The Art of Natural Dressage

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 4:15 pm 

Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 2:34 pm
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We are still at the very basics of riding, technically, so the amount of exercises we can do are rather limited. Jumping isn't an option, either.

But where I have plenty of confidence in groundwork, I lack it in riding. I am constantly scared of hurting Dafner, of overasking her, of forcing her to do something she hates. She does not seem to mind it nearly as much as I do :huh:

But how do you ride your horses? On what basis do you work? In groundwork she has a certain amount of freedom; her choice to remain close to me and do what I ask of her, tells me she likes it. But in riding I cannot allow her this; we ride outside frequently, and I cannot have her making decisions of her own when there are cars driving past us. When I ask her to stop she must stop, obviously.

Yesterday I rode saddleless, and found that my balance has drastically improved over the last months, as I was able to sit comfortable in both a walk, trot, and even a small canter! I also rode with a cordeo, which didn't work too well, but this does open up possibilities for 'fun' riding, where she can choose which way to go occasionally.

I have never tried clickering while riding; what are your experiences with that?

I hate punishing my horse; I just dislike that negative reinforcement in riding. But if I ask her to stop and she refuses, the only way to get her to listen is by pulling the reins harder and harder until I get a desired response. Because if I allow her to walk on, she may also do that outside, where it's dangerous to walk on..

It is just nagging at me, constantly. I feel bad but don't know of a solution. I will try the clickering tonight, and see how that works out. But I am still interested in your riding experiences/ideas. :)

PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 7:25 pm 
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Dani, the very first thing I worked on under saddle with Tam (with clicker and treats) was the halt. Over and over and over. We continue to click and reward many halts every time we ride.

When safety is an issue, of course you must decide when to stop and when not to stop. But is there a place you can practice without traffic? There are many things you can do under saddle to help make it fun, and of course if your horse is used to clicker training, it's the way to go under saddle as well. The key is to not expect too much, reward many small tries, and to try and set up the situation in your favor...that is, do not ride in areas where you will experience disagreements that become dangerous if you wish to minimize the use of the reins.

I hope this helps...but I'm sure you will get many good responses!

"Ride reverently, as if each step is the axis on which the earth revolves"

PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:02 pm 
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When I started with Freckles I was riding traditionally (but gently) and doing groundwork and other stuff the AND way. My horse was traditionally backed when I got him and I chose to maintain that so we could ride out safely while we worked out better ways to do things. I have gradually been able to bring he riding in line with the AND way.

It helps a lot if you set the situation up for success, so when I was trying to "train" a halt I would ride directly at an obstacle and cue a halt where the obstacle would make him stop anyway. Then we practised halting with front feet just before a ground pole, then just over the pole, then all four feet over the pole. Then doing a different one each time we approached the pole.

:D I did the same thing to initially train the turning cues. I rode along a fence or between a line of bending poles, where the "environment" helped to make clear what I was asking. :D I laid out some mazes with ground poles and rode between and around them, also. Barrels and cones also make good "turn here" markers.

Glen Grobler

Words that soak into your ears are whispered...not yelled. Anon

PostPosted: Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:21 pm 

Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 2:34 pm
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That is smart! I will have to train her not to fear cones, haha, but it might just work for practicing. Definitely something I will try someday soon. :)

Ended up not doing the clickering was too hot to carry a bag with treats around my shoulder.

Riding today was a perfect example of how horrible it gets. We have this BIG (like, huge) field where we can ride. It's great for learning her to walk in balance, on her own four legs, of course, and understandably she finds that a little challenging. At first we seemed to have a great day, she listened very well to my cues. But as soon as I asked her for one trot, she snapped it seemed. Wanting to go faster and faster, not listening to rein cues anymore, bit at my leg(!), running straight toward the (closed) gate, when I asked for a canter she just fled off and ran like crazy, towards the gate. No stopping her.

Then I went to our indoor arena, bloody hot but this was not working. First canter there was really very nice and controlled. But then there, too; running, not listening to me, not responding to me.

So yeah..I had a whip and used it, and had to pull the reins HARD sometimes, just for her/my safety and that of the other riders in the arena. Not much fun.
Afterwards we went for a ride outside, which went absolutely fine. Listening to light cues again, ears forward, happy as can be. Because that's the thing..she does not seem unhappy at all. She wants to walk, her ears are pointed forward most of the time. So she doesn't seem to dislike the riding, that's not it.

But I felt horrible at my own behavior. Even though, again, friends told me I'm much too easy on her when it comes to riding. I am too scared of hurting her.
And there has to be another way, right? I can ask anything of her in groundwork without ever applying force, and she'll do it. Why does riding have to be so different, and so much more difficult for me because of it?

Karen: can you give examples of fun things under the saddle? Just little exercises I could do in between the difficult ones to keep it fun for both of us, and to release tension..I think that might really help as well, but I cannot think of anything. =/

Oh - the way it was today is not how it always is. I've ridden her out at the field where it was absolutely fine; where it was difficult for her and she was struggling, but she did behave normally.

I will arrange a lesson soon again with someone who might also be able to help me with this..I love riding Dafner, but not like this. No matter what others tell me, I feel horrible about it..

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:20 am 
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Doubtless you have heard of the 'one rein stop.' It's for horses that shy and bolt or otherwise take off at high speed.

Better than the one rein stop is training, if you are going to use reins to ride (as most do even some of us AND folks) is train your horse using the traditional one rein methods.

The finest reining horses in the world were trained this way. Yet you look at them when they are finished and they turn with a soft neck rein on a loop that stays looped during the turn.

They are taught to set their pace by the rider's request and hold it until requested to change it, by the rider.

What's the secret?

One is to never use two rein tension or pressure at the same time. A green horse pulled upon by two reins at once is being asked to resist and has something to resist against that is quite effective. Basically, if he or she is running off the reins together are providing nice support, as well as even pressure (not to mention pain) to fight against.

But a single rein at a time?

This breaks down the resistence, but not if it's misused. You see "one rein" can be just as bad as two rein, in it's own way, until the rider learns the secret of all good reining horse trainers: the release.

NOTHING is asked for without frequent release. I may take ten soft pulls to get a horse turned around when he's green, but each one will be followed immediately, EVEN IF THE HORSE DOESN'T GIVE, by a release.

The release is the promise. The release is the offer of a more kindly hand than they may be used to. I am saying to my horse in training, "I want you to turn, and in time you will turn, and I promise you I will give you more and longer release as you give more turn to me."

Around me, and for years, the riders have been pulling their reinS to turn or stop their horse. and for some reason the simple truth (the horse's truth) does not seem to soak in for them.

For myself, the step between good conventional or orthodox training and AND is this ability to at least, if one is to ride with bit or headcollar and reins, always give the release and give it as the promise it should be always in the horse's mind.

That is a philosophical view.

The practical view?

A horse can set up resistance even against a single rein if used without a release.

The instant you release the horse has nothing to resist, even if he has not "obeyed." And then you ask again.

Top reining trainers tend toward two approaches with pressure and release, either escalation or persistence. Escalation is of course the one - easy, two - harder, three - REALLY REALLY HARD, approach.

Persistence is the method I prefer. "I will continue to ask until you understand, and I promise you, horse, that I will be wise in my choice of what I ask of you at the time."

I would not ask a horse to roll back over his hocks if he were green, unconditioned for it, and had not been trained long enough to know what it was. And I would use other means of accomplishing it with the use of obstacles, barriers, slanted ground uphill and downhill to help the horse experience what I am asking for before I put pressure on a rein.

I would not ask for a canter pirouette before they could do a piaffe. And certainly not before they could easily do a five meter volte, and even smaller, at the canter.

You are obviously, from what you have written, choosing a path with the welfare of the horse in mind as well as safety for you both.

You asked a question about clicker training while riding and Karen, who I rate very highly in the skill of the use of the clicker with positive reinforcement answered.

Can you do what I've suggested above, work with one rein, and plentiful, in fact carefully disciplined releases with each time one uses rein contact? Yep. Sure can.

The only thing I haven't done is give the treat while the horse is still in motion, but someday I'll work on that too. :funny:

I don't even try the persistence of pressure release method without, in the very beginning, starting with a click signal and a treat for the slightest effort or movement from the horse. Then I simply ask for more and expand or extend the intervals between when I ask and when I reward.

My bet is that Karen could do it without even the slightest pressure. Me, I'm still a little old fashioned. ;) :roll: :D


Love is Trust, trust is All
So say Don, Altea, and Bonnie the Wonder Filly.

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:16 am 
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One reins stops are very important. And Donald, I can only stop with no pressure in the arena. ;)

Out in the field, it will still take a bit of a squeeze with my legs (sometimes only one as I ask for a little lateral movement) and when Tam and I had our little disagreement on which way we would go, (he wanted one way, I the other), I did use the reins, but we actually halted because we disagreed on direction...not because that was what I was asking. :blush:

And I believe Brenda is the Queen of clicking to ride. Dani, Brenda would be an absolutely wonderful mentor to follow. Clicker training, and shaping (especially shaping a whole ride!) takes time and patience. Your concern is already for you horse...and that is good. But you may have to ask for less...ride less than you'd like...while you sort out what the issue is.

One thing you said stood out for me.

It's great for learning her to walk in balance, on her own four legs, of course, and understandably she finds that a little challenging.

Horses are born able to balance on their own four feet. It is US...on their back...that throws them out of balance. Even with a rider, if that rider were perfectly balanced, the horse would never lose it's balance and would never have to compensate for the fact that someone is on their back. So it is our responsibility to think first, when there is a problem, that the problem is US, and not the horse. A horse doesn't lie, and a horse says no when something is wrong. They are scared, they are hurting somewhere, or they are confused. Yes, they can also say no when they have an opinion on which way to go. But here, we do our best to allow those opinions. When we honor an opinion by listening, we tell the horse that they can trust us to hear them. When they trust this, they talk even more. But if we tell a horse that their opinion doesn't matter, one too many times (and I can't tell you how many "one too many" is, because I don't know), then they fall silent and they dont' talk to us any more.

So if your horse is rushing and trying to bite you when you're on her back, but she's perfectly fine when you're on the ground, then I would be looking for some pain somewhere. Saddle, back, neck, legs, feet. Something isn't right. There are a LOT of people out there who would tell you to just get tougher with her. Hit her. Make her behave. And what if she does, despite some pain she might be feeling? Then the pain goes undetected and she learns to suffer that pain in silence.

I was trying to video tape some of what my horse does, and one of the things I had on my list was the obeisance. Tam does it very well. But he refused to do it. He would only lean back slightly and stop. There are people who would think, "aw stupid horse, you know how to do this! It's a simple thing, just do it!" and perhaps they would make the horse do it. But you know what? For Tam to flat out say NO to anything means something it wrong. I haven't found it yet, but there's no way we're doing that move until he says it's ok to do it.

That is what listening is about. That is what putting aside what we want and trusting that the horse is telling us the truth, just as we trust our best friends to tell us the truth.

Another possibility along with the three listed above (fear, pain or confusion) would be a trust issue. Horse view us and the world around them quite differently when we're on their back. Something they may do quite easily when we're on the ground becomes too scary for them when we're on their back.

So regardless what the issue is, the kindest approach is one of small steps taken over a long period of time, making it rewarding, relaxing, balanced and pain free for the horse. This takes some patience. If a horse stops being calm, they stop learning. Stress from any of the above reasons will block the ability to learn and what you get is a pure instinctive response from the horse. We can't really blame the horse for this.

Now as I said...things happen, and it doesn't always go as planned, but if more often than not, we err in favor of the horse, things will ultimately also progress in our favor. Just might be slower than we anticipated. So my goal in training is to always, always, always keep my horse under his threshold for composure. If he gets nervous, I've gone a step too far, too fast.

So nice games for under saddle? I'm going to first direct you to Brenda's videos. If you start at the beginning and see where SHE started, it will give you a good idea about some things you can do under saddle.

One other thing...if you ride with a saddle, try also doing some of your ground work with the saddle on and see how well that goes. If it's exactly the same, then maybe (and only maybe) it's not specifically the saddle. But I would still have someone you trust check the fit carefully (and not just visually).

So Brenda's videos are here:

Start with the older ones and work forward. Also notice that Brenda walks with her horses many, many times before she rides them to the same area. Brenda has some amazing videos!

"Ride reverently, as if each step is the axis on which the earth revolves"

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:41 am 
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Sorry for not having time to read every one's replies, so if some one already said this, well, double info then... :)

Wanting to go faster and faster, not listening to rein cues anymore, bit at my leg(!), running straight toward the (closed) gate, when I asked for a canter she just fled off and ran like crazy, towards the gate. No stopping her.

So, you already had this experience in trot... and then you ask for (or perhaps demand?) a canter. Why?
If things do not work in walk, they are certainly not going to work in trot and least of all in canter.

Now, what we at AND do, is always ask ourself: Why.
Why acts our horse the way he does.
You see, a horse ALWAYS has a good and logical reason for every choice he makes.
Further more we ask ourselfs, whenever we want to ask our horse anything: WHY?
Why are we asking this of our horse?
If we can not find a good reason for it, then why should we ask?

Second, if we ask something, then the horse can say 'no' obviously, or else it is not a question but a demand.

If you want to build a relationship with your horse where she trusts you to make good choices all the time, so if you do demand something (like stopping in traffic) she will listen thinking 'she probably knows best and wants this for a good reason'...
Then asking things without good reason and whipping her when she does not oblige for some reason of her own is in my view not the way to achieve this.

When horses speed up, that ussually means they have lost their balance due to something the human is doing (loosing balans or pulling reins).
Often for a horse to stop or slow down, the human has to stop what he is doing. I see it a 100 times each week during the lessons I teach. When I say: relax your body and let go of the reins, the horse stops, because he then can.

You said she was biting at your leg, ask your self 'why'. She must have reason. What was your leg doing at the time?
Mares have even more sensitive bellies and we humans tend to forcefully use our leg often without realising (tell me about it ;) )

If you want the AND way of riding, you have to let your horse call the shots at first.
Therefore you have to start riding in a safe environment where this is no problem.
Gradually, you build op communication and set op appointments like: when I voice cue to stop, I really want you to stop for a very good reason. etc.
And of course... you have to reward every tiny little thing and never punish, but always think: 'what have I done wrong'?
After all, we are on their backs, not the other way around.

When I had done wrong in the past, hurting my horse, I found it a sheer wonder, then he would let me ride him again.
I find it a sheer wonder still, that my horses gave me a second chance after all I pulled...

Now, she ran for the gate... I would conclude she did not like the situation one bit.
Punishing her.. would that make her start liking it?
What I do when a horse does not want to do what I want I ask: okay, so what do you want to do?
And I get off, if that is what they want and play the games they want. Then they do not rush for the gate anymore, because they are having fun.
Maybe I get on again, maybe not. But only when they give me permission to do so :)

Anyway; good luck with this terricific journey you've started!
If you teach yourself to think before to act, with one word: 'why'
And do less, wait more... things will progress faster I promiss ;)
If you want your horse to do the offering... you must give her a change by stop being so busy ;)

Warm regards,



PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:19 am 

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Hi Dani, I agree with everything that Karen, Donald and Glen have said. Check everything that you physically can - saddle fit, back, legs, feet, teeth - I found out after a lesson last week that Honey needed to have his teeth filed. He had really sharp edges on his back teeth along his cheek. It sounds to me like your horse is trying really hard to tell you something, you just have to figure out what it is.

My instructor is also working with us to teach me how to control Honey's speed at trot simply with how I rise to the trot. We've done something similar to this at walk - changing his speed at walk with just my seat. I've not even attempted canter yet with Honey, as he is a young horse, and with me on top is really only comfortable at trot in a straight line so far. When we have tried circles, he gets tense and speeds up. So for now, it is spending lots of time working on walk with no reins, and working on the trot in straight lines, slowing to a walk to turn corners, occassionally trying a turn at trot to see if we have improved any.

The best advice given here, that I have found most valuable, is break things down, take things slowly, and remember to reward your horse as soon as they try to do what you are asking - how else will they know that they've got the 'answer' right?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. - Khalil Gibran

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 11:28 am 

Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 2:34 pm
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LOOOONG reply warning.

(if you feel like not reading a whole lot..skip this whole part until the next sentence in brackets :ieks: )

Donald: You are absolutely right about not using both reins in those moments. I have heard of the one rein stop, but never got around to practicing it. For safety, I should, and I will. This afternoon, in fact. :D
The pressure-release is something I actually find difficult to do..I am aware of it, and try to remain aware of it during riding but sometimes I do forget. Same with building up signals, sometimes I get so frustrated I just go for the stronger aid straight away, which is not the right way, of course.

Karen: You are right about the balance thing. My own seat and balance have drastically improved over the last months, so I am working on that as well.
Pain is my major fear (that she is in pain). But I really don’t think that is the problem..after all, yesterday, the second we went for the outside ride everything was fine. And there are days where riding is really great. If the saddle was truly hurting her, I doubt she would be so much happier for just a change of scenery, mostly. I will do some groundwork with her saddle on though, to see what will happen. And I have been looking around for a different girth, since she is not too fond about this one. Perhaps that will help as well.

I will definitely go through Brenda´s videos, thank you for the link! :)

Josepha: Because she trots faster and faster because she wants a canter. So I thought okay, let’s do that then, but on my command. The speeding up is not a balance thing (she does it in the arena as well), it is her wanting to canter, and me not having control over her speed. And then we have days where this is fine, where I can collect her or send her off flying on my seat and voice alone. So I don’t feel I ask anything of her she is physically incapable of doing; she has done it all before.

My left leg has been a problem for a long time. Somehow she just is extremely sensitive to it. I try to ride her on my seat alone, with as little leg pressure as I can, but I cannot completely avoid it at times. Even so, biting me is not allowed. She has sometimes bitten at my leg, without actually touching; that for me was a clear sign something was bothering her, so I changed my riding style accordingly. But actually

The problem with letting Dafner call the shots is that this is what she is already doing half the time when riding. Take the trot. She tends to just want to go fast, fast, fast! Some days I can slow her down quite easily, and we will have a really nice ride. Other days she will not listen at all, and just continue to run. Letting her call the shots there would mean: letting her run. Next time, I won’t be able to slow her down at all, anymore. And I have tried I know from experience, not just guessing here :P

The one thing I tried which I could go back to, is the first 15 minutes or so I would control the gait, she the speed. After those 15 minutes I would take speed control as well. I know I did it, can’t quite remember why I stopped doing it, but I will try that again.

Dafner did not like the situation..but does she have to like every single second of everything we do? This sounds horribly un-AND-like, but what I mean is..if I allowed Dafner to do what she loved most, it would be eating (in the field) or cantering (in the arena). If I ask her to back up, she isn’t going to love doing it. But it IS good training for her. Just like walking out in the open field is difficult for her, but good training.

Can you see the conflicts here? :sad:

I want Dafner to experience riding (in every location) is fun and I want her to show initiative -- but right now she is taking too much initiative without letting me ride her.
I hate pulling the reins or doing anything which could cause her the slightest pain -- but sometimes it appears to be unavoidable, and then I get so frustrated with my own behavior that I get frustrated with her for making me behave that way (because she will not listen to anything else) and next time I will pull even harder.
Above things do not happen all the time, we have great days as well, so she is not in great pain, she is physically capable of doing it all, and she understands what I ask of her -- so WHY does she refuse half of the time?

I am receiving conflicting messages from each side as well. My dressage friend gave me tips which really helped me out, but some of her viewpoints of course clash with what is being said here; and that is again different from what my instructor has said, which is different from what other people at my stable say and do.

( :blush:I could’ve just skipped EVERYTHING above, I think..)

-moment of epiphany here-….but I think the greatest problem is my mindset.

Groundwork was entirely new for me. I’d never done it. So when I began that, I was already soaked in the NH and AND viewpoints, of using positive reinforcement, no pressure or pain, no force, and letting the horse have freedom of choice as well.
Riding I have been doing for years according to traditional riding style, and it appears to be much more difficult to change my mindset there, than it was to adopt a new one for the groundwork.

I need to change. And then Dafner will follow.

Because she DOES do the groundwork exercises. She DOES do what I ask of her, when I ask it. So why should it be so different in riding? I need to have more faith in her. Need to trust in our relationship, trust that she will obey me when it is necessary.

Today is groundwork day, tomorrow I will do clickering and riding. Perhaps that will be the answer. I will also make an appointment with my instructor and ask her to help me out with this - she is quite AND-like, actually. :)

Here’s my idea. I will do the clickering. But first, I will let her decide. Just..go, do as you like. To show her that okay, we’re going to do things differently now, I’m going to give you some freedom as well. Good idea or bad? I could then begin by clicking for every gait transition she makes of her own accord, for example, to show her that I will reward her initiative. And then, when she appears to be done with doing her own thing, I will begin to ask little things of her, while constantly rewarding her for listening.
But what do I do when I ask her to stop, for example, and she doesn’t? Let it be and walk on, and try again in a little bit? Pull harder? (which is what I did before) Send her into the fence so she has to stop?

Oh, and..thank you so much for your elaborate answers and for helping me. :giveflower:

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 11:50 am 
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ha ha, great that you let us read a long your thoughts... and I can assure you, I had the same, years ago :)

I come back to the question: why.
Maybe you should ask yourself: why do you need to ride?

I haven't been riding for years, just because the communication was not yet what it needed to be on the ground or was lost in the saddle. Now I only ride when my horse tells me he wants to, which is at least 1 to 3 times a week since a few months :)
And when you ride after the horse wants to, you have cooporation and ideas, which is wonderful and can not compare by traditional riding, I think.

If you really want AND... (ask yourself if you really want it ha ha !) then see riding as just 'one of the added exercises'. Do it every so often, when it feels right, and get off as soon as your horse gets annoyed. (or you)
Only this way will anybody love anything: when it is not forced.

You'll love cake of someone asks you if you'd love some,and you can say no without the other being offended or angry.
You'd start to hate cake, if you were forced to eat it many times, even though you do not feel like eating cake...

As for the running. Don Jamie, the highly traumatised ex bullfighter only did run, canter like crazy making me almost touch the fround with me knees in turns and this horse is 1,67 m and I 1,60....
Bits, no bits... nothing worked.

Untill I tried the cordeo... he indeed went into canter and I could do nothing about it.
So, I braced myself and went along as good as I could... and then he calmed down, first a nice canter and I rewarded, then a trot, I rewarded, then he came down to a walk and finally he stopped, for the first time having his head really low!
I got off and loved him to pieces...
We haven't had any trouble since then. (This was years ago by the way).
Turns out, he did not like to canter, he just went berserk.. and once he started running with his balance lost (as I was on there), he felt like running down a hill...
a lot of horses I come across have the same feeling I have experienced and again, by letting go of their had, and keeping one's balance, they find the solution and the best way of stopping without anyone jerking their heads on their own... and then the problem is ussually over, as long as the human lets go off those reins ha ha !

I find that as soon as horse's feel really calm and completely safe, they are not such hasty movers any more at all.
It is not natural to spill energy for them anyway. In the herd, there's isn't much movement other then grazing and sometimes 5 minutes of play.
Only stressed horses move like crazy... and crazy it is indeed. (So the calm horses think ).

They keywords are indeed: trust, letting go of control, but also seeing that the one who knows most about horses... is your horse.



PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:10 pm 
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Dani wrote:
Above things do not happen all the time, we have great days as well, so she is not in great pain, she is physically capable of doing it all, and she understands what I ask of her -- so WHY does she refuse half of the time?

For me the question in similar situations is the other way around: Why should she comply? Is there any reason for her to do what you asked? Is it rewarding to go with your ideas?

It seems like she is not easily frightened by pressure, so indeed you have two ways to go: either increase the pressure above her threshold (that´s probably what many traditional people would tell you to do) and in that way increase the cost of not complying - or increase the benefit of complying by making it a rewarding experience.

Dani wrote:
But what do I do when I ask her to stop, for example, and she doesn’t? Let it be and walk on, and try again in a little bit? Pull harder? (which is what I did before) Send her into the fence so she has to stop?

As strange as it might sound: Given that the situation is not life-threatening (like when you ask her to stop just in front of a big busy road while a truck is approaching) I would reward her for walking on. Show her that she is such a great horse and that her idea to walk on was just a wonderful one and EXACTLY what you wanted. I think there are horses who just need a bit more reassurance about really being in charge. Probably those who are most afraid of being forced and try the resistance thing to prevent this. And here I think that Patricia´s sentence really applies: You can´t push against an open door.

I think that the key is establishing a mindset in her that makes her WANT to do the right thing. To see each of your cues as a most welcomed chance to offer something that might get her a reward. To get out of the "Now there is the cue and I have to listen, but I´ll just wait until it gets really uncomfortable, maybe she will change her mind if I resist long enough" mode and into the "Could that have been a cue? Great, another opportunity to earn a reward!" mode. If you succeed in encouraging this in her, you will not only get a horse who is very attentive and tries to interpret your slightest signs but also a horse who will try to find new ways of responding to anything you ask.

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 2:02 pm 
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I think the hardest things we all face in changing how we approach working with horses - especially riding - is 1) changing our idea that a horse must obey at all times (ie not punishing) and 2) that there are times that our horses do NOT want us on their back. We must believe, as Josepha says that they have a GOOD reason. Even if we can't immediately figure out what the reason is. We must learn to trust the decisions of the horse first, then we can learn to show them that we are worthy of THEIR trust. Never the other way around.

Dani, most of us have gone through this. Some here are going through it now. But the neat thing is, that you gain so much by demanding less. A difficult but very true concept.

You will, absolutely, get loads of conflicting information from trainers, instructors and your stable mates, compared to what you learn here. You can count on getting more of that. But AND is a choice we make and a promise we make to our horses, and when we make that choice and that promise, we have to then shut out the well meaning but conflicting information we get from others who don't understand what we're trying to achieve.

At some point, you might find a way to explain to others around you (in a way they might understand) the reasons you wish to do things differently. Until then though, it will be a little difficult and perhaps a little uncomfortable if you choose to follow the AND philosophy. Dani, did you see the introduction of Angelika? She was completely kicked out of her riding school for wanting to do things a gentler and kinder way. That was a sacrifice she has made because she feels in her heart that she is ultimately right in her thinking. We all had to find that sense of conviction - whether we come to it slowly over time (which can be a little less stressful for our human minds!), or whether for reasons of circumstance we're thrown headlong into it. Some simply aren't ready to accept that you can do anything at all with a horse if the horse is always given the option to say NO. So for many of us there was a rough beginning to this new adventure! But the bottom line is that we only come to it when we're ready, and not before. You have to make that decision for yourself, but know that we'll understand and do our best to support you regardless of what you decide.

There is a lot of reading you can do outside of AND. There are good modern dressage instructors that will still say that a horse needs to be brought along slowly - that training is a slow development that takes years. Walter Zetl comes to mind - even though he is traditional, he's still an amazing person and I adore his ideas of always building trust, first and foremost - that a rider should never take a horse past his level of trust, but only expand it gradually as the horse is physically and mentally ready to expand it. There are others who will help you realize how even slight imbalances in the riders seat and weight can cause stress for some sensitive horses, so for that we need to keep it slow and learn to ride better. Some of us, like myself have been riding for decades (I'm almost 50 and have ridden since I was 5) and only after those many decades do we realize that we aren't very good riders after all. That all I had was a really good sense of self confidence, but in reality, very little real skill. :yes:

"Ride reverently, as if each step is the axis on which the earth revolves"

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:15 pm 

Joined: Tue Apr 07, 2009 2:34 pm
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I realized something else too. I see it as Groundwork and Riding. As two seperate activities, rather than both as a way of spending time with my horse. Need to change that, too. Bring them together.

So my plan now is:

Tomorrow I will ride with a halter rope/cordeo only. Clicker-reward Dafner for any initiative she takes. Allow her to do as she pleases for a little while, then slowly begin asking for simple things (turns, gait changes, halt, perhaps backing up). Reward her for any response to those cues (in accordance with Romy's above post). That might be difficult for me at first. Very difficult already mentally struggling with the idea of rewarding 'undesired' behavior :P I will do it though. :) But I don't suppose the reward should be equal to the one for obeying to the cue? So for ignoring it I'd praise her (for showing initiative), and for obeying I would click+treat, or is that still a wrong signal?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:50 pm 
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Location: Alberta
Must change thinking....


It's not about about how you can reward your horse for following your suggestion. I think you have the wrong idea about what Romy is suggesting. She's not suggesting that you reward your horse for doing just anything (although that is fun, but should perhaps not be combined in the same session as when you are asking for things). She's suggesting you do not punish your horse, but rather click and reward LOTS for doing the right thing.

Romy said:
the key is establishing a mindset in her that makes her WANT to do the right thing. To see each of your cues as a most welcomed chance to offer something that might get her a reward.

So you see? Take it slow. Sit on her back. Lightly, lightly, as lightly as you can, "suggest" she do something (please stay at a walk!) like walk on, or turn left, or turn right. Click and reward for her responses. If you ask for left and she turns to the right, ask yourself what YOU just did wrong (a horses innate response may not be what you've been taught as a rider). So take note of how you asked, and if one "ask" doesn't work, but another "ask" does, keep using the one that does, obviously. Work WITH her nature, not against her nature.

But keep it sloooooooow. At a walk. If she wants to rush, get off and do something else that is FUN (and not punishing) for a while then if you wish, try again. Challenge yourself to ask a question in a way that you will always get the same correct answer, and that answer is always rewarded. I would add that you may have to learn to reward sooner, for a smaller try. If you ask your horse to go left and she only LEANS that way but does not complete a step that way, REWARD. If she only takes one step, reward before she changes her mind. Be slow to ask, be fast to reward.

If you want to practice your timing for rewards, do that on the ground first. Also, when you reward from their back, remember to lean as far forward as you can so your horse doesn't have to crank it's head around to reach the treat. But make sure when you do that, that you are sitting securely grounded and that's she ready for you to become unblanced on her back. Stay safe. If you can't quite manage this between the two of you, then click and get off to reward (which is a cool double-reward by the way), then get back on. Just be prepared to be on and off, on and off, on and off a LOT.

Does this make sense?

"Ride reverently, as if each step is the axis on which the earth revolves"

PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:01 pm 

Joined: Wed Nov 12, 2008 9:58 pm
Posts: 1622
Location: Western Cape, South Africa
And above all if she does comply to any request really nicely and softly then GET OFF......the best reward of all! :D

Annette O'Sullivan

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. - John Lennon

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