Wow! There's been so much wonderful stuff written here after my hastily written and unproofread post that was quoted! (Thanks for the correction of terms Brenda!) Too many things of interest caught my eye to respond to... and it seems that they've all been talked out anyway.
So I'll just add this little story, and you can take from it what you will.
Those of you who have seen the beginning of my diary probably remember seeing photos of my family and horses hanging out together at the beach.
These photos, and the experiences that went with them, epitomize to me "relationship" and "friendship". The horses accepted us as one of the herd, enjoyed our company, felt safe around us, and with minimal management could be relied upon to stick around, and follow most of our whimsies... unless there was something MORE motivating than hanging out with us to consider.
It was a wonderful, summery, loving time of learning... but incredibly stressful.
Yesterday, I took four horses over to an unfenced field to graze. They played wildly for the first ten minutes. At the end of the play, as the other two were blowing and sticking their heads down into the lucious grass to munch out, Harlequin and Sunrise slowed from gallop to canter, spun around and lazily ran back to me. I smiled at them, praised them, fed them a treat, and scratched their necks for a minute before telling them to go graze too.
My horses live in a bare hard packed paddock. No grass, no soft area in their living quarters to run. This field is about three acres and absolutely LUSH with delicious fresh "spring" grass (although it's autumn here, it's like most countries spring), a particularly tasty weed with white and yellow flowers, and tall plants and trees of all varieties.
What on EARTH could they find so motivating about a small handful of hohum alfalfa pellets and a scratch that they would RUN to me to receive them BEFORE going off to indulge in their passsion for green?
The two horses who didn't run over, I believe, like (love?) us just as much. We're all the best of friends. But they haven't had this intensive reinforcement that S and H have had. So does that mean S and H are behaving robotically? They've been "Programmed" to come? Maybe.... but they've been programmed with love and praise and friendship.
When they run to us, they do it because it FEELS good! It feels good to run, it feels good to do what we suggest, it feels good to be smiled at by a friend, it feels good to be given rewards of scratches and food, it feels good to know that you can understand, respond and feel good...... It seems to me that in the later stages of R+ training, there is SO MUCH MORE for the horse to feel good about than just "eat treat".
Although, in the beginning, it is the "eat treat" that we usually rely on to provide the "hook" to get them started, and begin to make all the pleasurable connections.
Now.. the two who found the grass more motivating, actually, if S and H hadn't been there providing motivation to run, would NOT have even chosen to run around and play first. Without S and H, the grass would have been instantly more motivating than play.
So why do S and H not place "graze?" at the top of their priority list? H, probably because he's a young boy and still finds play intrinsically motivating. S..... NO WAY! She decided a couple of years ago that play was hard work with low returns.. she was fat, unfit and not comfortable. By using reinforcement to increase the returns, I was able to motivate her sufficiently to the point where she was no longer fat, unfit and uncomfortable. Play then became enjoyable in and of itself! It moved up her hierarchy of desires.
So... Sunrise's priorities now go: PLAY!, Visit Sue for reinforcement, food! F and B's go: STAY SAFE! Eat food, come to Sue for reinforcement/friendship when you're full.
After a couple of hours grazing, while I walked around the boundary counting the posts I'll need to fence it, it was nearly dark and time to go home. The horses were out in the middle of a sea of tall grass and weeds. I called; "COME ON!" Sunrise and Harlequin stuffed in a couple more mouthfuls, and then both together in the same instant, turned and galloped! to me, to have their halters put on for the walk home. How I love my robots!
Footie and Bella, once they realized they were on their own and the two young ones weren't coming back, reluctantly left their grazing and trotted over.
I have not sought the horse of bits, bridles, saddles and shackles,
But the horse of the wind, the horse of freedom, the horse of the dream. [Robert Vavra]