Wow, great conversation!
And, Annette, no jumping!
Lots of thoughts cooking here:
First, as Karen wrote about listening:
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.
That's absolutely true. I would totally agree, Karen, that learning to listen and communicate that I am listening is the bedrock for the work that we're doing. And, like Karen, I see the treats as a tool towards getting there, not a replacement of that.
Second, my thoughts about your thoughts
about treats and discipline, Annette:
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 don't see treats as being a separate discipline issue -- and I actually try not to think about any of our interactions in terms of discipline, per se. Circe is a good example with this, as she's young and is still figuring out how to interact with people and horses. There are a number of things that Circe is capable of doing that I'd rather her not do -- and instead of disciplining her when she does them, I instead communicate that I don't like it and ask her to stop. Generally, a verbal "please don't do that" is enough, or simply walking away a few steps. Occasionally, it's physical, as in the case a few weeks ago when Circe decided that body slamming me was appropriate while we three were wild playing -- in that case, after I'd suggested that this wasn't a good idea, she continued to do it, and I put my fist out and planted my legs as she headed back into me so she bounced off my hand. This wasn't, in my mind, discipline, but instead was my saying -- nope, you just ran up against a boundary! She got it immediately and felt badly -- she's still learning how hard she can play with me -- she came back to me and apologized, I spent several minutes reassuring her and loving on her, and then we went on with our play. And she hasn't banged into me like this since.
And, I do things that they don't like, and they're learning how to tell me they don't like them as well. For me, discipline suggests a hierarchy of power that I'm not totally comfortable with. And, part of what's shifted for me is how I perceive behaviors that I don't like. Pre-AND, I'd been taught that if you let a horse "get away with" bad behavior once they would be very difficult to "train" out of the behavior. I don't see it this way any more! Instead, I treat each situation as a learning experience -- for me, that old model of "things we can never let our horses do!" (insert scary music
) vastly underestimates our horses' intelligence and responsiveness to specific situations.
Next, as Miriam wrote about riding:
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.
Circe and I are actually starting one step before this. I'm being a passenger, completely, while she grazes. She gets to decide when and where she moves, and we're doing this in a spot with lush grass (unusual in Southern California, so a real treat) and apple trees. I'm seeing this VERY much as a positive operant conditioning move -- as she begins to adjust to having me on her, it comes with pleasure. She can begin to explore how if feels to move with me on her in this context. As this becomes old hat, we'll begin to explore what we can do together next, and I will begin to work at doing the mirroring of intention that Parelli suggests, but the baseline will be about pleasure. (This is a huge deal for me with her, as riding has been so traumatic for Stardust that I'm on a real quest to build this process differently with her -- if riding isn't fun for them, how can it be fun for me?)
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.
I absolutely agree with this as well! My horses have learned that they can almost always say no if they want. (And they do decide to say no sometimes!) Again, with the baseline of my listening to and respecting them and their opinions/needs/desires, treats don't get them to do anything they don't want to do. Stardust, who is a complete food hound, will choose to walk away if he doesn't feel comfortable with what we're doing. Circe is the same way. So, for me, treats are a part of the invitation -- would you like something yummy while we play? Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes they prefer to hang out doing whatever they want to do. Both answers are fine! And when the "no" isn't fine -- as in when it's time to go home, or we're all lined up at the gate of the paddock to go out and I'm putting on halters and Stardust is helping by nipping at Circe and Circe is helping by hurling her halter around, my "no" is about how we all can work together to get what we want faster -- we are a team.
And from Annette:
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.
I think that's a great point, Annette, and that's our goal, in many ways. However, with Stardust, I've needed to find a way to invite him to try things -- as I mentioned in my first post, if left to his own devices, he would basically just hang out. This is both from physical and emotional trauma earlier in his life -- and he was taught, fairly brutally, that to move was to work, work was painful, and resistance would not be tolerated. So I've needed a way to open up a different cognitive process for him -- moving can be pleasurable, and people can bring pleasure. I'm working against 11 years of trauma with him. With Circe, it's about learning what's possible. She's learning she enjoys different movements that we've been learning together -- but our rather loose version of CT has been a way to show her what she might try. Again, this way of working with rewards has been a clear opening for us -- away from pressure. And, again, this is about positive operant conditioning -- creating a cognitive landscape where learning is pleasurable and exciting.
Like many here, I also give treats just because -- our rhythms are not particularly stringent! If Circe does a movement that I'm excited about, without my cueing for it, but because she wants to, I can reward for that, and emphasize that this is something that I'd love for her to do again. Or sometimes its even less goal-oriented, and I'll just hang out with them as they're grazing and give a treat and scratch when they wander over to say hi, or because I've got one in my hand and I know they'll love to have one!
For me, while the goal is to get them to express themselves with movement they want to do because they want to do it, I don't know how to build to this without pressure unless I find rewards they respond to. How else can I help to shape and expand their movement? How else can I teach? Circe likes (sometimes!) scratches and caresses, but not always -- part of what I'm trying to do is respect their sense of personal space. Stardust has not liked to be touched. So, this has not been a clear alternative for us. They both definitely respond to my energy and voice when I thank and praise them for what they do, but this is MY language, not theirs -- I feel like food is a universal language. And, interestingly, as we've worked with treats over the last six months, they both have become more physically affectionate, and much more comfortable with having me in their space. So, for us, treats have been and continue to be a valuable tool.
And, as I think about it, I don't have a problem with them doing something to please me -- because I am trying, equally, to do things that will please them. This is how a relationship grows, in my thinking. We are all working/playing to make each other happy and have fun. I think a horse doing something to please us is only problematic if it's a one-way street -- and suggests some kind of pressure, casting them as a supplicant for our favors. This feels very different than building equal generosity!
Oh -- and I didn't want to miss Andrea's question (oops -- am not finding it now to pull it out as a quote, sorry!) but it was about traditional training and whether I'd put Parelli in that category.
First, let me say I'm not in any way an expert on Parelli! But I've watched Parelli trained people work their horses and done a fair amount of reading, and from what I've seen I think while that Parelli is a big step closer towards what I understand AND to be from most traditional training, I still perceive it as inherently pressure and negative rewards based. (Negative reward meaning the release of pressure as the reward, not as any value judgment!.) I have seen horses that feel a bit like automatons to me through this training -- they are exceedingly responsive and obedient, but they sure aren't expressing their own opinions much! That isn't necessarily, by any means, how all Parelli trained horses emerge -- but it does seem to be the pattern in most that I've seen. And, ultimately, I guess the biggest way I see Parelli (and most other NH work I've seen/read) differing from AND is the baseline assumption that the person needs to be the herd leader and in control at all times.
Philosophically, I've always had trouble with this, and now, in practice, I can see how approaching this as a conversation among equals really does work. We don't get to "performance" very fast, necessarily, but we are engaging in an incredibly vibrant co-learning process that pleases us all and keeps widening and deepening as we go. I use my best human intelligence to bring insights and ideas to the conversation, and trust that they will bring their best equine intelligence to bring insights and ideas. There are moments when my brains trump theirs, but there are also moments where their brains trump mine!
And, I end all of this by saying that of course you can completely disagree with everything I say!
So much of this is, I think, based on our own goals, experiences, belief structures -- and that of our individual horses. I truly don't believe there is one right way to do any of this.
I'd love to learn more about how you both, Andrea and Annette, find ways to encourage the behavior that you want without pressure and without treats -- I would love to expand our vocabulary with this!
All the best,