But, as Miriam says - you shoud very soon get stimuluscontrol on a horse, meaning they only do the exercice when asked.... I am just too used to dogs...
Whew, I'm being quoted a lot!
I think that Romy and I in reality train very much in the same manner: always supporting the horse when he shows more confidence and uses his own imagination more. But for me personally stimulus control doesn't just mean that you erase that and turn the horse into a robot who does everything on cue only. Not at all! It's quite logical to interpret it like that (you teach the horse only to do things on cue from now on) but in reality stimulus control is something much more subtle and isn't about making life easier for the human, but repairing a distortion that you as a trainer have caused.
Stimulus control for me is more something that kicks into action once you disrupt the balance of a behavior as a trainer. You do that in order to show the horse what kind of behavior/movement you want from him. And then you have to balance that out again once the horse knows what you mean. So the need for stimulus control for me isn't something that needs to be done because horses are maniacs,
but because as trainer we disrupt the balance and value of the behavior of the horse all the time. And stimulus control only needs to be focused on if that temporarily shifted balance is getting disturbing.
Teach the horse the Spanish walk or Jambette is a good example for that: if you leave your horse on his own, with other horses or with you totally at liberty and he stretches a frontleg every now and then without you reacting to it, then the stretched.kicked out frontleg doesn't have a realy high value for your horse. It's not more precious to him than lifting a hindleg in order to get into the sleeping posture, or than placing a front hoof forwards in order to start walking. However, now you decide to use that pawing frontleg in order to get a Spanish walk, and you reward for such a pawing leg by giving him lots of love, food and attention. Your horse will now start to repeat this movement more and more and more fantatically and enthusiastic, because the balance has shifted: lashing out with a frontleg suddenly has because much higher in value than walking or sleeping, so your horse will want to do this all the time.
In the beginning of training the Spanish walk, you actually use that obsession with the leg kicking, because that enables the horse to learn faster what it is you want exactly. However, once you have made a cue for that leg-kicking and you are ready to start shaping the movements in more subtle ways, you need to move the leg kicking out of the spotlights again and give it the same worth as other movements your horse does unconsciously, in order to restore the balance. Because otherwise you will just get a very stressed and annoyed horse, who will start pawing more and more and more in order to get attention, and will overrule every other movement he could have been thinking of on his own. Placing a specific spontaneous behavior in the spotlights, means that all the other spontaneous behaviors will move to the background because this one is clearly worth much much more than the other things he might think of. If a horse gets obsessed with a particular movement, he will actually show much less to no other spontaneous behavior anymore.
So that's where the stimulus control kicks in: as trainer we have distorted the balance of worth of movements in order to use a specific movement, and then we have to restore that balance again: the leg-lift has been put on cue for further training, and now we want to tell the horse that from now on spontaneous leg-lifts won't be stimulated anymore in the way that you did before. You want to let him realise that he of course can lift his leg if he wants to, but to you that doesn't have any more worth than lifting a hindleg to go to sleep again. Of course one day you might start thinking about the piaffe, and suddenly start rewarding that hindleg-lift enourmously in order to use that for the piaffe. But in the meantime, untill you have turned your spotlight onto a specific movement, all movements are equal. Only that will allow your horse to be really free in expressing all the movements he can think of - which you can then stimulate again.
Therefore, stimulus control isn't about forbidding the horse to do a specific movement if you haven't asked for it. At least, that's not how I use it. I do use stimulus control, but I don't use corrections in order to force that down onto the horse. Instead, stimulus control for me really
is about restoring balance. In a short period of time I have released a massive amount of rewards for the frontleg-lift, and with that ranked that movement far above all the other movements possible, like standing still, lowering the head, walking etc.. So stimulus control means that I restore that balance, not by showing the horse that the leglift is now illegal, but by showing him that all the other movements are just as valuable too: so I do stop rewarding for illegal leglifts for a while because in the horses' mind that has already has gained a huge worth, but I'll reward all the other spontaneous behaviors that have been ignored a bit lately: I'll reward a lot for just standing still on for legs, for regular walk, for halting and especially for the head-lowering. It restores the balance of the exercises without punishing the horse for something that you as trainer have caused. You restore the problem you've caused.
So what is my ideal? A pony that in the end doesn't lift a leg anymore without me commanding it to him? No, my goal of stimulus control is to get the spontaneous movements into the proper balance again: A spontaneous leg-lift is nice, but a good halt too, and a nice head-lowering or a ramener is even better. And if the horse is more high-spirited and wants to show off, that leg-lift is nice, but other movements he can think of are more than welcome too, especially those! I just want to restore the mental balance of the horse: in the past, he wouldn't think much over lifting a frontleg. Then I caused an artificial obsession with leg-lifting, and all I want to do is to erase that artificial obsession again. The horse still can offer a spontaneous leg-lift occasionally like before we started training, and it will earn him perhaps even praise, but the horse needs to learn again that this is just 'one of those movements' he can do, instead of the one and only thing that will lead him to treat-heaven.
So everything is in the hand of the trainer: you cause an obsession,you take care of it. That is the essence of stimulus control. If you see that your horse shows much more spontaneous leg-lifts than before, even an obsessive amount, you should fix that problem that you have caused. That is stimulus control. And with some horses, it means that you just reward three times extra for putting the leg down again, or standing still with four hooves on the ground (Blacky), and with others (Sjors) you need to spend more time on restoring the balance again, by ignoring the spontanous obsessive scraping and rewarding all other spontanous movements for a longer period of time.