The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 12:02 am 

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Can this be done in the pasture with the herd? I don't have an enclosed arena that I can put Baloo in. There is a paddock, but its right next to the pasture and he gets very upset if he can see the horses (his mares!) out and he isn't with them. He is fine under saddle, but if he's at liberty, he must be with his mares. I am not sure what to do in this situation. I board so I can't go around building things on their property, lol.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:34 am 
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BalooEyes wrote:
Can this be done in the pasture with the herd?


Yes, absolutely. :smile:

I even like that much better, first because in their pasture where they are at home they have much more other options, so that when they come to me that means that they are really interested. The second reason is that when there are other horses or interesting things around, I don´t have that focus on the horse, this strange "I won´t hope that you will come (but please, please hurry up)" attitude but could just interact with the other horses or do something else instead of waiting. Not that I am not willing to spend some time waiting for my horses, but I think that in any relationship it´s not really the best basis when one of the partners is waiting for the other one to finally get interested in him. ;)

My horses and I do almost all our work and play in the pasture and whereas we might not be very efficient and fast at getting results in our training, we are most certainly having lots of fun. :smile:


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 18, 2009 2:24 am 

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haha, I know some of the other horses in the pasture will be excited about that. Some of the mares there are so friendly and always come right over to me wanting to say hello and be pet. They love when I take the brushes out to the pasture.

Sounds like I have my days this weekend cut out for me. :) I'm looking forward to it though, after my week (I know, its only Tuesday!! Shows you how stressful its been so far... Nursing school, its crazy!!), some time spent relaxing in the pasture will be soooooo nice!!

Very good to know.
This has been an interesting thread. I've seen some changes in Baloo this year that have shown me we've bonded a lot since last year more than I realized. Like he stands much more relaxed in the crossties when the others are in the pasture and being more comfortable when its just him and me and no other horses around. The other day I was standing in front of him and talking to a friend and he lowered his head and laid his head against me gently as if he was greeting me, and licked me. Not sure what the licking was about, but it was so different for him. He's been such a "horse's horse" as someone said on this thread earlier that little things like that are HUGE for him.


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 12:09 pm 
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I didn't read all but I like to write this here.
ik ging
I don't remember how I started with Mira, but she didn't take food :huh:
She wouldn only run away.
I remeber :D , I did sitting in the meadow and waiting to she came, did give attention and did halter on with a realy long line.
I walked to the end of the line and went sit and wait to she came closer.
She didn't like it mostly when you touched her body, that is also why I use food but most of the time took she it between her lips and waited...
I spended hours with her in the meadow, just to learn her to follow me, to prepare her for the walk to home. :smile:

One day, they escaped so, when I came there it made me feel bad...
But I promise you, that day she wouldn't work with me :blush:
She just walk for me back in the good meadow that was all...

But the walk to home did go realy good :yes:

Last time I was in the meadow of the donkeys just doing nothing and hating the world :huh:
Mira was the only one who came to me, just standing with and taking care of me.
When she walk a way, I did the same (to go sit in the sun), she came immediatly to me.

But now I understand what I do wrong about the donkeys and my boy friend.
I just ask to much of him, we started of the begin but we go to fast.
And I can let him read this, this will be more clear than the way I speak english.
I was all looking long time to find english tekst about horses for him, but they were still here waiting for me... :blush:

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2012 3:33 pm 

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Hi all,

I am new to AND and am not sure if this topic is still active but I will try!

Last night we tried the first excercise and my horse got very aggressive with me. This has never happened before and we spend plenty of time at liberty together. I have just never ignored him as was suggested for this excercise. Any thoughts before I continue?

Thank you and I love the topics!


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2012 4:23 pm 
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Hi

Was is suggested to ignore him? (I have not read it all now). The point of this first exercice is, as I can understand it, to get rid of pressure, as in always be the one who desides what to do - and kind of figure out what your horse likes to do - and especially together. it is about togetherness. you and your horse together. So in my mind it is not about ignoration 8except maybe ignoration af "wrong" behaviour).

If you already do have lot of time together at liberty, you maybe are here already? Maybe you already have your own "secret language" with your horse and he got confused (and then angry) if you ignored him?


I am not sure what you did - maybe you shoult try to explain that? And also what your intention was - what you were trying to? Maybe you would get better help then...?


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:58 pm 
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I agree with Kirsti, you only ignore him when he's not paying attention to you. The goal, as I see it, is when your horse only sees you as work, work, work. We want him to see a different you: play, play, play.

So at first when you're with your horse and he's not paying attention to you, just let him be and you play by yourself, not looking at him. When he does look at you, approach and only show him your hand (that's what I do) to acknowledge you. Then move away and start playing by yourself again, not looking at your horse (just at the corner of your eye). When you see him either looking at you or coming towards you, you repeat.
There will come a time when he will want to play with you. That's what the first exercise is all about.

This is my interpretation of the first exercise. I've done it a long time ago. And now both of my horses will see me in the pasture and come to me because they know I won't make them work but rather play.

If you believe the horse is being impolite, I would simply lift my arms in the air until he turns away then I would turn away in the other direction. I'm sure he'll stop and look at you then. Maybe wait until he comes back to you or if he's standing still but looking at you, approach him again, show him your hand and see if he's going to be impolite again.

This can take some time before your horse sees a different you but sometimes it happens right away. It depends on the horse. But when you do have this relationship, you are in heaven!!!! :cheers:

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2012 8:32 pm 
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Welcome! :)

Kirsti and Jocelyne already gave great suggestions. :) If you want to read other ideas about dealing with aggression, you will find a collection of discussions here: Link to threads about different topics (scroll down a bit until your reach "Control" and then the aggression links are part of it).

For me it's like that: when I go to the pasture, I don't ask my horses to interact with me, but if they approach me, we can do something together. However, if they act aggressiely or impolitely, I show them that this is not the way I want to play (by freezing, verbally explaining it to them and (politely) asking them to move out of my space) and I refuse to interact with them until they try again in a polite way. If they do that, I reward them and then I am all ears to play the games they like.

Usually I do not to ignore them, as in acting as if they weren't there. Instead, I try to make it clear to them that they do have my attention, but that I do not like aggressie behaviour so they will only get my action they are longing for when they behave nicely. :smile:


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:35 pm 
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Reaching exercise goals while working with the horse's initiative on the level of single movements

When getting to know a new horse, I usually don't do the "Doing nothing" as an exercise but instead start building up a body language basis for our communication right from the start (for a description see Encouraging politeness). However, for me the concept of not asking the horse for anything but working solely with his initiative is an important one. Only yesterday I was reminded of its benefits even for horses that I have been interacting with for several years and who already know that they will not be forced to do anything and are always free to interact or not. At the same time, I was a bit shocked by the fact that I seemed to have unlearned how to combine an actively goal-directed training (working on specific movements) with the concept of not being the initiator of our communication. It seemed like a dichotomy had formed in my mind of either just playing on the one hand (which was largely building on the horse's spontaneous offers), and a more focused training on specific exercieses on the other hand (where I was suggesting things and the horse's choice was just to make use of these suggestions or not).

What I had forgotten was that there also can be something in between, namely that it is still the horse who is initiating the activity, but that I pick up and reshape his communicative attempts to get the exercises that I had in mind. Therefore, and just in case someone else may have similar difficulties like me, I want to explain in some detail how I am working with the horse's initiative in a situation in which I am having a clear goal.

Just like in Miriam's description of the first exercise, I begin by not asking the horse to do anything. The difference is just that I do this on the much smaller scale of single movements or communicative acts. That is, I am standing still (or scratching the horse or walking around, or doing anything else except asking the horse to do something) until I see that he wants to do something with me. Or more precisely, that he starts doing something with me. I do not react yet if he is searching me for treats or just looking at me in an interested way but wait until he actually initiates a movement.

Now one way could be to wait until he has performed a complete action (e.g. walking backwards for two steps) and then reward. This can be a great thing to do because it allows you to really work on the things your horse wants to do and completely go with his ideas. I love working in that way! However, as this post is supposed to describe how you can combine working with the horse's initiative and still working in a goal-directed manner, we need to start a bit earlier. That is, I start responding at the very moment when I see the horse initiating his movement. With my horses, this is reflected in small changes such as tensing up right before they are going to make a step, or shifting their weight in a certain direction. The benefit of me stepping in right at that point and not later is that I can still reshape the movement fluently, without interrupting the horse. This would be difficult otherwise, for example if he was already making a step backwards and only then I asked for a sideways movement. He would have to abandon his idea and instead go with mine, which might seem like a correction and thus be unpleasant, especially if it is done all the time. Therefore, what I do is that as soon as I see the horse preparing any movement, I change my own posture in a way that directs the movement into a certain direction (again, see the Encouraging politeness thread for details).

There are several benefits of this exercise. One is that it allows you to see at what temporal rate your horse wants to communicate, because it is always him who determines the when component of your interaction. For me this is very interesting, because it is masked so easily when I am the one who is initiating the single communicative acts. Usually my horses respond to my requests, but that does not mean they are always ready for it or would have chosen to do so if I had not asked. In that way it also makes me more aware of the temporal fluctuations in the horse's motivation to interact, because as he can decide over the timing of our joint activity, it becomes much easier for me to see when he gets faster or slower, which in turn allows me to change something in the things I ask or the rewards I give, depending on that feedback.

Another advantage is that it encourages the horse to be proactive. In my own training with horses, one of the main problems in my behaviour is that I am filling in too much. That is, I tend to make up a very specific plan and instruction for a single movement, specifying in lots of detail at what time, in what speed, in which direction and in what other ways I want the horse to move. This plan is presented to the horse in the form of a body language signal, and he can choose to react to it or not (or react in another way). In case he chooses to react, this puts him in the rather passive position of someone who is receiving instructions and just performing the tasks given to him, while I am the one who does most of the planning. This in turn can become rather boring for the horse, because after all he just has to wait for what I am doing and then simply react, without playing a very active role in controlling our interaction.

Instead, when working in the way described above, the horse simply has to stay awake and be proactive, because otherwise nothing will happen. But besides the fact that it is necessary for the horse to be the initiator, it also can be a lot of fun for him to be the one who is calling the shots instead of just being prompted to react. At the same time, it remains to be a fundamentally joint activity with two active partners, because although the horse determines the when, I am still playing a major role in determining what we are doing.

I still have to do a lot more experimentation with this way of letting the horse be the temporal initiator, but this might turn out to be what I have been trying to find for a very long time: A way to combine my main goal of working with the horse's initiative and my interest in working on very specific details of a body language based communication. :f:


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 29, 2013 7:11 pm 
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I find that this exercise with the mules at work is extremely powerful, because normally all of us staff have a massive great list of things that we have to get done to a set time, therefore to stand there and do nothing in the mules' company really turns lots of equine heads!
I wish that I really did have all day to spend with them though, because otherwise it is so easy to 'reach out and grab' for that little bit more... A nervous mule comes up, starts nuzzling my hand. We share a special moment for a long time, just standing. I then begin to feel that perhaps I can touch the mule further down his neck... BAM! Moment gone, mule halfway across the field and me in a cloud of dust! :ieks:. The moment your still, calm thoughts turn to intention, the animal is aware of this. If those thoughts are deemed as a threat, in milliseconds it can be ready to flee from that human who is once again full of ambition.

Skylark and all of the horses and ponies i've had the pleasure of caring for more exclusively have become very familiar with this exercise. But then, this is the girl who spent her childhood going on hunting trips with cats and sunbathing in the dust with chickens! :D
It is different at work though... It seems a shame that I have so little time for these guys who need so MUCH time the most.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:38 am 

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I have a horse and a pony. When they come up to me, my horse nips at the pony, not sure why, maybe jealous? He actually grabs her on the neck and holds her until she moves. Should I just ignore this behavior?


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 8:06 am 
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Davy, we have a thread about training with two or more horses together. Maybe you can check that one out and if you still have questions afterwards, we can continue discussing it over there. :smile:


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 10, 2014 5:30 am 

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I love this idea. I have been using clicker training with Phoebe. I feel that it has opened up a line of communication for both of us. I am new to horses. I am not one of those people who have loved and wanted to own horses all of their lives, nor have I been around horses. Before I took riding lessons last summer, I had only been on a horse, maybe 3 or 4 times.
I am 53 years-old. I am the mother of five, grandmother of seven. I am married, 23 years.
I took riding lessons because my son was taking them and I didn't want to just stand around. The lessons did not include groundwork at all. But, we did stall cleaning and grooming daily. During those times, I discovered that horses were wonderful, intelligent, exciting, affectionate, individual beings. I loved just being around them far more than riding.
When I first got my own horse, Phoebe Snow, I took lessons with a Parelli instructor. I enjoyed it but, I felt there was still something missing. I found my way to clicker training. I took lessons with Leslie Pavlich and found a way to really communicate with Phoebe. Through clicker training, Phoebe and I have become good friends.
Now, I am looking to do more with Phoebe at Liberty. Phoebe and I spend hours everyday together. We do some groundwork, grooming, and while she grazes, I sit with her in the pasture. We walk around the property, explore. And just recently, I have started riding her around the arena. I clip the reins onto her halter and get on her bareback. We just walk around the arena. As I said, I am pretty new to all this. It was important for me to know and trust Phoebe before I just jumped on her back and rode her. I also wanted her to enjoy being with me. To carry me because she wants to not because I make her. In order for me to know this, I'd have to learn to communicate with her.
I have had Phoebe for almost a year now. She is a treasure to me. I adore her.
I want to do more than just teach her what I want, I want to learn to play with her.
I am so happy to have found this particular post. It gives me a place to start playing with Phoebe.
I will start tomorrow and post what happens. I know this post is years old, but, thanks for posting it ! :)


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 10, 2014 10:44 pm 

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Okay, Phoebe and I played with the idea in this post. I ran around the arena, kicking, rolling, bouncing, throwing a soccer ball while Phoebe watched from afar like I had gone insane. A few times, when I'd stop to catch my breath, she would lumber over to me. I'd rub her head, between her ears, tell her she was a "good girl" then run off and play, alone, again.
Phoebe reluctantly, touched her nose to the ball, not out of fear, out of boredom.
I was out of breath and sweating into my eyes and Phoebe was standing over by the gate begging to be let out. She'd turn her head to me, glance at the gate. "Can we end this already?" She seemed to say. She put her head through the rungs and just let her head hang like she was having a miserable time.
Phoebe is a horse that is definitely motivated by food. We have been clicker training for maybe 8 months now. And today, instead of doing our normal groundwork with rewards, we were playing with a ball. Or I was playing with a ball and no rewards for Phoebe were forthcoming. She was bored.
Now, from here? Do I keep this up until Phoebe interacts with me? Will she ever? Or is she just not into sports? :cheer: Phoebe is 7 years old. She is the youngest horse at the barn where I board her. The other horses range from 14 years-22 years. When Phoebe first arrived, she tried to engage them in playing with her. She'd be running around, kicking up her heels in the arena and she'd look over call out to the horses in the nearby pasture. They would just look over at her and walk further away. She doesn't do any of that anymore.
She had all that playfulness in her, I think it's still there. But, how to get it out again and with me?
Any ideas or advice would be greatly appreciated. I am looking forward to developing a fun and playful at Liberty with Phoebe.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 10, 2014 10:58 pm 
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KeliNM wrote:
Now, from here? Do I keep this up until Phoebe interacts with me?


I'd say there really isn't a correct solution. For me this way of doing something on my own just for the sake of it does not really fit into the way I want to interact with horses (or humans for that matter). Instead, I prefer being available, showing the horse that I am open for interaction, and then if he wants to join in, we slowly develop a language from there. But there are so many different ways that work for different people and horses. If you want some ideas, we have a sticky on just that: Different ways of starting to interact with your horse. :f:


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