The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 8:35 pm 

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Yes! Thank you for that :lol:


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 11:05 pm 
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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... 8) 8)


Whew, I'm being quoted a lot! 8)

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, :wink: 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.


Last edited by admin on Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:19 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 11:33 pm 
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If this is your understanding of stimulus control, then I agree that we train in the same manner also in this aspect. ;)

At the first moment I thought that only in our case I don´t need to be the one who balances the situation again, because Titum does this by himself (remember the new favourite exercises that he offers all the time for two or three days and then their frequency becomes normal again?). But my second thought was that maybe he does this because I do (unconsciously) use stimulus control as a balancing tool. Not so clear as ignoring the exercise or rewarding the opposite, but of course I get less happy about a back crunch after two days of almost nothing else - and reward it less enthusiastically. Of course he realizes that, so yes, if stimulus control is defined in that way, we also use it.

Thanks for the clarification!! :D


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 21, 2008 8:56 am 

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It does!
very interesting discussion :) .

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:38 pm 
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Romy wrote:
At the first moment I thought that only in our case I don´t need to be the one who balances the situation again, because Titum does this by himself (remember the new favourite exercises that he offers all the time for two or three days and then their frequency becomes normal again?). But my second thought was that maybe he does this because I do (unconsciously) use stimulus control as a balancing tool.


I think we all do that on an unconscious level already, and with a lot of horses these unconscious actions (rewarding less, placing more focus on other, newer exercises) will automatically tell him that he doesn't need to focus on that exercise that much anymore either. With Blacky it works like that too and he learns that on his own, without me having to focus more on that. Sjors however.. :roll: 8)

I guess that Sjors' problem is that he is extremely intelligent, but also is extremely focused on what he learns. He is over-focused. If you teach him the Spanish walk (or trot, or anything else), he turn a switch in his mind and suddenly all his grey cells are thinking is 'we should do this exercise!!!'. And he looses himself in that exercise: he shuts off his brain and just does that one exercise in that one manner he knows it, and doesn't notice anything else anymore. If you give Sjors four times a treat when he pushes a handle and then stop rewarding, he won't notice it. If you stop giving treats for pushing that handle he just will continue pushing that handle as long as it takes to get that treat again, be it a 100 times or a 1000. So with Sjors I really have to actively train the obsession away. If I don't do that, he will do that same exercise in that same manner over and over again. Not only will we not be able to do any other exercises, but I won't be able to shape that first exercise any further either, because Sjors has engraved in his mind that it should be done in this way - and only this way.

So when teaching Sjors Spanish trot I really have to empahsize that regular trot is still very good too, and trot with a low neck too, and a regular ramener-trot too, and that a correct bend in his body during trot is still very good too. If I don't reward all those old exercises extra when he learns something new, he will replace them all with Spanish trot. For example, when he learned shoulder-in in trot, he lost the shoulder-in in walk, and the ability to make voltes and to move straight, and actually the entire walk, for quite a while. Let's just say that he is a wonderful challenge. And that I learned some important lessons on training Sjors. 8)


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 12:52 pm 
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marleen wrote:
Yes! Thank you for that :lol:


Welcome :) 8)

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 24, 2008 9:22 pm 
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I have upgraded this topic to a sticky!

(Heheheh... The power of being a moderator... :twisted: :twisted: :twisted: 8))


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 7:48 pm 
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I'm glad this topic is a sticky, as it means that I have found it easily :D

This is a really useful thread for me, as Skylark has begun 'cutting me off' when I try to walk away from her, like some of you have described. I try to make a visual boundary with my arms, but I like what Josepha has said about saying 'no', not looking at her, and meaningfully moving around her until I find an opening to leave. It has reminded me to set my intention completely and apply myself with my focus.

:f:


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 7:53 pm 
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Summy did the cutting off a lot (and still does sometimes when he is very excited), but then I simply froze: I stopped all my movement and did not walk on anymore at all, until he stepped out of my space again. Thus, him blocking my way made the game end immediately, whereas making room for me started it again. He learned that very quickly. :smile:


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 4:31 am 

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This topic has been an interesting read for me...

I had the cutting off issues and aggression when no more food was given (especially if Kami new I had some left). It took me ages to work out what to do :blush: I stopped using them for awhile to get her out of the routine of expecting them every time I came to interact. She is food aggressive in the herd also and moves the others (except Nambi) away when she wants too.

I finally decided to start walking away, not looking at her (almost ignoring her as I watch Nambi do), sometimes like Josepha said and widening my arms out with or without my grooming stick (a long whip). I had to communicate to her I could not cope with her actions and they were frightening me - wanted her to realise she is powerful and stronger than me physically - know her own strength.

Like Marlene I was too was feeling very non-assertive and weak and soft. I remember mentioning this to Imke and she said - you can never be too soft with a horse :smile:

I have not done any clicker training (guess i need to look into it - i had and aversion to if for some reason) to help also. I still have to be mindful how I use treats with Kami. I also was giving treats 'just because' for awhile and still do sometimes but not as much - feel I was too lavish with them in the beginning.... Guess i was stuck for anything good to do with them when they first came as they were so anti human.

I also did not want to block the energy flow of forward movement or get in her way so I had to move away. Standing still did not work at all for this challenging mare - it was dangerous as I found out. I had to learn to MOVE :sun:


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 23, 2013 9:01 pm 
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Tracey, what you said is very interesting, as I have found that the method you described, walking away and completely ignoring, works well with Skylark, but only if I do this with complete focus and resolve. If I try to do this, but do not really mean it, then I may as well not even try!
I do find that Romy's suggestion of standing still works with Skylark, but I think that this is because she is young, and has a short attention span! She gets bored and walks off. The first method seems to be more 'conversational' to me, as a process of getting the message across that "I want to be left to my own personal space now, please :smile: "

So, personally, I use both these very different methods but depending on the situation. I also have tried to give the clear visual aid of arms out etc, but Skylark seems to find this fascinating and it draws her closer somehow :funny:. She responds better when I clearly ask her to back away or to the side, using my hips as the main body language.

The other thing that I wanted to comment on was what you said about "you can never be too soft with a horse" :f: I love this and it is very true to how I feel in my heart. But I do feel that it is something that I do have to regularly remind myself of - sometimes when Skylark in particular is so huge and exuberant in her character, I find that I tune up the volume too much and my softness dwindles.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 28, 2013 5:30 pm 
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This morning while working in the pasture, I realized that stimulus control plays quite a big role in my interaction with my horses. I always thought it did not, and actually it's slightly different from the way many other people use stimulus control. My horses usually get rewarded for any exercise they offer, regardless of whether I had asked for that exercise or not. Sometimes I even give a treat in response to an offer that I am not particularly interested in (see this thread: Treats as communicative feedback). So where is the stimulus control?

First, it's in the fact that my rewards depend on how much I like what they do and how good I feel about it. For example, the horses don't get rewarded, or not very enthusiastically, if they did a wonderful exercise but it made me worry about my safety (e.g. Pia running towards me on her hindlegs while waving her frontlegs in the direction of my face). On the other hand, for the 20th repetition of an exercise I don't reward as enthusiastically as I did for the first one or two. The result of this is that they don't just choose the things they do based on the exercise itself (throwing exercises at the human) but closely look at the human's expression. Thus, they learn to only offer exercises that the human feels good about.

But besides this more emotional aspect there is a situational kind of stimulus control, which I became aware of this morning. It's in the dependence of my reaction to their offers on the context. With context I mean all kinds of things like my current activity, the place we are at or the presence of other hoses or humans. I realized this because Bacardy still offers all kinds of exercises in a way that does not seem to depend on the situation at all. That is, for example he offered his leg lifts no matter if I was busy with the hay or not, no matter if I was looking or not, and no matter if I had any free resources to focus on him or not. Or he offered backing up so that he was standing in my way. This made me realize that my other horses don't do that. They don't offer exercises that seem inappropriate in a given situation. For example when I am pushing a wheelbarrow, they sometimes walk in front of me, yielding away from the wheelbarrow in shoulder-in. But they don't rear in front of the wheelbarrow, or don't offer leg lifts while standing in my way. Similarly, they rear next to me while I am watering their hay, but they don't offer any exercises in movement that would require me to come with them. And then there are situations where they don't offer anything at all, which perfectly coincides with the moments when I have no free time or capacity to do something with them.

This made me conclude that they have learned what exercise, if any, will be rewarding in a given situation, during a particular activity or at a particular place. I like this kind of "emergent stimulus control", because it prevents the performance of innappropriate exercises, but it does so in a way that is directly tied to the actual requirements of the situation. In that way, it does not only create horses that are safe to interact with but who seamlessly integrate themselves and their communicative acts into the currrent activity. This, in turn, makes it possible for me to not strictly differentiate between time for work versus play, because both is possible at the same time. :f:


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 28, 2013 7:13 pm 
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Romy wrote:
I like this kind of "emergent stimulus control", because it prevents the performance of innappropriate exercises, but it does so in a way that is directly tied to the actual requirements of the situation. In that way, it does not only create horses that are safe to interact with but who seamlessly integrate themselves and their communicative acts into the currrent activity. This, in turn, makes it possible for me to not strictly differentiate between time for work versus play, because both is possible at the same time. :f:
You're so right! :idea: I never thought of it as stimulus control, but it is exactly that. Except that the control seems to emanate more from the horse, contrary to the conventional idea of stimulus control being something that comes from the training skills of the human handler. In fact it's a result of the exceptional observation skills of the horses 8).

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