The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:05 pm 
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I think our positions are not so far apart. I said that one "may" run into problems and only if the behaviour to be modified is a very well trained and/or unconscious one. A rather simple and conscious movement like changing the hip rotation in accordance to the horse's sideways movement, surely won't pose much of a problem.
The better trained and the more complex a behaviour/movement is, the harder it is to change or untrain it.

Romy wrote:
First, individuals tend to get their movements - or actually the perceivable effects of their movements - into synchrony, with no conscious effort to make that happen. [...]

Second, actions are largely controlled by their sensory effects (ideomotor principle): Thinking of that effect automatically activates the representation of the corresponding action. Now if a stimulus I see (e.g. the not quite expected movement of the horse in our example) is very similar to the effect of some movement in my movement repertoire in terms of the features they share (e.g. leftward, fast), it is very easy for me to perform the action that fits, due to the spread of activation to the corresponding motor codes.
I totally agree with you on that, only that I think such things do not come easily or automatically for every one of us and in every situation. To my experience such things depend on what I call a certain kind of "flow" that puts me into the proper disposition to mimic movements intuitively or move my body to a rhythm or in synchrony.

This state of "flow" though, does not come easily to me. It can be hindered or even totally blocked by a lot of different antecedents or situational variables: fear/uneasiness or any kind of discomfort, too much mental focus on a specific part of the task and finally probably a inherited or learned predisposition.
It is not very easy for me to get into synchrony with someone when I want it, but it "happens" a lot of times ;). I believe that the ability to move in rhythm to music for example can be trained and untrained - or better maybe: the ability the get myself into a state of flow.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 21, 2012 1:15 pm 
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Yep, I totally agree that there are many factors that can complicate things or prevent individuals from becoming a real communicative unit. Haha, so much fun discussing with you, but I always worry about the poor people who have to read our conversations. :funny:


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 Post subject: Titum
PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2013 4:41 pm 
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Romy wrote:
Last week I revisited some of our very old threads about goals in an AND-like training, and while doing that I realized that I still so much agree with Miriam when she says that for her the main goal is not that the horses are just happy, but that she wants them to become stronger. Entrepreneur horses is still my number one on the goal list
Have been thinking on this as well lately... I like Mucki to be strong and proud. And entrepreneurial of course! :yes:

What I've found though, is that all of those attributes correlate a lot with my own manifestation of those traits in myself. So if I feel authentically strong and entrepreneur-ish, Mucki is like that as well. And easily so! :ieks: Without having to learn it first.
I often thought that I have to teach Mucki how to overcome fear by using clicker training to move step by step closer to a scary object, until he can touch it. Of course that's a good method and it worked in a lot of situations. But even much better it worked when I not only taught him how to do that, but also SHOWED him how it can be done. It sounds like a trifle, but it makes all the difference to us, if I can do it right.

Again I think horses learn the most from watching and imitating... they seem to have a strong ability to copy a behaviour (as well as mental state) and make it to their own. It seems to me like a special kind of learning ability. Like a visceral hard copy of a behaviour, if you know what I mean?

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 Post subject: Re: Titum
PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2013 7:54 am 
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Yes, I think I know what you mean, and I completely agree.

In terms of its practical consequences, this always makes me think of Annette's old signature, which was something like "Be the change you wish to see in the world", which of course applies to all kinds of situations, not just horses. But at the same time, I am realizing that this makes it very hard for me to teach interacting with horses to others (what you always said, but I guess I never really understood it before, or only rationally). It is just not very helpful and understandable if all I have to tell people is to simply be what they want their horse to be. But that's what it all boils down to, I think. Want an attentive horse? Be attentive yourself. Want a playful horse? Be playful yourself. Want a confident horse? Be confident yourself. And the list goes on. All the specific moves required are just peanuts, and usually directly derive from that inner state automatically, anyway.

The problem I see with this is just that it is neither my task nor my right to be a personality coach and interfere with people's personal styles. But on the other hand, I am afraid that if the change does not come from within, all attempts of teaching communication are futile. Or perhaps not, I guess you can learn a few basic things just by applying outward behaviour patterns such as certain moves of your body. But as soon as the going gets tough, for example when being faced with real-life challenges instead of just training exercises in the arena, you really have to be it.

The hope I see, however, is that body and mental state mutually influence each other, so perhaps if you are teaching the right behaviour to someone, the rest will follow to some degree. :f:


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 Post subject: Re: Titum
PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2013 1:49 pm 
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Romy wrote:
The hope I see, however, is that body and mental state mutually influence each other, so perhaps if you are teaching the right behaviour to someone, the rest will follow to some degree.
I'm absolutely positive that that will happen. That's how we learn and change behaviour after all, isn't it? We observe, we perform the behaviour in our minds first to see how it plays out and finally we try to imitate what we have seen.

I believe that most of the things that are relevant for effectively communicating with horses are within the potential of every human. Posture, body language, expressive energy and so on. I've seen this work with thin people, fat people, small people, tall people, handicapped people. It's surely not really limited by physical parameters. But certainly by psychosomatic ties that are often hidden to us and not easy to sever.
After the incident where Mucki kicked me in December, I could see all that at work within my own body. Fear made my body language totally ineffective - it made me literally small as a mouse. But that fear was not just a product of two hooves on my chest, there was so much more to it. Things that rooted deep back in my childhood as I became aware after some time.
Basically my whole way of interacting, moving, expressing myself is a complicated product of the sum of all my experiences - interactions that went well and those that went wrong. The question remains, how can those things be altered?

For one part I believe that there is no such thing as the "right" body language or the "right" set of movements to interact with a horse. It's a communication process like any other - one between two humans for example. Misunderstandings happen all the time and can be minimised with exercise. An old couple communicates most effectively and often non-verbal. Because they had the time to train themselves ;).
So, I think things get better and more effective just with time...

Beyond that, I think we need dedicated exercises to develop certain traits like being attentive, being playful, or - the worst of all - being confident ;).
I, for example, have a hard time remembering minor details about people I meet for the first time. Like what shoes they wore, or even the color of their hair :ieks:. I usually do remember a strong image about their personality, but my overall tendency is one of evasion, so that I don't look properly.
That's something deeply engraved in me, so that it's hard to overcome in the situation, but I do train this in a playful way: On my way to work I walk along Vienna's busiest shopping street where I try to get at least a quick glance at every passing person and I have to memorise at least one outstanding attribute of each one.

What I want to say with this long-winding example, is that in order to change such deeply rooted personality traits, it's important to have a rather simple, low level exercise and a safe place where it can be exercised. Like a mother provides safety for every toddler step out of the known into the big world outside.
A horse trainer, a fenced arena, or just some simple guidelines can provide that safety to explore new things. This may be a point where AND falls short for some people? After all we don't provide a lot of structured guiding - more the philosophy of try to go your own way.
It's definitely a good way, I believe - one which takes all the responsibility for one's actions. Just sometimes it's hard to walk steady on new ground with so much responsibility on the shoulders...

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 Post subject: Re: Titum
PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:58 am 
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Thank you for this wonderful post, Volker! :)

Houyhnhnm wrote:
For one part I believe that there is no such thing as the "right" body language or the "right" set of movements to interact with a horse. It's a communication process like any other - one between two humans for example. Misunderstandings happen all the time and can be minimised with exercise. An old couple communicates most effectively and often non-verbal. Because they had the time to train themselves ;).
So, I think things get better and more effective just with time...


Absolutely! And many people can communicate very efficiently with their horses without paying attention to body language at all. I think that just like people, horses can learn to reinterpret what the human is doing with his body, or simply ignore it if there isn't much useful or consistent information in it, and find other signals that tell them what to do in a conversation. It's just that a clear body language makes it so much easier, and also allows me to deal with new situations or new horses more easily. Actually for me it seems easiest to work with a young horse who has not had much experience with humans, because without all the reinterpretation and adaptation having taken place yet, they are amazingly uniform in the way they react to the body language that my horses have taught me. This is why I believe that there are body language universals, although of course this does not mean that they cannot be changed during the course of a relationship. :smile:

Houyhnhnm wrote:
I, for example, have a hard time remembering minor details about people I meet for the first time. Like what shoes they wore, or even the color of their hair :ieks:. I usually do remember a strong image about their personality, but my overall tendency is one of evasion, so that I don't look properly.


You are not alone with this, or actually that happens to almost everyone. Over the last two decades there has been a huge interest in phenomena like inattentional blindness and change blindness. People usually don't notice significant changes in their environment, and the underlying mechanisms still aren't totally clear. Here are two video examples, Colour Changing Card Trick and Door Study. You can check out Daniel Simons for more information, or I also have some overview articles in the office, which I can email if someone is interested.

Houyhnhnm wrote:
What I want to say with this long-winding example, is that in order to change such deeply rooted personality traits, it's important to have a rather simple, low level exercise and a safe place where it can be exercised.


I love your memorization game, and I also think that small exercises are a great way of changing the way we perceive and act, and in a very fun way at that. Maybe we can collect such games here in this thread. For me they usually have to do with a reinterpretation of the situation, or with mental images.

One example for a reinterpretation that alters your body language I have learned from Azhar. When walking along our big busy road with Titum and there was a tram or lorry approaching, I always saw him tense up and cringe even before Titum showed the first signs of fear, and this did not improve when I asked him to stand straight and be confident. So we invented a game of being positively excited about trams and acting as if they were the best thing in the world. We said things like "Wow, Titum, look! There is a tram! Isn't it beautiful, and so big!" Needless to say that this changed Azhar's body language completely, so that when there was a scary object, he got bigger instead of smaller. Titum's reaction changed accordingly, and now he even seems to look out for these objects, because they get the party started. :funny:

In terms of the mental images, the children and I often imagine to be someone else, with that person being picked according to the traits and attributes we want to display in a given situation. One of my favourites for confidence is imagining that I was a princess, and that the whole city was mine. Not that I had much of a problem with confidence anyway, but still this changes my way of walking and feeling about my actions into something more regal. It just makes me behave in a quiet and confident way, knowing that everything will turn out the way I want it to be anyway.

I'll try to think of more games that we play, and post them if I come up with something that might be interesting. :f:

Oh, and something that we have had in another thread already but that belongs here as well is the work by Amy Cuddy and colleagues, who show that assuming power postures can change the biochemical processes in your body and actually make you more confident. Here is a talk about that, Your body language shapes who you are, and the corresponding article.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:06 am 
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Romy wrote:
This is why I believe that there are body language universals, although of course this does not mean that they cannot be changed during the course of a relationship.
Yes, I think so too. There must be a universal vocabulary to some degree - even across species. We really should try to collect these universals. (Maybe in a body language e-book, Romy? ;))

I love the games you use with your children. I was also about to post the talk of Amy Cuddy - role playing is such an easy but powerful way of changing one's body language. With our Welsh Cob we assumed the role of the "Welsh General" as he would inspect his army - that was fun :funny:.
I hope we do get a nice collection of games or exercises we can use to alter the body language. I guess mental images are the most powerful and actually simplest of them all.

What really helps me a lot is to "activate" my body before doing something with my horse. That can be a yoga-like exercise, where I focus on movements and body parts.
For example, walking in extreme slow motion, as slowly as possible. In order to do that, one have to be very careful in shifting the weight and not losing balance. Also the feet have to touch down very firmly and consciously. This exercises really roots oneself to the ground and gives a feeling of balance and a strong posture.

But the simplest of all exercises I do to activate my body is just moving. Running, jumping, mucking the paddock, shovelling snow, ... It may sound trivial, but the simple act of warming up works wonders. Too often I come directly from hours at the computer, sit immobile again in my car, then grab my horse and expect myself to be in any shape to do "body work" with my horse! :roll: Everyone talks about warming up your horse, but we need warming up ourselves even before that...

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:59 pm 
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Houyhnhnm wrote:
There must be a universal vocabulary to some degree - even across species. We really should try to collect these universals. (Maybe in a body language e-book, Romy? ;))


When I read this, my first thought was "Oh great, let's do that!" However, the more I was thinking about it, the more I was wondering what such a collection might look like. This is because what I mean when speaking of body language universals is not a collection of moves but something much more basic. Like the laws of phyics for example, or the general tendency for automatic imitation, or the way someone's expression is affected by his emotion.

So yes, I could tell people that if you move one of your body parts (e.g. your hip) towards a body part of the horse (e.g. his chest), this will result in a tendency of the horse to move that body part away. Or that an increase in your tension will make the horse tense up as well, and tell him that something is about to happen (e.g. that a signal will come from you soon). Or that the general predictability and uniformity of your moves will influence whether the horse moves in a calm and flowing way (at the risk of perhaps becoming a bit dull if he isn't a naturally excited person anyway) or whether he will be more ready to react and also shorten his frame more easily. But that is so trivial and actually goes without saying. I believe that everyone knows these things, and even if he does not (simply because he has not thought about it yet), it would probably just take him one second to find these universals all by himself.

I think the tricky part is not knowing these things, but applying them. Preferably in a way that fits with your goals in a given situation, and even better if that happens automatically, so that you don't look like playing a program but like someone who is performing a natural movement. For that purpose, I think a collection of mental images might be more helpful, because they help you find the right moves automatically, and thus relieve you from the burden of having to think about all these things while working with your horse.


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 23, 2013 7:14 pm 
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I think that in a lot of the conversation about body language, the characteristics inherent to the way a person moves, particularly the shape of the moves, are overemphasized relative to the genuinely joint aspects. That is, I think you cannot put enough emphasis on the way the moves of the horse and human are coupled. Also in their shape (e.g. the human shifts his hip and the horse responds with a congruent move of his hindquarters, or vice versa), but mostly in their timing.

To me there is noting as important as adjusting your own moves to those of the horse precisely when asking for something and when reacting to the horse's moves. This mainly consists of being flexible and reacting to the horse with moves that closely match what he just did, and doing so at the very moment when he does it. However, I think this does not have to be done only for the big actions but feedback should be given in that way for any action he produces. Actually I think that attending to this mimicry or binding (or perhaps not attending but doing it automatically, but doing it ;)) is the main key to getting a subtle communication. If I will ever get my body language book finished, this will be a big chapter in it, because I think this is so important. At the same time, it's one of the hardest things to do for many humans.

Today I was lucky to get a very spontaneous and unpractised example for this on video: Nelly being precise in coupling her actions to those of Pan. She may not use a lot of elaborated body language in terms of using her hips or other body parts for cueing, but her actions are matched with Pan's moves in such a nice way. Enjoy! :)


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PostPosted: Tue Jul 16, 2013 9:48 am 
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What a brilliant thread Romy! I also can truly see the important in what you say about that 'binding' of motion between you and the horse. I hadn't really analyzed it in such detail as you've written up here, but what you describe definitely happens naturally between Skylark and I. Although Spirit and I are on a clear path to getting there, I think it's a little like once you've made friends with somebody, you begin to 'merge' even more so after some time...

I love that biological motion demo! I would like to show it to anyone who is about to spend time with Spirit and Skylark :twisted:. It is great how it just really makes you aware of how clear these subtle differences are.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 18, 2013 10:45 am 
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Oh my god, here is so much to read.

So, before getting into exchange, I have to comment this:

Quote:
http://www.biomotionlab.ca/Demos/BMLwalker.html


I love this, never saw anything like it, brillant, Romy.
And what a wonderful, genius basis for a thread like this.

Thanks :f:


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 3:46 pm 
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Brilliant videos, Romy. :f:
I really like them and I love this kind of communication. So calm, smooth and soft. Like dancing together. :sun:


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2015 8:41 am 
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This post will introduce an option to block unwanted movement with your body language, so that you only get the very move you are after. I call it the two-step, simply because it consists of two subsequent component actions.

There are moments when I want a horse to perform a particular movement, but I simply cannot communicate this. For example, I might try to ask Summy to turn his hindquarters towards me while I am standing next to his neck, facing his hindquarters (I have added a figure for illustration, in which part A is the starting point). A plausible way to do this is to turn my outer leg and hip outwards/backwards (B) so that my outer hip is supposed to draw his hindquarters towards me. However, what often happens in these situations is that the whole body of the horse moves sideways (C).

When I was trying to change that yesterday, I remembered a training with Lena and Pan. We had realized that it's not only important what your outer body part does but that your inner body part, the one that is closer to the horse, acts as an anchor. Thus, I clearly put my weight on my inner leg while moving the outer leg, but to no avail. Summy was still moving sideways, and also bringing his shoulder towards me so that he was almost pushing into me.

Then I remembered something that I had found to be important earlier (thanks to Pia, you can see it in the R+ for humans video): That my movement has to happen in two steps. I often see that when using my body language, it's not posture that matters but movement. That is, only the fact that my weight is on my inside leg does not help much - what needs to be emphasized is the process of putting the weight there first. I can do this by making a very obvious step with the inner leg and then put my weight on it, i.e. I lean a bit to the inside. This binds the horse to that change and keeps his frontquaters fixed. Once this is accomplished, I can move my outer hip to draw the hindquarters (D).

Of course this is not restricted to the particular exercise of drawing hindquarters but can also be used for other movements in which you need a particular body part of the horse to stay fixed, or where you need different body parts to do different things.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2015 9:31 am 
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That's great, thank you!
Yesterday I also made some experience while trying to invite Nathan to move sidewards to me, but this didn't work out, because the exactly opposite of what you described happened. I was in front of him, facing his frontquarters and crossing my own legs and pushing my hips to the side, with the idea of his body sticking to mine, so that he would follow me with his whole body and crossing legs. But in fact, his hindquarters were fixed to the ground, while his frontquarters described a nice circle :green:
So the solution for that may be to stand more besides the horse and move my hip and leg without putting weight on the inner leg, right?


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2015 7:56 pm 
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Jana, that's exactly what almost every horse does in the beginning. For me to be able to draw the hindquarters to me during the sideways, it works best to first get some movement into the hindquarters. For example, I can do this by walking forwards and then gradually shaping that into a sideways movement. It's just so much easier to change an existing movement instead of starting one from scratch. But it can take a while, and whereas with some horses it works within some minutes, with others I need some hours. With Summy it was quite difficult at first and I tried out several things, so maybe this post can help you.


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