The Art of Natural Dressage

Working with the Horse's Initiative
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 9:34 pm 
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It is a huge topic, but it comes all together lately for me. I will start first with my own background/history on Treats.

I will start with my very first horse, when I was a teenager - he was not my horse, but I did look after him and later was basically the only one to work with him. He had learned to beg in the stable for food in a degree, that he would start hurting himself. When he got food, he could not stand calm anymore and sniff all around. Of course I did not know any CT or such, I just stopped to give any treats and warded of people who wanted to give him a treat.

At NHE people compared the horses with friends who you invite for coffee and give them cake. But you would not give a piece of cake, for every little help your friend offers. There were other reasons, but they all did not convince me. I try to compare horses not too much with humans. A horse is a horse :wink:

Now I have my two horses for almost 2 months. They already had learned to search for food treats from people and I thought to give marker/clicker training a try. It worked well, they did stop mugging me for food, but turned their noses away instead. But they also started to fight between each other, for the food rewards. So I did not much more then the introduction of food rewards. I pondered about a way to work with the horses, without having to separate them. I was back to "no hand-feeding".

I need to teach my horses some basic manners, like not running me over and standing, giving feet for trimming. That did lead me to the methods described in Bill Dorrance book "True horsemanship through feel" and by Dr. Deb. Basically those are pressure/release based - but still different from Parelli.

Then I read this in Ingela's diary, which gave me a lot of food for thoughts:
windhorsesue wrote:


Yvonne wrote:
At this moment I do not not work with food rewards. Instead I reward my horse with rest and relaxation.

Whenever my horse do's something great I let him stop with whatever he was performing (trotting on a circle is obvious, but also stopping with touching an obstacle with his nose or feet seems fine with him as a reward) Stopping means; me dropping the rope (if I use a rope) turning my back towards him when he's on a circle so he knows he's allowed to come towards me (I want to introduce me stepping backwards as a sign to come to me), when he's standing next to me, I gently rub his neck so he lowers his head. All my horses love it. The now lower their head even before I touch them. They also love the ear-rubs

It's a Parelli method to let your horse relax. I think it's a great reward for my horses, even though it's based on pressure and taking away pressure.



What you're describing is Pressure and Release based training, which is quite a different thing to reward based training.. not just in words.
Many Pressure/release trainers use the word "reward" to describe the release, or the opportunity for the horse to quit the task and relax. They use it incorrectly..

I'm not wanting to diss this method of training.. It certainly has it's uses, and it's very effective for most purposes, when applied with good feel and timing and clarity of cues. Many "positive reinforcement" trainers still use pressure and release sometimes, for some things, myself included.

Okay.. BUt.. What you describe is not a reward. And there are some very important reasons for understanding this correctly, even if you choose to use it.

A reward is ADDING something POSITIVE.. If the horse is feeling like the task is less pleasant than standing still and relaxing, then what you are doing by releasing the pressure is REMOVING something NEGATIVE.

The language of Behaviour Modification Theory can be a bit daunting.... but I think it's really worth understanding and considering if you're interested in trying out reward based training, and especially if you're wanting the horse to come to see the tasks themselves as rewarding and enjoyable, and begin to WANT to do better, innovate, offer up ideas, become an equal partner in the quest.

What those of us who are using R+ training are usually finding, is that when we do begin to provide REAL rewards (which could just be your neck stroke or ear scratch if you don't want to give food :D ) and STOP using pressure and release as much as possible as a teaching tool and motivator, our horses start to think..and enjoy...
And THEN!!! :!: Instead of viewing the task as something less pleasant, and the cessation of the task as more pleasant, they begin to ASK to perform the task, and the cessation of training can actually be seen as a punishment! "Oh no! WHat did I do wrong.. my human doesn't want to play with me anymore!"
Then things move up to the next level :D

So, we generally try to SHOW the horse what we want and get them to think about it, rather than to use pressure (mental or physical) to move them.. when the horse responds to a pressure cue, they're usually just reacting.. not thinking. The horse is initially motivated because he knows that doing a task with us is fun, challenging, and rewarding when he gets it right.. he gets scratches, carrot and praise, and his good friend is hanging out and enjopying doing it with him. Gradually, the task itself becomes linked with the positive feelings and they actually enjoy performing the task, just for the good feeling it gives them!

By contrast.. using pressure and release.. We cue the horse with pressure, preferably slight pressure, then after the horse has responded sufficiently we remove the pressure (or the threat of pressure) and the horse gets relief from the pressure/task/work. THen you add in scratching ears and stroking neck. The horse links standing still and not performing the task with relief from pressure.. and the desire to stand still and not perform becomes stronger. The perception of the task as something not fun or enjoyable that just must be done, becomes stronger.. but the horse does it.. because they know about phases.. and they know (well most of them do.. .but ones like Belgarion just seem to never accept it) that if they just get on and finish it, they'll get relief and be able to stand still again.


By contrast, my horses who now know that I don't use pressure (or very rarely) now line up at the gate to come in and train, will walk away from grass (even though they don't have any in their paddock) if they see me working with other horses and beg me to work with them too, will spontaneously offer up new and more energetic and creative movements just because they think I might appreciate them and they enjoy doing it, will perform at their best much of the time, without any perception of pressure at all, simply because they find it TRULY rewarding.. intrinsically for the good feeling it brings up in them with endorphin release, and extrinsically for the pleasure it brings me, and then the reward I give them in my pleasure!

I've personally never seen even the most beautifully Parelli trained horses behave in this way.. Because they have been systematically taught that performing tasks is not pleasant, and standing still (or even having their trainer go away and leave them alone!! :shock: ) is a relief.

Not too say that my horses are more spectacular or perfectly behaved than a Parelli trained horse. They're NOT. :lol: They are simply POSITIVELY motivated, and trained with Reward.

It can be quite a challenge to stay on this path in the beginning stages though, when the horse is still used to thinking of work as a negative thing and non-work as a positive, and they're difficult to motivate.. Pressure/release training is probably initially much faster and simpler for most people. That's where the intelligent use of food treats can be very helpful. :wink:

Sue

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 10:20 pm 
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So, that was where I come from and now will write what I came up with :scratch: after lots of thinking.

First I realized, that people who use pressure/release, they can apply it very differently. So using the same words, one can talk about something very different.

Then I did read in Bill Dorrance "True horsemanship though feel" something that hit me, before I just had read it, but now it had much more meaning. I could not find that quote again just now :oops: , but found another place where he basically says the same:
Quote:
You're working to develop his actual understanding - not his automatic response to force with the understanding left out.

The other quote went somewhat like: You do want to build understanding and not a conditioned response to force.

I believe, that the pressure used by Parelli, might be already just too much force. At least many Parelli trained horses seem to not gain understanding.

But it made me also think about conditioned or automatic response by R+ training/ Clicker training. Do the horses gain understanding?

What is pressure? It can be so many things. It can be just ones body Aura, a touch or maybe even the promise of a food reward?

Is pressure really always negative? I think, it might, if light enough, just be a signal - so the release would be also just a signal, similar to the mark/click. Then the understanding might be even the reward. To understand what the other wants to communicate feels good. As Bill Dorrance says: the horse does want to get along. It sure does look like it :wink:

I know that here are a few other people who have been pondering about food rewards, pressure/release and such. I am looking forward to here some of your ideas :D

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 11:38 pm 
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Very interesting topic, Andrea!! :D

Actually something that is maybe not directly the topic you wanted to talk about caught my interest:

AndreaO wrote:
But it made me also think about conditioned or automatic response by R+ training/ Clicker training. Do the horses gain understanding?


What is the role of understanding in our horses' (and our own) behaviour?

In Cognitive Psychology there is a long tradition of debate over automatic vs. controlled processing. Not only about how it works but also about its role and if this distinction is valid at all. But besides all that, automatic processing is often regarded as some sort of “quick and dirty” reaction that requires little attention and mental effort. The other side is that exactly because of this it is very efficient and makes things much easier in many situations.

To make my point a bit clearer: imagine you are dancing with your husband and he makes a certain move. You automatically follow him within a split second and there is a lot of harmony in your joint movement. Now imagine that in the same situation you are trying to understand what he is going to tell you by moving in that way and to analyze if you should do it in a certain way or if you should do it at all. Would this make your dance more worthy as you are being more conscious? Or would it simply disrupt the ease and intuitivity of your cooperation?

To take a more horse-related example: when you are learning the Spanish walk with your horse while he already knows the jambette, is it beneficial if he always thinks it through if and how he should lift his leg at each step, or does only the fact that the leg lifting has indeed become quite automatic make it possible to free some cognitive ressources so that your horse can think about walking forwards at all?

There are other moments where thoroughly thinking things through can be very beneficial, especially in new and potenially dangerous situations. But which of them are what you are looking for in your interaction with your horses in which situations? When is it necessary and when is it beneficial to have controlled processing, reflection about one´s actions and understanding? When is it better to just go with your (automatic) feeling? I think that there is no definite answer to that, but for me the conditioned and automatic side in our training is as good (and useful!) as it is in the rest of our lives.

Read this with the thought in mind that it is said by someone who does not understand his horses at all but also responds to them quite automatically in most situations… :lol:

Sorry if I am off topic. If you want to, we can split the topic and make a new topic about the role of understanding vs. automatic responses? Thanks for bringing up this topic! :)


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 13, 2008 11:46 pm 

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Andrea,
I just wrote a reply and somehow it didn't post...so I will start again!
I am glad you brought this up as it is exactly where I am at at present. I have read here and it seems that clicker training and treats is very popular. I am not convinced though that the use of food does not bring about it's own set of problems so I am reluctant to take that path.
What I did notice at the beginning when I introduced the ball is that Morgan would move it slightly then immediately swing his bum around for a scratch. He had no interest in playing with the ball but was prepared to move it in order to get his petting reward.
The use of pressure/release is also interesting. I have found that Morgan would rush through the moves to get left alone again. If he didn't understand what I was asking he would try a few other moves in the hope that I would like one and back off! I found it quite demeaning for him and didn't want to do that anymore.
I will still use Parelli stuff (mental and suggestion), and did in fact last week in the case of a horse that would not get in the box and had no previous education in boxing. It is not my preferred choice though.
What I did learn though is that it feels okay for me to use pressure/release in the case of using a line on the halter to get somewhere I need to go out of necessity for example through the field gate or returning from a free walk. I made the mistake of always giving him free choice and this lead to a horse that would halter pull. It was very quick for him to understand that when the line is on he must pay attention to what I ask (ie walk without plunging his head in the grass) and when he is at liberty he has free choice always.
I am hoping that in time he will offer more and I get glimpses of this from time to time and realise that it is possible without the use of treats. Last week I was standing on the fence line talking to someone and Morgan was desperate to get my attention. Eventually he resorted to picking up his front legs one after the other in turn as if to say "if you come over I will do some moves for you"! I had to go say hello....how could I resist!!!!
I do think that he knows how pleased I am when makes a try, no matter how small and yes it can be hard to motivate him but I am looking forward to trying some new games to hopefully inspire him to offer more.
So I have done the domination angle and then gone the other way and given him all the power of choice and now I am swinging it back in balance and it is working so far......

I think it is very important to take into account the previous use/handling/experience of the horse. For instance my horse has no fear of the box and will come inside while I am cleaning it just because he can. On the other extreme there is the horse that no amount of pressure will get it in a box. So sometimes I think conditioning with food is really okay as long as all other factors have been ruled out first.

Well that's my thoughts and maybe sometime in the future I will change my mind if my horse tells me different!

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 7:48 am 
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Interesting conversation!

For me, it's playing out like this...

On some level, everything we do with our horses has an element of pressure. I think that subtle pressures are a part of our relationships with everyone in our lives.

However, here's how I see the difference between what I'm working towards and traditional pressure/release training:

I'm discovering the differences between an invitation, a request, and a demand/command.

My goal is to invite as much as possible -- and to be invited, which is just starting to happen, and I'm delighted by it. Whether that is for a specific movement or reaction, or interaction in general.

There is a generosity and opening of energy for both me and horses when I approach our conversation this way. We are each allowed to have our opinions, and we can say yes -- or no -- without fear of reprisal. When I find this energy, we find delight in being and doing together. For me, this is the antithesis of the pressure/release/negative reinforcement training that Sue was talking about above. They want to do things with me instead of wanting to be finished.

For me, a modified clicker training and lots of treats has been an obvious road to get to this. And it's working amazingly well. I'm playing the host on some level when I do this -- inviting my horses to the party, and offering them hors d'oeuvres! :-) It has been the quickest way to shift our energies that I've found (everything else I've done has been at its heart pressure and negative reinforcement based). It's been very interesting to work with this with two extremely different horses -- one finding his confidence and self after years of trauma, whose basic instinct is to pull into himself and do nothing, and one who is young and full of life and passion and desperately wanting to be a respected, integral part of the herd.

Your thoughts about liberty and head pulling are interesting to me, Annette, because I've found, ultimately, the opposite to be true with Circe, my young filly. It took my going all the way to her calling the shots for us to begin to to walk in a halter and lead rope without fights. She, at least, needed to heard and seen and respected first, before she would grant me the same attention and respect. I come from a traditional training background and this seemed counter-intuitive to me for quite a while -- I was concerned that if I fully gave into her desires, we'd have a huge fight on our hands once I tried to take control back. (This is what I'd been taught, over and over -- don't let them push you around! You're the boss! And so on and so on.)

I wrestled long and hard with myself (and with her! :lol:) as I figured this out -- it's been our journey of the last couple of months. And I am truly amazed at what's unfolded. We are truly learning to hear each other. She trusts me now in a way that she absolutely didn't before, and is willing to follow my invitation almost all of the time.

Sometimes I up the pressure of the invitation to a request -- I will ask for something, which has a bit more focused purpose and intensity from me. This happens most frequently when we're doing something she's not sure about -- at the moment, this is generally about doing things or going places that she's nervous about. Even in this case, though, I'll ask, and then I'll back off, allowing her to find her comfort zone with where we are now. And then I'll invite again. As I push at the edges of this a little, her comfort zone is increasing.

Since I've stopped (almost completely, except in moments where I need to remind them I'm fragile and occasionally when they just can't resist that clump of grass and I need to get going -- and even then, I reward and thank them when they hear me) demanding or commanding, she doesn't refuse. She's interested in exploring new things and her confidence is increasing. Sometimes, her curiosity and her uncertainty need a little time to re-calibrate, and as long as I don't demand while she's figuring that out, she decides that she's willing to try. This is teaching me both a lot about patience and a lot about learning to look at the world through her eyes.

For me, the treats have been a positive operant conditioning tool as part of my invitation -- connecting doing with pleasure rather than duty. I don't feel that they replace understanding, but instead provide an opportunity for it to happen. I don't think treats are the only way you can get there, by any means, but it is a very logical way to start, in my mind. For Stardust, it has completely changed the game. He has gone from a horse who I had to push the hell out of to move to a horse who runs and plays with me because he wants to. And he's very clear when he's not in the mood -- treats don't get him to do anything he isn't interested in doing if he really doesn't want to. (So there is no coercion here, which is part of what I was unsure of before I started using treats -- I worried that it would feel like they were little automatons, bribed into performing with a treat. That is SO not what we're experiencing!)

So, I don't think any of us completely step away from all pressure (either giving or receiving) with our horses, but to me the difference is in the intent, the communication, the intensity, and the parity of the relationship. And I'm finding that by following Josepha's beautiful advice "Give first, then ask," I can invite/ask more and receive more with no sense of power struggle. And the more I do this, the more convinced I am that the power struggles arise because the relationship hasn't deepened and the trust isn't where it could be. That certainly seems to be true in our interactions.

One of the layers that I needed to discover in order to find this opening was to let go of my sense of being the one who dictates what we're going to do for the day. I used to march into the ranch where I board with a plan for the day -- now, I come with a variety of ideas and possibilities, and see what unfolds. We play off of each other's energy and interest -- we are becoming jazz musicians together, improvising. We're transitioning, deeply, from work to play, and we're learning how to play with each other. (Which is, Romy, I think another take on what you were talking about --- there are times when we're thinking hard and times when we're just in the flow, doing. Both, I think, are valid and even important! We're learning how to dance together -- and sometimes we think about it, and sometimes we just find the flow.)

I'm interested, Annette, in what you see as the problems with treats? I know a lot of people are reluctant to do this (as I was), but my experience has been so positive with this that I'm intrigued with what people see as the negatives.

Thanks for starting the conversation, Andrea!

Best,
Leigh

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 2:39 pm 

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Dear Leigh,
Good we can talk about this!
Oh...I know that if I open this up, I am going to get lots of treat fans jumping on me.
So first let me say this is just my opinion and based on what I have experienced.
The horse can get nippy with treats and at some point if they are persistent in this behaviour then discipline is need to stop this. So the treats have caused this behaviour. The horse comes immediately for the treat, not because of the relationship. The balance between free choice of being with you or not has been over ridden by the natural instinct of the horse to go where there is food. Flow of movement and thinking is interrupted due to the need to stop and treat. Conditioning by food has a fine line (the person doing it needs to get it right) otherwise an automated horse is created rather like the conditioned Parelli horse. I don't want to have to carry a treat bag/fill my pockets......

I have seen many videos of people with their horses doing amazing stuff with treats but always I can see the horse looking for and anticipating when the next treat is about to arrive.
I am not saying this is bad, it is just not something I want to do right now. Perhaps if my horse was not progressing or I was not as patient then maybe I would use treats. For me I am more interested in lower level movements that are offered to me purely because he wants to rather than having him do high level movements that need to be treated. Take away the treats and see how interested your horse is in doing the same things he was doing the week before and see what happens? I think it is good that people experiment with treats for themselves and get to their own methods/conclusions.

As I said before I am not against using food/treats for conditioning in management of green or difficult horses if it makes life more comfortable/less stressful for the horse but I don't agree with using treats for HE movements. There is also the risk of over stretching and doing exercises the horse is not ready for.
However my horse does not perform HE movements (he has just turned 5) so I am interested to find others that have managed this without the use of treats/clicker training......

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 4:09 pm 
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Don´t worry, Annette, nobody will jump at you. :) Why should we? How can we possibly learn from others if we don´t accept their opinions?

I do use treats. Lots of them. I will post some comments on your post here, not to convince you, just to add another opinion.

Morgan wrote:
The horse can get nippy with treats and at some point if they are persistent in this behaviour then discipline is need to stop this. So the treats have caused this behaviour.


In my opinion it´s not the treats that cause this behaviour, but the way of working with them. And that is changeable! There is a sticky in the groundwork section where it is explained how people can work with food without causing those problems: Introducing foodrewards. Basically it is about setting clear rules to explain to your horse when to expect a treat and how to take it, as well as some ideas on how to establish those rules in a friendly way without causing stress to your horse.

Quote:
The horse comes immediately for the treat, not because of the relationship.


Behaviour is established and changed by adding or subtracting pleasant or unpleasant consequences. As I understand it, doing something because of the relationship means that something in your behaviour must be very rewarding for your horse. So for me it is conditioning anyway. Adding reinforcing stimuli. Now if I have the choice between different reinforcers, I am picking the strongest one – the one which my horse likes most.

And that is what I think treats are: reinforcers. They are a motivator, but they neither are a substitute for the relationship nor can they compensate for problems in your way of training. Maybe in the beginning stages of working with treats a horse does something for them despite a bad quality of the training, but usually he won´t. That´s why I have not at all experienced it like that:

Quote:
The balance between free choice of being with you or not has been over ridden by the natural instinct of the horse to go where there is food.


There are some days when I am terribly boring. On those days Titum doesn´t do anything for the treat. He does not even make a step towards me when I hold out the treat in front of him. He does not even stretch his neck to get it (very funny to obverve that when certain children are trying to train with him and try to lure him by holding the oat in front of his nose so that he will walk with them – no way! :)). On days when I am a better trainer, he does pretty much everything to get his treat. So if I assumed that he would do it only because of the treats, how could I explain those differences in his behaviour when the treats are constant in both situations?

But back to different ways of rewarding: of course there are other ways to reward a horse for exercises besides giving treats. You could reward with love, scratches etc. The problem is that this means that you would have to reduce those in all other situations to make them distinguishable from a situation where they should actually serve as rewards for certain exercises. And I am not willing to do that as I want my horses to always have my love and care, no matter if they perform or not.

An analogy that is often cited when it comes to using treats vs. relationship is the one with your friends: if they ask you to help them with something, you will do it because you like them and want to be with them, not because they are paying you or inviting you to dinner afterwards. So if the horse is your friend, how can you base your training on rewarding with treats? Analogies can be very helpful in illustrating certain things, but they can also simply be wrong or at least not really fit. Situations are being compared that are not really comparable at all. One difference between helping your friends and training with a horse is that the one is a singular (or at least less frequent) thing whereas the latter happens almost daily. And this is not comparable to hanging out with friends every day either, as I mostly don´t ask them to perform difficult dressage elements all the time. :lol: Our training is hard work with quite some repetitions and whereas I think that a horse can very well do an exercise just for the pleasure of it while he discovers it as a new way of moving, it probably won´t be that exciting for him anymore after you have done it for 50 times.

But besides all that, my main reason for working with treats is that my horses just love them. And if I have something to offer that they love, I am very pleased if I can give it to them. :)


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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 4:47 pm 
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Morgan wrote:
Good we can talk about this!
Oh...I know that if I open this up, I am going to get lots of treat fans jumping on me.


Of course not! (being clickertrained, we only jump for food :D )
I'll just go down and answer your points from a reward-based training system perspective!

Quote:
The horse can get nippy with treats and at some point if they are persistent in this behaviour then discipline is need to stop this. So the treats have caused this behaviour.


I see it different: it's not the treats that causes the horse to misbehave, it's the fact that he hasn't learned how to behave around treats. If you haven't explained him that the fact that there's food doesn't mean that he should just eat it, then he won't understand that either. When you lead your horse to the paddock or when you ride out, there's grass all around him, within reach - but that doesn't mean that your horse is allowed to dive in whenever he feels like it. You've taught him how to behave himself in that situation, so you can also do that in a case when there's other food around.

Quote:
The horse comes immediately for the treat, not because of the relationship. The balance between free choice of being with you or not has been over ridden by the natural instinct of the horse to go where there is food.


Not at all, Blacky and Sjors get treated for about everything (which makes me a bad example of a clickertrainer :oops: ), but they sure say 'no' frequently when I ask them to do something, even though they know they don't get treated then either. During my clinics I always tell the story of Blacky who suddenly stopped cantering on the right lead. I decided not to put him under pressure to comply to my wish, but also not to give him the treat he would have earned. Next day he still didn't canter. the third day the same, and I was getting a bit afraid that I was losing the canter completely this way! Fourth day I again asked for the canter, and Blacky cantered on as if he had never done differently.
I still don't know why he didn't want to canter those days, maybe he felt stiff (although he didn't move any different), maybe he just didn't feel like it. But he weighed the fact that he would earn a treat against doing something he didn't want to do - and chose the latter.

In fact, his natural instinct in this case - do not canter - would actually have been over ridden when I had decided to up the pressure and make him canter anyway.

Quote:
Flow of movement and thinking is interrupted due to the need to stop and treat.

That's true, because you break the movement off in order to reward. Just as you do when you reward your horse by letting him stand still and give him rest. :)

Quote:
Conditioning by food has a fine line (the person doing it needs to get it right) otherwise an automated horse is created rather like the conditioned Parelli horse.


I don't think you can create an automatic trick-robot out of your horse by just using treats. Because when you just use treats and skip every ounce of pressure in order to make him deserve that treat, you give your horse a total free choice to say 'no' to your requests. And they will use that freedom pretty soon.
A 'robot' ;) will happen sooner when you treat for the right behavior, but at the same time put pressure on for the wrong behavior. The horse then has no choice, and will have to do what you say because refusing is not/a less pleasant option.

Quote:
Take away the treats and see how interested your horse is in doing the same things he was doing the week before and see what happens? I think it is good that people experiment with treats for themselves and get to their own methods/conclusions.


I think that that's a great experiment indeed. And I guess that the result in 100% of the cases will be that the horse will perform a lot less. The question then is, how do you want to interpret that result: will you see it as a failure of the treat system because apparently your horse likes to be treated? Or do you accept that your horse likes to be treated, and treat him with that knowledge? ;)

Quote:
I don't agree with using treats for HE movements. There is also the risk of over stretching and doing exercises the horse is not ready for.

Do you mean that you would like to try to do them without treats, or do you mean that you don't think it's right that others use treats in order to teach horses HE movements?

I do agree on the overstretching and the fact that that is a risk - but it is a risk you should always be aware of, also if you work with pressure or if you reward with giving rest, because your horse will always work in order to escape that pressure/earn that reward and it is our duty only to ask things he can do at that time.

In fact, now I come to think of it; if you want to train only on the basis of the relationship - then why use rest and peace and quiet as a reward in the first place? Why do you still need to treat him with something? If he only works for you, then the fact that you're still there training with him should be all the reward he needs. I've hear Parelli-trainers say 'I don't want my horse to work for treats and rewards but just for me', and then still see them deal out pressure and time-off as rewards in order to stimulate the horse enough to do something. 8)

The fact that even trainers who don't use treats or pressure, still use other ways to give the horse a reward, seems to point out that there always is a need in the horse to be rewarded in order to learn/do things. And if the reward always is appreciated/necessary, then why not reward in a way that he really likes a lot? That can be by scratching that itchy bit :wink: or giving food, or rest if he sees moving as unpleasant.

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 5:19 pm 
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Both my horses are very different from each other. Cisco is quiet and introspective...he thinks before he does something. Tam is outgoing and a little wild and throws himself into everything he does.

The goal for me with both my horses is that they stay composed during movement. That composure tells me that are able to think while they act. It tells me they have a certain level of understanding of what I'm asking most of the time, and that if they don't understand, they are at least comfortable in the fact that there is no punishment for a wrong answer. Even when Tam offers behaviors rather frantically in trying to earn a reward is still thinking as he does it. So on the surface it may seem that, at times, food causes less calm behavior, it is never the less causing less calm, but THINKING/COMPOSED behavior. Just because he thinks very fast does not mean he is not thinking. He thinks fast happily.

I use a combination of pressure/release and reward based training, because I have found that as the behaviors get more complicated or more difficult, that the horses may not offer them without a request from me. Because they really only think to offer the most recent and therefore the most rewarded behaviors...so I need to request that they try yesterday's behaviors (to practice and maintain them) while learning today's behaviors.

But again, my goal is always to have them thinking and to be mentally "with me". Both horses, if overwhelmed, will leave and tell me in no uncertain terms that I'm crossing a pressure line that they don't appreciate - treats or no treats (just as Romy illustrates). Under saddle they each have ways also of telling me that I'm going too far (since they can't walk away from me). It is simply my part of of the bargain that I listen to them and let them know that I hear and understand. It is up to me then to deal with that information in a fair way. I think, more than anything, letting a horse know that you are listening (as Leigh found out with Circe?) and then of course to convince them that in hearing them, you will respond in a fashion they feel is appropriate - is the key to the relationship. The food is simply a reward. It is not the basis of the relationship. My horses love their food. There is no doubt about that. But I feel they base their efforts on the receipt of it, they do not base our relationship on the receipt of it.

I can't say for sure if my horses love me, as that is a concept that is so very human that I'm not sure it applies to horses in the way I personally understand it. All I can say is that they approach me and treat me with kindness whether I have food in my pocket or not. What they like about me is that I have the capability to cause them to feel good...a concept I am learning lately from a good friend. So I am feeling more and more settled in the concept that the use of food neither creates or destroys the relationships with my horses. It is simply a training tool.

Many people do not like the almost frantic and pushy phase a horse can go through when clicker training...but some of the most remarkable adaptations of known behaviors (or entirely new ones) can come from it. I think it's why free shaping is so fascinating...the horse is thinking HARD, trying HARD...and they keep trying!

But I am convinced that food does not equal relationship. There is the feel good aspect of our relationship (which flows both ways and keeps us working together) and then there is the food based training. They interlock because I choose to have them do just that, but the two concepts can also exist almost exclusively of each other. I can use treats to train a horse I have no relationship with, and I can have a feel-good-based relationship with a horse that I do not train.

Consequently, I know now that I can have a feel-good-based relationship with a horse I DO train, without the use of food (but nevertheless with pressure-release).

So it all has the potential to work well for an individual and a horse. And that is the beauty of putting the relationship first, and the basic needs of the horse first. If, in your presence, a horse feels good, then what method you use for training really doesn't matter. You use what works, and at the same what nourishes that relationship. Food, no food. Doesn't matter! :wink:

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 6:56 pm 

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Karen, I enjoyed your well written post.
Miriam you have given me lots to think about!

No I don't think anyone should not use treats for training, it's their own journey and each must do as they choose and what works best for them.
In answer to how I would like to do it? Until recently I was using a system of pressure and release, then I took the NHE route of the idea that "the horse is always right". So essentially he would decide what movements he wanted to partake in and after 3 asks (with no pressure) if he didn't want to do the movement I would back off and ask for something else or go back to just hanging out with him and scratching etc. The times of asking were in between long spells of grazing together and taking long walks at liberty sometimes me following him and sometimes him following me. The most interesting part of this was finding a way that made him want to interact with me and try to get across what I would like him to do. Certain times of the day depending on his mood he would indicate to me that he wanted to play. He would either pick up something in his mouth or start biting my feet asking for direction. At these times it was easy to put on the cordeo and ask for a walk, turn, back up etc. Equally once he understood the ask for his front feet he would offer the movement. Sometimes he would come over to me sitting in the pasture and would lift his front leg over my shoulder or place it beside me on a bucket! For reward I would be very excited vocally and rub/stroke him after a movement. If he did something undesirable I would use a low tone "no" or "uh oh" and remove myself physically. For trotting at liberty I raise my energy and trot myself exaggeratedly and he would either join me or not again depending on his mood.

Perhaps I am not too motivated to move on so quickly? I am enjoying our time together whether he "performs" or not and when we get it right I am so thrilled that I am happy for days. If I spend 2 hours walking with my horse just the two of us and nothing exciting happens I am also happy......

Miriam you said:
In fact, now I come to think of it; if you want to train only on the basis of the relationship - then why use rest and peace and quiet as a reward in the first place? Why do you still need to treat him with something? If he only works for you, then the fact that you're still there training with him should be all the reward he needs. I've hear Parelli-trainers say 'I don't want my horse to work for treats and rewards but just for me', and then still see them deal out pressure and time-off as rewards in order to stimulate the horse enough to do something.

Isn't this the point? Does my horse think of what he is doing as work? I don't think so. Maybe he does it because he thinks it pleases me? I also don't think so. I think he enjoys doing the movement. If he didn't what reason would he have for doing it. He doesn't get a treat for it, and I have asked him by hand signal and voice only and he has entirely free choice to do the movement or not. When a horse is trotting and comes past another horse, sometimes the other horse picks up the energy and joins in and other times he looks up from his grazing or completely ignores him. Is it not the same?
Now under saddle, is another question again......the horse really doesn't have a choice except to stand still and refuse all suggestions. At this point pressure/release is needed. Here I struggle. So far I have seperated the two. Work from the ground and free choice to interact or not and work under saddle (just restarted this past week) whereby I use pressure and release. Maybe I am naiively expecting this to work......but I don't put a schedule on having to move along at any pace and intersperse our long leisure ground time with brief periods of work riding time.
I guess you could say it is an ever expanding evolving, changing journey!

I will think about this more.......

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 7:04 pm 

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Sorry Romy, I missed your post. You have just given me even more to think about......

I like the part about giving treats simply because he likes them and it makes him happy.....that I can relate to!!!!

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 8:50 pm 
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Morgan wrote:
I am enjoying our time together whether he "performs" or not and when we get it right I am so thrilled that I am happy for days. If I spend 2 hours walking with my horse just the two of us and nothing exciting happens I am also happy......


Ooww, I like that! :)
I'm afraid I'm not that good at those things, but I do enjoy our doing-nothing times as well during training, when I'm sitting on a branch with Blacky standing next to me sucking on his last treat ;) and then Sjors walks by and pushes me off. 8)

Quote:
Does my horse think of what he is doing as work? I don't think so. Maybe he does it because he thinks it pleases me? I also don't think so. I think he enjoys doing the movement. If he didn't what reason would he have for doing it. He doesn't get a treat for it, and I have asked him by hand signal and voice only and he has entirely free choice to do the movement or not.


I do like that way of training. I don't think Blacky or Sjors, poor treat-brainwashed pony's 29 , would be happy if I started training that way too, but I do admire people who can do it that way. I'd love to see it work for you, so do keep us posted on your training!
For me I guess I also feed treats because I just love to feed the pony's their treats. They just give me so much joy and fun by doing all their things, whether because I asked for it or because they thought it up themselves, that I just can't not reward them - I feel such a strong urge to give them something back! So to stop my flinging myself around their neck all the time 29 I guess that those grains really are the better option for us.


Quote:
Now under saddle, is another question again......the horse really doesn't have a choice except to stand still and refuse all suggestions. At this point pressure/release is needed. Here I struggle. So far I have seperated the two. Work from the ground and free choice to interact or not and work under saddle (just restarted this past week) whereby I use pressure and release. Maybe I am naiively expecting this to work......


I'm certain that the riding will work out, because pressure/release in riding nearly always does. I know that you feel that treats can force the horse to do something he doesn't really want to do - but pressure does exactly the same. So if you're in a situation that you feel requires a stronger motivation, then why not go for a stronger motivation that doesn't limit the horse but instead motivates him to actively think along?


Another option is to use no pressure, no treats, and just be a passenger from your horse. Parelli has a similar thing called the passenger lesson: you just follow every movement of your horse while riding and whenever he thinks about going left/right/forwards/back, then you immediately follow that thought by giving the cue for that. My sister has done that with the pony's (she combined it with foodrewards in order to tell them that they could experiment freely) and the wonderful thing is that when you start following your horse, pretty soon your horse starts following you and your cues too.
That would enable you to ride him just like you train him from the ground, without treats.

The latter would probably be more consequent towards the horse too, as that way there are no seperate sets of rules for groundwork and riding - and no seperate relationships between the two either. Because our relationship is exactly how we respond to our horse. If one activity involves pressure, I can imagine that this influences the free, playful time too.
You don't have to respond to this question, I'm just curious: why ride with pressure as motivator, when you don't use treats in groundwork because using a motivator would mean that you don't have a real relationship?
Of course you don't always have a choice and maybe you need to ride your horse for medical reasons or other ones, but it sounds a bit strange to me - wouldn't riding be the area where you need a real relationship the most?

When I came from NHE I struggled quite a bit with the entire 'Relationship'-thing as well as on NHE it really seemed like it was seperate from everything else: before you ask your horse something, the relationship should be good, if things went wrong it meant that the relationship wasn't right and you should go back to doing nothing etc, and of course food would ruin every ounce of relationship you still had left. 29
The thing was that Blacky and Sjors didn't like to do nothing, as they always dragged stuff in to play with when I was around, or started doing exercises, tricks and everything they could think of to draw my attention. So when I stopped doing NHE and slowly started to think for my own again 29 I realise that our relationship wasn't a static something, something that we could create by sitting in the pasture for half a year and then we could go and play - but ours was a living relationship, something that was defined by and shifted with every thing we did. When I'm too focused on one specific movement, Blacky will frown and start to ignore me because I'm just so annoying. And with Sjors when I would only play wild games with him, he becomes hyperactive and stressed. The things that I do on such moments, influence our bond both at that moment and in later times as well, simply because the ponies learn things about me ('don't give her a single step of piaffe, because otherwise she'll whine for it the rest of the session...') and I learn things about them. The thing is that doing things together enables us to experience those things about each other. If I would sit in the pasture for a year and stroke a pony every time he walks by, I think the pony learn in that half year as much about me as he would in a training session of half an hour when he sees me act, respond, think, deal with emotions etc.. It doesn't matter if you use food, train a capriole, have a whip or just walk in the forest with your horse - he will always have a relationship with you because all your actions and reactions matter to him. The question isn't if you have a relationship with him - but what kind of relationship you would want to have with him. Or even more important: what kind of relationship he would have with you. What does he want to hear from you? How does he want to be motivated? What kind of messages does he want to receive? What makes him the most happy?

For me that's what's the most important with the ponies, even if it means that I have to cross the street with a stupid treat-pouch strapped around my belly, or when my fingers ache after every session because Blacky decided that he likes hard scratches on his back better than treats right now. I just love them and will do anything to make them just as happy, they just deserve it!

(and I'm not sure why I've just written all this 24 , so please feel free to ignore it)

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 8:56 pm 
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For me any doubt about food rewards and the question if it 'makes' the horse do an exercise solely or mostly because of that disappeared when I gave Evita her food and she left it alone (for Imperia to eat it :lol: ) to run to the training area to invite me to play with her. It made me see that foodrewards are a nice addition but not THE stimulus to play. Having fun proved to be the most important to her. 25

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 9:07 pm 
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I've had something similar with Sjors too: when he first did a real Spanish walk, I was so happy and exited about it that I decided to give him all the apple parts that I then still had in my pocket, put them on the ground for him to eat, and after a couple of minutes left the paddock in order to give him time off. Before I had reached the gait, I felt a nose at the back of my knees and there was Sjors! He had walked after me the entire paddock length and left the pile of apple parts alone in order to continue training. So I went on with our training, and rewarded Sjors with those same apple parts that had been lying on the ground for free! 29

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 14, 2008 9:11 pm 
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Oh, great input :applause:

Romy wrote:
Sorry if I am off topic. If you want to, we can split the topic and make a new topic about the role of understanding vs. automatic responses?

You are on topic, Romy. You got a lot of knowledge in psychology, nice to be able to tap it 23 .
I will take your "human example" of dancing - even when I try to avoid such, but I guess in this case one might draw a comparison 25 Many things we learn, will be transformed into automatic movements - that makes things more easy. Just like dancing, first you learn the steps and it is not very fluent, one has to think and remember so much. Eventually the body learns the feeling and you get into the flow, you can do it automatically. But it is not just mere automatic response, there is some deep understanding of the movement, which is the base.
I do not know that much about dancing, so will now switch to Aikido. It is somewhat like dancing. But then comes also how to learn to fall and being thrown around without getting hurt. The Japanese used to learn that mostly by conditioning people to avoid the pain - when you got young, sturdy men you can do that 27 Some grow stiff from it and some who have enough talent, they move softly.
For myself, I preferred the way to analyze and understand the body dynamics first, even though it took me much longer to learn that way.

I think, some people use CT, but also have either good intuition or/and good horsemanship. So they use the CT, but also manage to help their horses to understand at least some important things.


Morgan wrote:
I am not convinced though that the use of food does not bring about it's own set of problems so I am reluctant to take that path.

Yes, I feel the same 29 It is not about "nipping" or "mugging", that was already explained by others here, how to avoid such. Actually that was what I so far used food rewards for, to train my two horses, not to mug me when I bring them carrots or apples. 23
And of course they do get all those delicious things - carrots, apples and oats. But I feed only from the ground. They seem to love that just as much 27

My first problem was, that I would need to carry food around. I know that can be easy enough solved - oats are very handy for that. But it is one point.

The main reason to think the food rewards over was, that my two horses did start fight between each other over it. I did open a topic on that, but could not really find any solution other then to either separate the horses or stop with the food.

Giving food rewards in an other way then CT does confuse many horses - I believe.


Food has a high rate in when it comes to stuff needed for survival, but some other things still are more important, especially when the horse is not hungry. So it is easy to see, why horses would choose now and then against the treat.


And then the pressure/release training. Leigh you said "traditional", do you mean Parelli style with that?
As I already wrote, there is so much that is pressure and release, but is worlds apart. I am surely not going to do any Parelli style of training. If the horse does rush through a movement, like I see them do on youtube in the Parelli games, often it looks like they flee from some threat of pressure, that is just not what I would want to achieve.
The pressure should be a question, when the horse gives a try, the pressure should never be increased. A try is an answer. When the horse found the right answer, one marks that with the release. (Now that reminds me a bit of dancing 25 )


About that pulling on the lead rope. I think, when you lead, the horses job is to keep the float. When you give the lead to your horse, like when hand grazing, then it is your job to keep the float 29 In a herd, even a foal can sometimes be the leader, so I think it is just fine to switch the lead, but then the human is not allowed to pull 29


Romy wrote:
Behaviour is established and changed by adding or subtracting pleasant or unpleasant consequences. As I understand it, doing something because of the relationship means that something in your behaviour must be very rewarding for your horse. So for me it is conditioning anyway. Adding reinforcing stimuli.

Hm, that did give me a new thought. In that case I actually do not want the horse to do it because of the relationship 25 . I would wish the horse to realize, that I keep him safe and that he can learn useful things from me 23 My horses shall have a good time when they are with me.

Romy wrote:
An analogy that is often cited when it comes to using treats vs. relationship is the one with your friends: if they ask you to help them with something, you will do it because you like them and want to be with them, not because they are paying you or inviting you to dinner afterwards. So if the horse is your friend, how can you base your training on rewarding with treats? Analogies can be very helpful in illustrating certain things, but they can also simply be wrong or at least not really fit. Situations are being compared that are not really comparable at all. One difference between helping your friends and training with a horse is that the one is a singular (or at least less frequent) thing whereas the latter happens almost daily. And this is not comparable to hanging out with friends every day either, as I mostly don´t ask them to perform difficult dressage elements all the time.

I never found that analogy fitting either, just like the one why people in NHE give treats now and then - you would give cake to your friends. But I could find a people example also for the other case: I did train Aikido with friends 6 days of 7 for a while. It was lots of sweat and difficult elements with repetitions. I did that even without food rewards 27 Horses and people have some things in common for sure, but they are very different mostly, in my eyes.


Miriam wrote:
In fact, now I come to think of it; if you want to train only on the basis of the relationship - then why use rest and peace and quiet as a reward in the first place? Why do you still need to treat him with something?

I agree. I would call the release rather a message, saying "yes" to the horse. Some rest and peace does help to give time to think over what just happened. Also it is a bit of hanging out with your buddy. I noticed, that when I go to the horses and just stand quiet it creates a very nice atmosphere.

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