Level 1: The start - the first exercise
The very first exercise in the Art of Natural Dressage (AND) is not an exercise for your horse, but for you: it teaches you to stop demanding, and instead become interesting. Therefore you shouldn't see these first lesson as exercise or training, but as a task you need to fulfill. Your horse is your teacher, and only when he shows you that you have succeeded in this task, you have the basis to train all the other exercises in a true AND way. This way doesn't rely on pressure, and not that much on foodrewards either, it relies on the fact that your horse wants to be with you and wants to learn from you. So first you have to show him that you are fun to be with and very inspiring too. If your horse believes you - which he will show you by starting to spend more time with you - he has accepted you as his teacher.
Most training methods are based on stimulating the horse to do things. Traditional and natural horsemanship methods use corrections and pressure to stimulate the horse to do an exercise, clickertraining uses food. The first are not used in the Art of Natural Dressage (AND), foodrewards can be. However, the main motivator in AND is not what you give him (corrections or food rewards) but what you yourself are: an inspiring an interesting being - or not.
When you set your horse free, without any tools to capture his attention or to keep him close, you will need to get him interested in you by your personal qualities only. Only then he will want to be with you, and only then you can start to do exercises together. And as in a cordeo or neckring the horse is essentially free and cannot be forced to do anything, you need to become that interesting that he wants to be with you. You have to inspire your horse to work with you. And to do that first he needs to learn that being with you and moving with you can be totally voluntary - his choice
The first task: Just be with your horse
The first training sessions in AND are spent by doing nothing. You probably have a history of training your horse, demanding exercises. That means that your horse will see you as an omen of work, and maybe even pressure and corrections. Your first lessen therefore is to teach him that you have stopped (mis)behaving in that way and that you won't pressure him into exercises anymore. You do that by simply not asking anything from him the first training sessions.
Practically this means that the first training sessions you start with your horse in the training area - without trainig him. Just sit, walk and run around yourself (maybe with a ball to amuse yourself with?) and move or stand still as much as you like. Basically ignore your horse, and don't ask him to do anything! If he ignores you, you continue with what you're doing. When he then turns to face you, stop playing, walk towards him, reward him with some attention or scratching a favorite spot for about a minute - and then leave again playing on your own yourself. If your horse walks towards you, you stop and go towards him, praise him for showing the initiative to join you in your play - and then go and play again.
Do this the first couple of training sessions - reward his interest in you and what you do by turning your attention to him - but don't destroy that by seizing the opportunity and squeeze some exercises out of him! Just leave him be. Only reward his attention with your attention back.
When your horse after a couple of sessions really starts to get an interest in your play and starts walking, trotting or cantering to come to you or keep up with you, then you know that he's getting interested in you. That's a huge accomplishment, you can be really proud of that achievement! Because he has now shown you that he wants to earn your attention in a more energetic way - essentially he really wants to work for earning it. That's why only now you can start asking him a small excercise when he's with you, like moving his hindquarters a step aside or touching your hand. If he does, you reward him and go and run around yourself again untill he starts joining you again. If he doesn't do the exercise you suggested, then you can repeat your aid (touching the skin not harder) two or three times, and if you still get no response then you're off again untill he gets near you again and you ask the exercise or another again.
What you teach him with this playing by yourself is that you as a person are really exiting and fun and inspiring to be with. When he starts to give attention to you, you reward him with your attention, and then you leave again. That makes you interesting! Most horses get bored to death by the cartloads of unwanted human attention they get buried under during a training session. Now your horse has not only learned that your attention is fun (instead of hard labour), but also that it's rare - so he will learn that he needs to become more interesting too in order to catch your attention. And he can do that by performing a little task you ask from him - be it standing with his head low, flexing at the poll, shoulder in or piaffe...
The 'you inspiring your horse'-fase can take one or more training sessions, depending on how much your horse liked your training sessions before. If he really depended on corrections as motivator to play with you, then he probably will need some time to be reassured that moving around and playing with you can be voluntary and fun. If he before was mostly motivated by food, maybe even to such an extent that he would do stuff for a carrot even when he didn't really want to repeat it again, then he will need some time too to discover that you can be inspiring without food too. But every horse can learn this, you just need to follow the rules of not going to the horse unless he shows interest in you, and not asking him any exercises before he shows you he really wants to work. Also remember: you're only interesting to the outside world if you think you're interesting yourself to begin with. Occupy yourself. If you can't do that by just sitting, you can walk or dance. If you don't feel like moving, you can occupy yourself by drawing patterns in the sand of the arena, playing with a ball, knotting ropes in a string. Do something to amuse yourself and keep yourself busy, and your horse will start to wonder why his human looks to content and happy - and will want to investigate how he can share that same feeling too.
Don't worry if you and your horse need more sessions together just doing nothing before you two discover your inner power and happiness. It's not just something your horse needs to learn, but sometimes you yourself too. But you will see a change throughout your 'training sessions' of doing nothing particular. Also try not to make them too extensive. Don't make these first exercises of doing nothing longer than 15 to 20 minutes. After that your horse will grow tired because he needs to think this mental shift over, so give him that time.
The second task: The rest of your life
When you've established this new relationship in which your horse actually wants to be with and learn from you, you need to be very carefull with that. You'll need to alter your own views on training too, because when you decide that you'll do a lot of exercises the next half hour, your horse will get bored, feel pressurized with all the (even pressure-less!) demands and stop playing along again. Because the deal was; if you as human get interesting enough, your horse will start to play with you. So then don't get boring again!
And if your horse walks away from you: let him. Take over his idea and walk away yourself too and start amusing yourself again, for example go to another horse and give him attention, check the haynets or other things. The more your horse realises that you won't push him, follow him or force him to be with you, the more interested he will be in being with you. This doesn't mean that from now on you can never go to him anymore when he doesn't come to you - as you have an equal relationship, you're allowed to express your opinion too. But keep in mind that your training wil only succeed if your horse wants to be with you. So walk to him, scratch an itchy spot or stroke his mane, and see if he likes the attention. If so, you can decide to let him graze or to take him along to play with each other. If he doesn't like this attention either, know better than to push through and still take him along, and just let him be. Because tomorrow there's always another day!
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Last edited by admin on Wed Aug 15, 2007 4:57 pm, edited 2 times in total.