This feed originated with questions about how to give detailed riding tips, likely for riders who are more auditory than kinesthetic. I really like the things that were said about the ball and different ways to think about the pelvis, as I think that different explanations make sense to different learners. While my blog post played down what the rider feels in her body, I was writing for a kinesthetic learner, and I think that talking about cues too much with a kinesthetic person causes them to over-use the aids. Meanwhile, I have no doubt that there are many people who find these sensations very stimulating and get a great deal of benefit from talking about them and organizing them in their minds. Folks talking about cues are not necessarily cultivating them in the way a kinesthetic person like myself would, bur rather in the way I think of following a sensation.
I am not an auditory learner, so do not write in much detail, and am best as a teacher at creating situations where people can safely feel things out for themselves. My last post was responding to the suggestion that there are places and situations where clicker is not welcome. I fully believe that touch can be used as a marker signal and that true appreciation can be used as a reinforcer (otherwise how do familial relations work?) With some horses, I feel this is the right way to go. For example, I choose to use next to no clicker with 0-2 year old ponies from breeders. They have had no bad experiences, naturally love people, and are enthusiastic learners. In those cases, I feel clicker actually slows things down. While it is great for rescued horses of the same ages who are fearful, I believe it is agitating and confusing for primed learners. They love hearing praise, seeing the smile on my face, and how I celebrate their every success. When you have that depth to your relationship, everything comes together seamlessly.
Donald is correct that I look for much more than licking and chewing, which to me is just shorthand for any signs of relaxation. Learning is difficult and we all feel some relief when we understand, so I will write that I look for signs of relaxation in the future. Licking and chewing could be a sign of stress - I have seen it that way, but I have also seen it, and swallowing, yawning, blowing out, etc, as part of coming off of adrenaline. As you said, body language has to be taken in context. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who round pen horses until they lick and chew and don't pay any attention to anything else, so you won't find me going around telling everyone to look for that. I once had a farrier burp in my horse's face because he said it would make him lick and chew and I thought that was disgusting and incredibly offensive.
I wasn't going into length about what I was seeing because my thought would be that most people reading here can read the horse well enough to judge for themselves in the moment with their own horse. Besides, what I look for is more of a feeling, really, then anything that you could check off a list. To me, if you wait until the time is right, there shouldn't be any issue in teaching the canter or anything else. Teaching the canter should be a bonding experience and only enhance the relationship. Of course with every new lesson there will be some agitation resulting from the newness of everything. The horse must have enough faith in you to know that you wouldn't waste time on something un-fun unless there was something really good coming up next.
This is one of my 10 year old students learning to canter. The first video, she is learning on a 14 year old pony who used to root and buck as soon as he felt the canter cue. I believe we'd had him for just under a month here. In the second video, the rider is learning together with her pony who has no cantering experience. You can see in the first video she is not using treats, except giving the white pony one when he kept her on and one on their last go around. With the chestnut pony, she is using treats, but we faded them out quickly as he got too exuberant and would try to offer more lift as he thought that was what we were reinforcing as opposed to simply taking the canter. It takes time for the horse to build the coordination for cantering with a rider. We introduce it slowly and let the horse drop out of it when he needs to. Some horses can go a long way early on and other horses take months to really find their balance. The chestnut pony took a long time to find his balance and as soon as he found it he offered more without prompting from us. I agree that had we made a big deal out of keeping him going we would have been poisoning the canter, but just going in and out of it successfully was reinforcing to him even with out treats, because he wanted it for himself, too.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aJA6-m68Z4http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojrJXNOZMuA
One of the things I care about most is having ponies that are very safe, so of course in my description of teaching the canter without treats I was not cuing the canter in a way that would punish a relaxed trot. Besides, you'd have to be a real oafish hand with a horse to lose a nice trot simply with 3 repetitions introducing the canter! The ponies I was mentioning knew kiss for canter on the ground but were not certain cantering was acceptable while riding since we'd never done it, so hesitated because they needed confirmation. Generally a horse will try cantering once, then offer the fast trot instead two times to eliminate fast trotting as a correct answer. When you get down and show the horse what you want on the ground, you are avoiding too much nonsense on their back. I believe in getting down to show the horse what you want on the ground when he is confused riding because it builds the horse's faith in your communication and in you as a teacher, and allows you to double check that he is not hesitating for other reasons (soreness, fear, etc). When you get down, you can see things that you might not have been able to perceive through feel alone.
I should also mention that after about 1-5 times of petting and slacking the reins and getting off as soon as you get the canter, the pony will stop the minute he feels you thinking about getting off, and there is no athleticism required. If anything, it makes you safer because the pony learns to always be feeling for that moment you start to come off, whether on purpose or otherwise, and looks forward to stopping and taking a nice walk together on the ground. Eventually, you can just slack the reins and rest without getting down, if that's what you want. Some people might think of getting down as rewarding the horse with reduced work, but in a good relationship, I think it feels more like rewarding him with true affection and appreciation that he can see on eye level and feel right next to him, and your undivided attention. There's something nice about taking that walk together when you're both out of breath and feeling the glow of getting something right. Especially when you both took a chance on something with a lot of room for miscommunication, like introducing the canter.
What you're talking about with punishment or aversive is what I've heard called a poisoned cue. Naturally, it makes sense that if your cue is too strong it will punish the behavior coming before it, but with the way we train, we are always moving into places that are open, not taking on places that are closed. When the door in front opens up, we hint at the idea of cantering to the horse. If he takes it, we'll both experience joy at playing on that edge of our ability. I think horses like a nice flow as much as we do and can appreciate the idea of opening into greater and greater connection, until you're both spent.
I think it is important to remember that most stimuli are aversive and choose wisely, but you need a stimuli to get the canter, however you are going to reinforce it. If you are not silly about how and when you cue the canter, there shouldn't be any issue. Yes sometimes we will have to put the horse in a situation that gets his life up, but again, it all comes back to how many deposits you've made into your trust account. With both students and ponies, you have to have a lot of faith in what you do and be ok with some days being challenging, and trust that two lessons from then, everything will come together. Horses and students should know your heart and if they do, teaching something new doesn't have to be poisonous.