Hoofdhouding als een vast punt trainen 3/
I think it’s a wonderful thing that we’re trying to reinvent ways to explain our horses how to carry us in a more healthy way. After all, that’s what dressage is for, no? It’s really not about performing particular exercizes and get scored for it by people who are completely out of touch with these strongly growing new ethics around living with animals. Dressage is (or should be) about keeping them healthy, mentally and physically. Coincidentally that’s what FEI calls a “happy athlete” – but the FEI and me (and you, I think 😉 ) have quite different views on what constitutes “happy”. So these last years have been something of a new adventure for me when it comes to researching new topics: what is fun, how do we know if a horse is having fun, and how can we make things more fun? When do people have fun and can we extrapolate that to horses, and if yes, how so?
So ‘fun’ has become my first benchmark for anything we could be doing with horses, (‘with’ being the key word here, not “to”): does the horse have fun? I have come to think that having fun (real fun, not just moving fluently and obediently without apparent stress) is even more important than creating athletes. If a horse has no fun, then where does that leave the ethics of creating an athlete out of him anyway?
So, back to “new” ideas like teaching movement with targets, chase the tiger (which has been around for like 20 years or so), or school halts (which already existed in some form or another when Baucher kinda invented it).
We don’t know yet if it’s the right thing to teach in the long run.
Also, some new ideas, I think, are only fun for some horses. There are different kinds of fun, and different personalities in horses. Not every horse is a bungee jumper. Some horses like to fill in crossword puzzles. In both cases, if they HAVE to do what you ask, even when you use a click and a treat, I don’t think they are having much fun. They may LEARN to have fun with it though. Look at all those horses who were afraid of big skippyballs and were taught to touch them anyway (through extrinsic or rather: controlled motivation) but now have a lot of fun with them, even out of their own (so it has become intrinsic, or autonomous motivation).
Clicker trainingClicker training Clicker training is a system of teaching that uses positive reinforcement in combination with an event marker. has been a huge step forward to this question, since it already implements some form of autonomy, in that the horse can say “no” without repercussions (apart from losing a carrot slice), which is a completely new concept to training. It’s still far from enough though. We still don’t take what the horse feels serious enough. And when I say that, I don’t careCARE Het zorgt ervoor dat je paard een band opbouwt met andere paarden zodat ze voor elkaar zorgen. in the least that I may be of the 0.05% horse people who think that way and that most of the horse world judges this to be fluffy unicorn stuff. Apart from some hiccups, the world is moving our way, not theirs.
So I give you this one thought to chew on, when deciding what to work on. “Choice” is only meaningful when the horse fully understands what the two choices mean. The choices have to be equal in challenge and reinforcementReinforcement In operant conditioning, a consequence to a behavior in which something is added to or removed from the situation to make the behavior more likely to occur in the future. history. That means you’ll first have to teach the two possible choices seperately, and connect them with equal reward. Only then you can present a meaningful choice.
Think of the skippy ball and how the motivation changed. So: set every exercize at its core up for fun:
1/ There has to be a perception of autonomy;
2/ The horse needs to know he can do it (but remember that everything that starts out almost too difficult will get boring so stay ahead of that by only clicking for progress, don’t click to just maintain something);
3/ It has to be meaningful for the horse (it has to make sense to him and he must know in advance what the goal is and where he will ‘score’);
4/ You – and your horse – will only have fun with each other if you like each other. Relatedness is a huge factor of fun for social animals!
5/ When it comes to riding, think of riding aids as feedback, rather than cues. For instance, your legs are guiding him to bend better so he can make it through the pole bending on his way to his targetTarget Something the animal is taught to touch with some part of his body. A target is generally stationary.. They are not a goal. They are helping him to score.
I do apologize for making this “short” ;-). I’m in the process of writing a book on this for a real long time now, and it’s already hugely behind its targeted publication date, first because I couldn’t get my head around a coherent content, and lately not in the least because that danged coronathing is eating my writing time.