My mom is my role model, and growing up as an equestrian I remember her looking at our relationship with horses differently than I did. To me, my horse was my competition partner. I loved him and we worked hard together, but I didn’t take the time to learn how to communicate the way he did. My mom always had a gentle and understanding approach to figuring out what my horse was trying to say. If he was being fussy one day, my mom would question his comfort whereas I would brush it off as him having attitude. See what I mean? So as I learn about behavior and communicating with animals, I realize my mom’s had it right all along. Here is what she has to say about working with her horse – it’s amazing how much her observations match mine when I work with dogs.
Juliana and I often find ourselves talking about subjects like behavior modification, positive reinforcement, and T-Touch training. Juliana is talking about canines, and I am talking about equines. We find that many of the methods used to train dogs also apply to training horses. “Training is Training,” I tell Juliana. “You’re right. How about doing a Guest Blog?” she replies. What – me?
Since you are a PL&F follower, you are probably already well educated in training methods, and you know there are no shortcuts or miracle cures. So, what can this Guest Blogger offer? How about a reminder of some principles of training that can be adapted to whatever methods you employ? Here are four primary principles that Juliana and I both agree on: Knowledge is Power, Establish Leadership, Be Consistent, and End on a Success.
Knowledge is Power. I am not a professional trainer, but I have access to a lot of professional information. There are great resources on the Internet, TV, and in books. Find a trainer or method that you like and learn as much as you can. It took some investigating before I found an Equine trainer I liked; one who is clear, concise, and I can understand. I first found him in a book, and I have since discovered that he has a TV Program. I DVR every program, then I watch at my convenience – sometimes over and over.
A tip that my riding instructor tells me is, “write it down.” Keep a journal of goals and training sessions. It’s easy to get discouraged when I think I haven’t gotten very far or that there is so much more left to do. Having our journey on paper makes a big difference. When I look back, its amazing how much I have actually learned and how far the training has come.
Establish Leadership. My Vet once told me, “An insecure horse is a dangerous horse.” “Yeah,” I replied, but I wondered whose horse she was talking about? Surely not mine – my guy is sweet, and cuddly, and funny, and he LOVES me! Well, he is also a bit skittish, and sometimes a little pushy, and he doesn’t always listen to me…. An insecure horse may be dangerous because of its size, but an insecure dog can also be aggressive, ill-mannered, and annoying. Establish yourself as the leader, the head of the herd. Leading in a positive and consistent way creates a secure, calm, and happy animal that looks to you for direction, reassurance, and comfort.
Be Consistent. Be black and white, keep is simple, repeat, and follow the same rules. “He’s been so good, I’ll let just this one go,” can set you back sessions. Changing strategies can be confusing, and changing the rules can lead to insecurity. Be consistent – 100 percent of the time. It’s a huge challenge, and it makes all the difference.
I have also heard, “Repetition to Automaticity.” If you repeat an exercise until it becomes automatic, then you can communicate with a whisper, a gesture, or even body language. When a training session is structured, consistent, and repeated, success will follow.
End on a Positive. End before the session gets frustrating. Don’t be tempted to “do it one more time,” to get it perfect. Or, if the session isn’t going the way you hoped, find one small success, celebrate it, and end on it. Keep the sessions short, positive, and fun. After a great session, have a special play time or rewarding activity. My guy’s favorite activity and reward is grazing in a patch of clover. This time is quiet and relaxing, and it’s a luxury that is part of the schedule.
What has become of my insecure Gelding? People at the barn, and my vet, tell me he’s a “different horse.” When Juliana rode him recently, she noticed the difference. I told her that I had found a training method that is positive and that I agree with, and we work at it regularly and consistently. My guy is now relaxed and confident. He doesn’t look for his buddies in the field, because I am his herd leader. He stands quietly wherever I drop his lead, he respects my space, and we are developing a wonderful understanding. He whispers to me with his body language, and I understand. Our unspoken communication is amazing and a gift that I treasure. This is the reward.
So, training is training. These principles apply to training a horse or a dog, and you can also apply these principles when modifying the behavior of a child, peer, or co-worker :-). Remember the basics, and you’ll discover success!