The Common Loon is a beautiful water bird found on lakes across the North Americas. These migratory birds return back to the same lake to nest every year. They are monogamous (for approximately 5 years, which, having been married twice myself, sounds like an interesting option) and when one or other bird does not return to the lake another partner is found but they are very territorial and must have the lake, or a large part of it, completely to themselves.
Loons are famous for their calls and their wails and yodels echo around the lakes after sundown. So much so that writer John McPhee called it the "laugh of the deeply insane". Of course, the loons are making sure everyone is where they should be and if another couple comes too close and refuse to leave, the original pair will leave the lake and find another nesting ground.
If you play a recording of loon calls at the lake, initially the resident loons will answer the calls but if you continue to play the sounds the loons...
Now back in Australia, I'd checked the important things off the list - got the children settled and happy, enjoying a lovely herd of horses, meeting lots of wonderful riders on my training travels and successfully divorced husband #2. Things were looking up!
But something was nagging at me - we didn't seem to really understand much about the horse's emotional level during training. I used to find myself saying "I think/believe/feel/find the horse is more relaxed and less anxious when I ...XYZ" Perhaps I was right and perhaps I wasn't but I wanted answers and so my search began.
A client told me about the work being done by Paul McGreevy and Andrew Mclean and I dove head first into their work. Unfortunately, much of the published material was not publically available, except at great cost, to those without university library access. Ooh, I had a daughter at university.....
If the UNSW librarian ever wondered why Ms Penn, a Architectural Computing student, was downloading...
Having worked out that we need to use language that is based on our understanding of the horse's natural behaviour and cognitive abilities, I then began to look at the objectivity of the terminology and how universally it was understood.
The diagram shows terms taken from a dressage coaching manual. I have not yet attempted to order them from objective to subjective and if you'd like to have some input into that process, I'd appreciate that! Indeed, if you have some more terms, please do forward them to me - I think this line is going to be a long one!
I also think it's a very important continuum. If we're really going to work to improve horse welfare then we need to be discussing things we can measure and we all need to be talking about the same thing.
Take 'behind the vertical' for example. There is a new tool out (in fact it's so new, it's not quite out but I heard about it on the grapevine) that can tell the rider when the horse falls behind the vertical. Wow, how...
Once I'd decided that both horse and rider were best served by teaching owners to train their own horses, it became more important than ever that I had a means of measuring and comparing all aspects of the training process. Last time we talked about anthropomorphic terminology and it became very obvious to me that this needed to be updated.
For example, without lengthy and subjective explanation, it's impossible to know if a disrespectful horse has become more respectful. The dictionary defines disrespectful as having low regard or esteem for someone else or thinking very little of them. Consequently, to say a horse is disrespectful we really have to know what the horse is thinking. Now, I've been called a Horse Whisperer more than I care to mention but really.....?
Unless our horse is Mr Ed, we really can't know what the horse is thinking so the best we can do is address the behaviours we can see and measure. If the horse 'gets in our space' we can teach the horse to lead, if...
When I moved home to Australia, I rather thought I'd semi-retire, enjoy my horses and see the children through high school.
Umm, it didn't go quite according to plan.
You know how it happens, you visit a mate and they ask you to help them with their horse. Goodo. They tell their friend, who rings you and your answer is "sure, can do". When this got to the ridiculous stage, 'can do' became Kandoo and I was back to training horses for people.
But, this time, with a difference for the following reasons:
So, my mission became to teach YOU to train your horse and my 'can do' became your...
Anthropomorphism is when we ascribe human traits, ambitions, emotions or behaviours to animals. When it comes to horses, the problem with anthropomorphism is that it can lead to us making assumptions about the horse's intelligence, motives, temperament and much more.
Lloyd Morgan's canon (1903) reads:
"In no case is an animal activity to be interpreted
in terms of higher psychological processes
if it can be fairly interpreted in terms of processes
which stand lower in the scale of psychological evolution and development."
The reason it is dangerous is that if you look at the lower, negative, side of the diagram, you can see that some of these characteristics could easily lead to punishment. But what if the horse was confused and judged disrespectful? Coming from a belief that a horse is behaving spitefully, for example, is considerably more likely to result in punishment than a careful explanation of the lesson. The disrespectful horse is less likely to be treated gently...
Having country-hopped for 17 years, I was keen to return to Australia and give the children a sense of home before high school started. My English, (now ex) husband #1, was less keen and who can blame him. But the maternal instinct kicked in like a tidal wave and I rode that through the English High Court for 18 months.
During that time, a horse, that I'd never met, got me through. I saw her on the internet while still in the UK and told myself that if I ever managed to get home then I'd get a horse like this.
Finally, the courts granted us permission to leave and the children and I came home to Australia - a country the children had only visited in the past. It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life and by far the best.
Surprisingly, that horse that I'd been looking at on the internet was still for sale, a 2-year-old (now 3) Australian Stock Horse (pictured) and I drove the 15 hours to Queensland to buy her. She'd got me through some pretty tough...
I used to say that a horse will remember 80% of a well-learned lesson for 18 months if it hasn't been worked in the meantime. These days, I'm sure it's at least 80%. By well-learned I mean any lesson that has become a solid habit with your horse. This may be great flying changes, Working Equitation obstacle patterns or it could be pulling back when tied....
Well-established patterns of behaviour that have earned the horse a good release will continue to be offered and those that have been established using fear as a motivator (pulling back when tied, not loading on the trailer) are often very difficult to un-train.
So, there are two things to take away from this:
I spend a lot of time bringing...
I know, you think I've gone completely nuts.....skiing???
It was something I was told, back in a previous lifetime when I could, occasionally, be found on the slopes. The reasoning was this: In week 1 you get to where you ended the previous year, so in week 2 you improve.
Ah, that makes some sense, right?
We also had an understanding that you took day 3 off skiing and spent it in a mountain restaurant or otherwise relaxing. Those of you who have read Day 21 of this series will understand why that was my favourite ski day (for 17 years), haha. On day 3 your muscles are tired and in that state you're more likely to have an accident so better to rest up and prepare for the next ten days of first chair up in the morning and being swept down by the piste groomer at night.
OK, so how does this apply to your horse training?
I think a lot of people get stuck when their horses have been off work for a period. The longer the break, the more worried we seem to become about getting back on...
People often look at liberty work and assume that the entire routine has been taught using food treats but, with horses, this is almost never the case.
Training is usually a combination of negative and positive reinforcement. That positive reinforcement might come in the form of a scratch on the wither and a few gentle words or it could come in the form of a treat. It really doesn't matter, both will work if correctly timed - immediately following the desired behaviour. Of course, neither will work (that is train the horse) if poorly timed, such as a delay of a few seconds or more between the behaviour and the reward.
As I mentioned last time, it's difficult to raise a horse's emotional level using food. I could offer a bucketful of carrots but my horse would probably never piaffe for me. To teach piaffe I'd need to put a bridle (or at least a halter) on the horse, that's negative reinforcement right there, and probably use a whip to tap the hindquarter, negative reinforcement...
An email from Kate for the next 100 days to get you inspired and having fun with your riding and training!
Don't forget to go along to the FREE Training video section as well and set up an account (FREE) to access the material there.