A Matter of Perspective

Training

Assuming you are in complete control of another being, animal or human, is a false perception which can lead to errors in judgement and raises significant safety issues.

Firstly, we can only control another beings movements, not his mind. We may think we control his mind, when we exert our will over him and make him do what we want, but we cannot control his thoughts or emotions, which is of major importance when learning, and if we are to stay safe.

For example, you want your animal to learn to do as you ask. Humans tend to keep trying if something doesn’t work, so from our point of view, this may mean one of the following things.

Continuing until you do get the result you were after.

Not worry about how you get that result, just that you get it; the end justifies the means.

You can easily see that from our perspective, being successful means you have achieved what you set out to do. But what about the animal you are teaching? Were they successful? If they did what you wanted, then yes, you could argue that they were also successful.

However, that is not necessarily the case. In order to be successful you have to see things from the animal’s perspective, not yours. Have you left the animal better off than before you interacted with him? If you’ve continued a lesson far longer than was productive, so that you could finish on a high, you feel satisfied, and might sigh with relief that you have persevered and it was worth the effort. However, the animal may well have a different view. Is he likely to feel relief from finally doing what was asked? Or is he likely to feel relief for the fact that it has finished and there are no further demands on him?

Similarly, what will the animal take from a lesson that is conducted from the viewpoint of the end justifies the means? Again, you will feel relief that finally the animal has understood you and done what he was supposed to. And once again, the animal will feel relief that the interaction is over. By trying to make ourselves successful we have made the animal we are working with unsuccessful, as what he has learnt from engaging in the encounter is not a positive or rewarding experience.

Will he be willing to engage next time? Not likely, and certainly not with enthusiasm. He may also have learnt that avoidance or active defence is his best course of action to ensure he is not put in this situation again.

Coming back to the title of this piece – a matter of perspective – teach yourself to analyse everything you intend to do from the animal’s perspective, and you will set yourself and him up for fun, engaging teaching sessions that result in success for both of you.

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A Tale of Two Horses – The Book

I’ve just received an advance copy of my book, A Tale of Two Horses.

To see all those pages of plain type become this wonderful book is amazing.

Huge thanks to Jude Brooks and the team at Hubble & Hattie for making this possible.

It tells the story of my first year with my two Thoroughbred ex-racers as they make the transition from reactive horses with behavioural issues to content, well balanced horses. My teaching is force free both physically and psychologically, enabling free will and ensuring the emotional mind is content, showing the reader how to apply the same principles and methods. If you know anyone who may be interested in it, please let them know.

You can buy it here http://www.hubbleandhattie.com/shop/HH4794/

Don’t want to rug your horse? Here’s how to go natural.

Autumn is here. It’s getting pretty chilly at night, and time for many people to think about rugging their horses. Horses are rugged for many different reasons, and for some it is a necessity. If it isn’t, you may consider allowing your horses body to do what it does naturally – grow a winter coat, so there is no need to rug him.

The first step is to teach your horse to be aware of his body and manage his comfort accordingly. This involves showing him how to find shelter from wind and rain, rather than stand out and endure it. He is far less likely to need a rug if he does not stand out in howling wind or driving rain for hours on end! The other reason for teaching him to find shelter is that as you don’t need to rug him, it gives his body the ability to respond to the drop in temperature and stimulate hair growth, starting the process of growing a winter coat.

The next step is to only rug when absolutely necessary. Each time you do rug, you interrupt this process, so in order to have a really good winter coat that is capable of keeping your horse warm, the horse needs to manage his comfort so he doesn’t require rugging, other than the odd occasion.

The first year, his coat may not reach it’s full thickness, and there may be occasions when the weather is particularly bad, that he does need a rug. If this is the case, he will only need a lightweight one, or he’ll be too hot. In year two you will find that his coat develops more thickness, and you will probably not need to rug at all.

The final step is to relax and not worry! If your horse is out when the weather is bad, there is a tendency to think he must be cold. However, the combination of teaching him to manage his own comfort, and having a full winter coat, is good protection against the elements, and when you check, you mostly find that he is not cold, or wet underneath his coat. More likely is that as he is comfortable, he would rather be out grazing.

Things I’ve learned along the way through life

1 Time

Training animals takes time. Teaching your horse or dog movements, tricks and routines takes time. The brain has to get used to the new movements so they become familiar, then your horse or dog has to learn the voice or visual cue associated with that movement, and only then can be sure that he knows what to do we ask him to give us that movement. Changing behaviour takes time. One of the key things when working with horses and dogs who have issues, is to change their perception of the issue. And that takes time. The horse, who is not confident enough to hack out alone, will not change his mind on this very quickly. It takes time for him to build his confidence and not worry about being away from his friends. The dog who is over-excitable around other dogs will not simply decide he can be calm and collected. He needs time to learn this new response when he sees a dog and anticipates play.

2 Prioritise

Life is busy. There is never time to do everything, so you have to prioritise. My puppy, Wolfie, is 5 & ½ months old. He needs a fair amount of guidance and teaching, as there is a lot he needs to know at this stage in his life. On the other hand, my horses have been with me for 2 & ½ years, and know a lot of things. We were starting to take things to the next training level before Wolfie arrived, but now he is here, his teaching takes priority over Charlie and Star’s, as their training is not time critical. For those of you following their training diary, apologies for it being sporadic at present. I also like to cook, but there is only so much time in the day, so this doesn’t always happen. I have a combination of short-term and long-term writing projects on the go, along with clients who have different needs and time-scales. My priorities roughly remain in the same order, but with a fair amount of short-term adjusting for upcoming deadlines. Being able to identify when a priority should change position is essential for keeping things together and getting everything done at the right time.

3 Setting realistic goals = setting yourself up for success

Recognising that you can’t do everything all the time, and choosing what to do means you are much more likely to achieve the items on your list that day. Let go of feeling that you should do it all and realise that it’s not a problem. If dinner is not prepared, if other things remain undone, or you didn’t get around to something you wanted to get done, it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

4 Set your horse or dog up for success

This is essential to being a great teacher and trainer. You want your horse or dog to enjoy learning and be good at it. Learning can only be effective and enjoyable if it is rewarding and something that the horse or dog wants to do again. Setting them up for success means that you teach them in small steps, so they are able to understand and progress. Rewarding and praising them is essential to their perception of this being an enjoyable activity. It also means that you should create an environment where there is no fear, pain or coercion.

5 We’ll get there when we get there/ It takes as long as it takes

A great lesson to learn. Too often we have a set time-scale in mind, and feel that we must reach our goals at this point. Unfortunately behaviour does not work that way, and neither does your horse or dog. Each animal is different, and each will learn at a different rate. Some things will be easy and quickly learnt, some will not. The same applies to other things in your life.

6 Focus on the positives

We humans do tend to think about what was not right, did not go well, and was not good. Of course being aware of these things enables us to improve on them. However, there is a lot of negative energy attached to thinking in this way, so changing how you assess what you’ve been doing to look at the positive elements makes you feel good, which transfers to how you approach the next interaction with your horse or dog.

7 Don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong

Hindsight is a great thing. We can spend our time berating ourselves for the choices we made, or we can learn from them and make different ones next time.

8 Adjust as necessary

This relates to all previous points; 1 to 7. By recognising our performance, strengths and weaknesses, we can adjust each point accordingly to achieve success.

1 – take the time needed for each job, and don’t rush it. 2 – improve your ability to prioritise. 3 – you can improve your goal setting when you have some experience of what you can achieve each day. 4 – if teaching wasn’t easy, assess how you can change things so your horse or dog is successful. 5 – don’t try to force learning to happen quicker than the horse or dog is capable of. 6 – train your mind to see the great things you are achieving, so it becomes normal for you to think this way. 7 – let go of what has happened, and adjust for the next time.

9 Celebrate progress

We don’t do this often enough, and whilst modesty is a good trait, we should also recognise and celebrate what we have achieved. It leads to a content mind, and feelings of satisfaction.

10 Use what you’ve learnt to improve

following all these points and using them to assess who you are, where you are going, and what you want to achieve on your journey through life will help you realise your ambitions and dreams. It leads to a happy and full-filled life for you and your horse and dog.

Busy Times

Lots of things on the go at the moment, and not enough time for everything.

I have several writing projects on the go, course development, work with clients and their horses and dogs, and of course training my own horses and new puppy Wolfie.

Today I’ve been out to see a prospective venue for hosting my new courses for horses and their owners. What a lovely venue Hallsannery Farmhouse in Bideford, Devon is. This ticks all the boxes for my needs, I’m looking forward to hosting events there. The first is to be a 3 day foundation course in free will teaching and positive reinforcement methods.

Training for Charlie and Star has taken a back seat whilst I spend time with Wolfie. With less time spent on training, Star has decided that she should show me how to do it! So I get a lovely demonstration of exercises from her as she reminds me that I should be asking for them! Charlie stands by the exercise yard looking hopeful. It’s clear they want to do more training than they are currently getting. This is one of the many benefits of working with positive reinforcement, they ask to learn and train.

Training

Wolfie is 20 weeks old today and needs lots of attention and guidance at the moment, which is why I’m doing less training with Charlie and Star. He is doing really well, and with the same methods he already has a good amount of self awareness and is able to interrupt himself when in the grip of emotions – well, not all the time yet – he is still a puppy! His hormones have also just kicked in, so his first teenage phase is under way, a time that can be very challenging for owners.

Wolfie 210815

I’m also busy with the final tasks before my book A Tale of Two Horses, is finished and ready to go to the printers. Final edit done, we’re now on layout, last amendments and indexing. It details Charlie and Star’s first year with me and first experiences of positive reinforcement methods, and I’m really excited to see my manuscript in print.

Charlie & Star’s Clicker Training Diary w/e 5th July 2015

Well, what an exciting week it has been. I’ve done theExercise Yard usual training sessions, but that is not what was exciting. I decided it was the right time to leave the yard, and go for a walk down the lane.

For those of you who don’t know, Charlie and Star arrived as very reactive and unhappy horses. It has taken a substantial amount of rehabilitation to get them to the point where they are happy, balanced and content. They are not reactive any more, are predictable and soppy!!! Although that might just be my interpretation – I can hear them saying, ‘ aw, mum, do you have to say that, it’s so embarrassing!’

Anyway, back to The Walk…

Head collars and lead ropes on. Check. Bag of apples and carrots at the ready. Check.

I walked with Charlie, and hubby walked with Star. Charlie in the lead (he’s older and wiser), and off we went out of the gate and onto the lane, with Star and hubby following. So far so good. Charlie was great, happily bopping along beside me.

We got part way along the lane, when the realisation that she was no longer in her safe, and familiar field caused Star to panic a little. True to form, she planted her feet and refused to move. On seeing this, hubby started talking to her to help her through. Charlie and I were a little ahead, so we turned around to come back to Star. Charlie, clever boy, executed a perfect turn around as soon as I said it. He was so calm and collected. Back we went to Star, who still was not at all compos mentis (being able to think clearly and be in control of and responsible for your actions)! No, Star was in emotional/ instinct mode and not at all able to think or listen.

The best thing to do in this situation is not push things, but diffuse. So, Charlie and I walked back to her, hubby continued talking and not reacting, but also not asking anything of Star. We walked past, with the cue, ‘this way’ to let Star know we were going back to the yard. Charlie was brilliant, waited when I asked so he wasn’t to far away, and walked on when Star started to respond. Star made it back into the yard, and had settled down in a few minutes.

A good first walk. Star was interested in going out, but got scared when she found herself outside of her comfort zone. She did panic a bit, but crucially, she was not manic and reactive. It was easy to get her to re-engage her thinking brain, it just took a few minutes. Considering she is still a baby, and has only had very limited experience, she did amazingly well. Charlie showed how reliable and clever his was. This now gives me my next area to work on and develop Star’s confidence, so, back to yard work, gradually progressing to the gate being open, allowing Star to be comfortable going up to it, out and back in, without going too far away.

Groundwork

What does it mean to you?

Groundwork

To me it means everything that happens when YOU are on the ground.

Most of you are familiar with teaching groundwork exercises for things like showing, teaching movements you will use in the saddle, for ground based activities such as agility and for lead walking.

Things such as just being around your horse in the stable or field, vets and farriers visits, mucking out, grooming and feeding are all part of groundwork. I take advantage of these activities and use them as opportunities to teach my horses more behaviours, movements and awareness.

If you have a reactive horse, you are more likely to have taught him to do specific things when you handle him, as this is a necessity. For those with an easy-going horse, there is no need, the horse will do what he is asked. But there is a false sense of security here. What if you need your horse to do something that he usually does at a different time? Or he simply doesn’t do what is asked. Relying on the assumption that he always does this, is fine, just as long as he always does. When he doesn’t, you don’t have any cue to fall back on if you haven’t attached one to the behaviour.

Putting existing routines and movements on cue will give you so many advantages.

It increases awareness, which in turn increases self-confidence.

This is important for all animals, regardless of species or whether they are prey or predators. It is a technique that is particularly useful in resolving behavioural issues in insecure animals. If a horse knows what he is doing, he is more confident.

You have a voice cue as a back up if your horse finds himself unsure for whatever reason. Reminding him that this is a usual routine and that he does know it can help him get over any insecurity he may be feeling.

It allows you a means of teaching him to apply the same routine or movement in a different context.

When something is learnt, it is done so in context. If a movement is only practised and done in one place, chances are that the horse will find it difficult or impossible to do it in a significantly different location. In order to truly know a behaviour, it must be able to be performed in isolation, without any associations or conditions needing to be present. The movement itself is the behaviour, not the context in which it is displayed. If he knows a behaviour in one context, it is a straightforward matter to teach him it in another.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is that it is able to be applied to other situations. Modified, adjusted or the behaviour as a whole can be used to help the horse know what to do when he is in a situation he is unfamiliar with. Responses are chosen from previous experience. Where there is no similar experience to draw on, the horse does not know what to do. That can result in panic, fear, or anxiety, along with a response that is not appropriate for the situation. If you include awareness as an integral part of learning and training, you will significantly improve your horses ability to

  • manage his own behaviour

  • willingness to be guided by you if he doesn’t know what to do

  • impulse control

  • choosing an appropriate response

  • reliability

  • safety