge and manipulation knowledge: you immediately get an idea of what to do with the object and how you can achieve that in terms of specific motor actions. When just passively viewing an object, the same neurons fire that are also active when doing something with that object. For example, when you see a small object, this activates brain areas that are also active when grasping something with your finger tips. Thus, just seeing that small object activaes the idea of grasping.

Such automatic activations of function and manipulation knowledge also help you to interpret and predict the actions of others, and thereby it forms a basis for coordinating joint actions. To the degree to which objects activate the same ideas in you and your horse, you will be able to do the same thing at the same time. Or to put it simply: If you see your horse walking toward a branch, you needn't even think in order to know that he will, for example, jump over it (i.e. the goal or "what" or function knowledge) and that he will do this by collecting and then abruptly lifting his front end (i.e. the particular way or "how" or manipulation knowledge). In that way, you know about his movement before he has even started it, simply because the branch activates a similar tendency in yourself. This allows you to act in a timely precise manner and join your horse, so that the two of you will perform the movement in synchrony. In that way, objects can trigger the activation of shared goals and synchronized ways of achieving them.

Another consequence of this is that objects constrain the variety of possible actions, so that there is little need for discussing what to do and how. It just comes naturally. Thus, you don't have to communicate all the little details of how to do something in terms of component movements, so the presence of objects allows you to focus on the joint action on a higher level of goals. At the same time, you can use the free capacity you have gained to communicate about even finer details, for example if you want the jump to happen in a particular way.

Furthermore, I think that this way of constraining actions does not only have benefits for the one who wants to initiate a joint activity (which often is the human) but also the one who is joining in. Given the constraints produced by the objects, your ideas and movement suggestions make direct sense to the horse. To stay with the branch example, it is way easier for the horse to understand why you suggest jumping than it would be if you did that on flat ground without any branch. In that way, objects have the potential of not just making you do the same thing but also wanting the same thing.

Probably most of this is not new and I guess all of us have experienced it in one or the other way. But for me it's interesting to think about it and better understand what objects are actually doing for us. In that way I think I can get better at using objects and environmental stimulation in a more purposeful way. For instance, there are horses who just seem to see no sense in doing arbitrary groundwork. My Titum is like that and often disengages, but as soon as we have to navigate through difficult territory he is all with me and matches my movements perfectly. Also, I think that it helps with horses who seem to be unsure about interacting and coordinating with humans, and any conscious attempts of asking them to move in response to my body language make them tense and rather self-conscious. Objects allow us to simply establish that synchrony on the fly, so that we are doing things together without that demand characteristic.

I am looking forward to reading about your experiences and thoughts! :)


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 17, 2014 12:54 pm 
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Ah, Romy, I was missing those posts while I was on my baby-induced leave from the forum ;).

It is a terribly interesting topic indeed. And while I think it is almost something trivial and it surely happens all the time to all of us when interacting with horses, I think it may be exactly that ubiquity that makes an in-depth look of it so important.

I'd like to develop this a bit further from my experiences with Mucki and Lily. Using natural objects works of course best to evoke a synchronised intention on how to use that object. It is after all something that has probably developed during childhood respectively foal age.
But I also use objects foreign to horses, like basically any kind of toy, tarps, foam bars, balls and so on. To observe how horses react to those things in terms of how object understanding guides their actions, is most interesting.
It first took a short while for our horses to create a generalised notion of a "toy". In most cases, that was done via a combination of classical and operant conditioning that taught them that toys are fun. The best toys are of course those which are intrinsically fun, but also with them their use was often taught by operant conditioning with the help of humans (i.e. they were clicker trained to use them).
That difference to natural objects seems big at first, but I think in the end is rather negligible, because the mental representation of a natural object was acquired by operant conditioning as well. At one point the foal had to jump a log to see that jumping logs is a fun use of those objects.

That brings me to Romy's point of arbitrary groundwork making no sense for some horses. Generally, I agree with that of course. But I also think that it is a big question of how groundwork is trained and performed. I'm talking about doing those abstract dressage patterns on a nice, empty sand arena :). I understand that doing such things can be dreadful for a lot of horses and humans alike. But I believe it is after all a matter of what you associate with it.
If you see the empty arena as a bleak box, which constrains you from every side, then being there must be dreadful. On the other hand, if you see that place like a fresh canvas, where drawing your beautiful lines in the sand will finally make up a masterpiece of joint movement and harmony, then you might feel elated by even looking at it. Or if you have experienced it as a place where you can stretch your legs after a long day in the box and run at your desire and then roll in the sand, you might even see it as a place of freedom.

My point is, groundwork (as an example) does not necessarily be percieved as arbitrary by the horse, just because it has no natural application (in the moment or at all). I believe that horses are well able to abstract and generalise, so that an object like an the rail of an empty riding arena can become
a logical place for doing shoulder-in, or the far left corner is the best place for starting a half-pass from. Would that be less authentic, or valuable than a natural environmental cue, like jumping a log in the forest or going sideways with the butt turned towards the rain?

It would be an interesting experiment to see if there's more (or other) neuronal activity when a horse that has literally never jumped a log in the forest, jumps that log or when he jumps a cavaletto which he has been trained for.

To conclude my already long post, I'd like to say that a similar kind of action guidance and restriction applies not only to objects, but subjects as well. I have experienced that during Anna's pregancy, where she was very reluctant with doing faster movements and wilder play with Lily. I, on the other hand was often doing cantering and wild stuff. So during that time, I definitely triggered a high energy level in her, just by being alone with her in the arena ;).

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Volker

The horse owes us nothing.


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