Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Action = Consequence = Positive OR Negative Associations

When training a horse especially a horse that is starting as a blank slate, the rule of thumb is that for every action you perform toward YOUR horse, the horse will give YOU a consequence that is relative. Be it a positive consequence or a NEGATIVE. This is an important concept to understand because it supports the psychological side of your horse and horse training. It's very Pavlovian. You ring the proverbial bell and you "dog" begins to drool.

So let's apply these thoughts to horses. Example: Pat on the neck + treat = reward of good behavior. Good behavior = positive reinforcer

Hitting to the face + hard whipping to the body = understanding that human is bad.
Human beating on horse = negative reinforcer

Tap of a crop/whip to enhance aids + ceasing when action is completed = Positive discipline. I tap the whip behind my leg, then stop tapping when horse moves = association of action and consequence.

It's all about thinking ahead. When training you MUST think about what type of CONSEQUENCE that your ACTION is going to have. If your horse is rearing and you yank him back down to earth and scold him, he will begin to associate rearing with getting in trouble. Alpha mares in the wild understand these concepts and apply them to running their herd, which is the same thing we need to do (in a constructive manner.) If your horse decides to take off running with you and you discipline him by making him keep going until YOU tell him to stop and he's pooped out, he will now realize that the consequence of bolting is running my tail off!! If your horse completes a 3 foot jump when he's only been schooling 2'6 and you stop and praise him and pat him and stop working. He learns that the consequence of what he did was a GOOD THING! The stopping work and pats are your actions and him jumping a 3 foot fence next time is his positive consequence. Now if someone goes on smacking their horse in the face as their action, then the horses consequence is going to be that he is now head shy. It's simply a GAME OF ASSOCIATIONS!!!! Hit to the face hurts = horse moving head away.

Honestly, training or schooling a horse can end up many different ways. While yes, the cowboy who beats his horse into submission and uses force and fear may get to the same goal that I do, but, I will have a horse who is more willing, relaxed, and not in fear of me. We'll be a team. I will have a horse willing to learn and trying to understand what I'm asking. I will teach him by using the appropriate discipline, training techniques and actions, so that I may in turn receive the consequence that I'm desiring. Forceful and aggressive methods can turn on people as well. While the rough and tough cowboy may think his horse is being dominated upon, the horse may in turn get aggressive and dangerous as well. And honestly who do think will come out on top in the game of strength?? Also, ALWAYS be aware that a LACK of communication is NO reason for you or a trainer or whatever to get pissed at a horse and to react harshly towards them. Horses can only go as far as we can teach them. And there is no excuse for blaming the horse, or taking out our aggressions or frustrations out on them, when it's ALWAYS going to be operator ERROR!! If your horse isn't performing what you want, then you need to ask yourself, "How am I asking my horse?" Proper and clear communication, along with a basic understanding of action vs. consequence is CRUCIAL when working with horses!!


CutNJump said...

When you make it easier for the horse to be good and reward the good behavior, training seems to accelerate beyond your imagination. But then there are always horses who don't seem to 'get it' right off and take a bit more time, work, encouragement, thinking, skill and maybe a new approach altogether.

These horses aren't out to make us look like an asshole, an idiot or a liar. They might just be wired a little differently.

What works for one doesn't work for some and what works for some may not work for one.

When you finally get it right, and the horse gets it right- it becomes GOLDEN!

All they are doing is making you a better horseman.

Smile and go forward knowing this.

TallDarkAndSpotty said...

I sometimes forget with my young guy that he's soaking up everything I teach him (its like swearing in front of kids, and then they repeat it!). Its so hard to be consistent when one day you want to kiss that soft spot on their muzzle and the next you're just trying to keep those dirty lips off your clean shirt.
I liked what you said yesterday about the guy having a chance to train his two year old to match his personality and hers.
I trailer my guy out at least once a week to work at an arena, and four weeks in he started to tell me he'd rather lounge around with his old mare friend than have an "outing". Since they're in pasture my theory with catching is if they don't want to come, they can start their workout in the field. My old mare understands what I mean by sending her a direction, and that if she is tired she is more than welcome to trot up and stand in front of me and we'll put the halter on and be done. So I stood at the fence halfway down the hill, and sent them both up the hill, then down, then up again, until my mare cried uncle. The young guy took a while to figure out the game, but it turned into a useful way to let him get his "frolics" out before working with him. (Especially since I don't allow bucks on the lunge line.) So here's the funny part... now whenever he sees me hooking up the trailer, he starts it all on his own! Like "Oh, I better get my bucks out now! Cuz its not allowed later!" Then he'll be standing at the gate ready to go when I come with the halter! So we have this weird routine that I've accidentally trained into him. I'm really not sure how that would go over with a new owner if I ever sold him... they'd call up and tell me I sold them a CRAZY horse!

Trainer X said...

CNJ~ I agree, every horse is unique and the trainer needs to be able to adapt and understand that. You know I always tell people that if they just could slow down, think about everything they're doing and try to think outside the box a bit, that horse training can actually be fun, easy, and rewarding!!

Talldarkandspotty~ LMAO!! I know what you mean, my own personal horses and I have our own special routines that I'm sure some people look at and say what the hell LOLZ!!

kestrel said...

Sadly enough "Cowboy" has became a synonym for cruel. Too many westerns and cowboy wannabees. The real old guys who had to have a horse made to the point you could bet your life on, are some of the kindest trainers I've ever met. Natural horsemanship eat your heart out, these old boys invented it!
I always have several horses at different levels, and I let the young ones watch the trained horses work. It's amazing how the young horse will try to emulate their buddy who's getting all the cool attention.
I do have to watch that one though, I had a very aggressive, spoiled, disobedient colt in for training. He tried to take me on, and my mare kicked his tail in the pasture. She'd look over the fence and threaten him if he even looked like he was thinking bad thoughts!

Trainer X said...

Kestrel~ I agree with thatvery much. When you base your life on another animal they must be your trustworthy bestfriend!!! I have to trust my jumper and he needs to trust me. My life is in his hooves every time he flies over those giant fences...

Mikolaj said...

I think what is most disheartening is that you actually need to EXPLAIN this concept to people. People who treat horses like objects will only ever get what they ask of the horse - at best. People who treat horses as horses will discover that magical ability a horse has to give his heart to you, even when YOU'RE convinced it's just to hard. I don't believe most horses are born loving what we ask them to do (jumping for example) - they come to love it through the bond and the positive that comes from working with their human. My Arab mare LOVES to jump - goes bananas when we're riding and she sees one! But does she jump a jump if it's sitting in her pasture? Nope. Why bother? She knows the pets and praises and good times come from jumping with her human!

Trainer X said...

I agree and believe me having to write it out and put it down on paper is an even bigger pain in my ass LOLZ! Just the fact that there ARE people out there who I have to take aside and tell them "Hey! Yelling, smacking, whooping, and hollering toward your horse is NOT conducive for it's training!" *sigh* Some people...

boadicea1 said...

Bravo, another addition of common sense 101. Over discipline=panic. Horses do not learn from a over abundance of thumping. They think, get me away from the banshee.
I also cannot stand the person who does not believe in discipline. Like their spoiled brat child, they want them to express themselves. 1200 pounds can really express it's self.
I went to an inspection and was told by a German Judge I should not discipline my 4 month old colt. It was really hard not to laugh. I had really enjoyed watching everyone else being drug around by theirs. I think they thought this was animation.(Yeah, like a cartoon) Nope, one little correction and I had a gentlman. I felt like asking if he waited until his kid was 16 to teach him right and wrong. Little easier to start from the get go.

BackxInxThexSaddle said...

Don't think I've left a comment for you before-But I do enjoy your blog!

Anyways just wanted to correct on the Pavlov's dog thing;

That actually has to do with taking an 'unconditioned stimulus' and through trials making it a 'conditioned stimulus" see here
This is behavior modification but has to do with causing a reaction from a stimulus that has been associated with another stimulus that causes a natural response.... bell->dog food-> drool (repeat)

What you're actually describing is simple operant conditioning which is about positive or negative reinforcement and punishment :)
See here:

behavior+reward =increase in behavior
behavior+removal of bad stimuls=increase in behavior
behavior+negative stimulus=decrease in behavior
behavior+removal of good stimulus=decrease in behavior

Trainer X said...

Good call thanks!!

Anonymous said...

It's really too bad that you choose to use Cowboys as the example for cruelty in training. Surely you could have just used a general example instead, as there are cruel training techniques and cruel people in all disiplines.