March 26, 2007

Keep it positive

I’m going to indulge myself and “think out loud” about some interesting observations and experiences in my horse training lately.

This little spate of introspection was brought about when I had to introduce my mare to a new small arena that was surrounded with hot wire. I led her out to this new place and was a bit surprised that she showed some fear and resistance. She has had experience with hot wire, and was definitely letting me know she was afraid and unsure of the “opening” I had asked her to walk through.

I have an extensive background in Natural horsemanship and it was an easy thing to just lift the line and slightly suggest with the tail of the lead that I needed her to walk forward. She did so, but was a little “impulsive” in her movement. So I asked her to come back out of the opening, and repeated the process until she was able to walk through at a comfortable level. The whole thing took about 4 minutes and looked quite mild by NH standards.

Just to make it interesting I asked her to do it again at liberty and “helped” her make the right choice by pointing at the opening and tapping my leg to add impulsion.

So what’s the big deal? Well, at that point I walked back to the barn and got my clicker and her favorite treats and went to revisit the situation. I opened the gate as asked her to walk back through at liberty. Only this time I didn’t use ANY pressure to let her know what I wanted. I let HER decide when she was comfortable and clicked when she stepped forward.

I have to admit I was surprised, because she was so willing when I had her online. BUT when I gave her the CHOICE, she clearly showed me what she preferred.

And so that’s where we worked. Yes, it took longer than 4 minutes, but at the end of our session she was even MORE confident and saw me as an even better source of comfort and safety. I didn’t need any pressure at all and she had made the choice out of trust and positive feedback.

To me this was a dynamic illustration between positive and negative reinforcement. Even if my pressure was soft and subtle, it’s still pressure. So THIS is the philosophical place in which I find myself. I don’t want to use pressure. I’m committed to continue to seek new refined techniques as a clicker trainer using positive reinforcement to train horses.

Thanks for letting me share….

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