Tuesday, March 11, 2008
A Better Way
The other day, I was catching up on some of my favorite blogs. I came across something that Billie at camera obscura wrote that has stuck with me. She successfully helped someone convince a horse to do something that it was reluctant to do. She did is calmly and without any force. The horse’s owner responded by saying, “You can’t let them win these little battles”. It unsettled Billie, and I urge you to go read her eloquent response.
It made me think of some of the other common platitudes people say about horses that just drive me nuts. When I first learned to ride as a child, I was often told, “Show her who’s the boss! Kick her harder!” Now as someone who has owned horses for over 10 years and as a mother, if I hear my daughter’s instructor say that, I stop the lesson and look for another teacher. How ridiculous to think that this little child can make a 1200-pound animal do what she wants by kicking harder. Teaching anyone that this is the way to communicate effectively with a horse is the complete opposite of everything that I believe.
I bought Silk from a 16-year old girl, and when I asked the young lady if this horse was affectionate, she answered, “I don’t know. I’m the boss, so we don’t have that kind of relationship.” Her answer was one of the reasons that I own Silk. She used to have to lunge the horse for a half hour before she felt safe enough to get on her. I wanted to free this beautiful animal from a master/slave relationship. Today, Silk is my four-legged sister, and I never lunge her. She enjoys it when I ride her. Most of the time, she reads my mind, and does what I want before I even ask her. The last thing I would ever do is kick her.
“Don’t spoil them. That horse is just being a brat.” How many times have I heard someone say that? Unfortunately, it was often a trainer who was speaking. After my recent attempts at Clicker Training with Siete, I am overjoyed by the reaction she has had to “positive reinforcement”. The temper tantrums are over. I now have a calm, happy little horse, and I used treats not force to teach her to be respectful of my space.
We constantly face choices. I have a friend who demonstrates our options quite simply. She asks, “Would you rather do it like this?” and holds out her fist. Then, she opens her hand and extends her palm. “Or like this?” I’ve decided that hands, hearts, minds and eyes usually seem to work better when they are wide open