Monday, December 31, 2012

Offering choice to build trust, by Jesse (

Offering choice to build trust

The most important aspect of training I have learned in the past week is to always offer a horse a choice. Not to force the right behaviour, but to encourage the right behaviour and make it worth their while. By allowing a horse a chance to think through their options, and then subsequently be rewarded for making the right choice; you give the horse confidence. And positive encouragement to do that action again willingly, by their own accord.
An interesting example was with Rema, a client's Icelandic pony whom Lindsey is starting. She is a pokey little pony, and can be hard to motivate around the ring on the rail. So Lindsey offered her a rewarding rest in each corner of the arena when they passed by them. Rema learned that corners were comfortable, so she became excited to get to them. When Lindsey then moved her away from a corner, Rema had the choice of how fast she would move towards the next corner. And since Rema wanted the comfort in the corners, she decided going fast would be the best option! Here Lindsey has given Rema the choice to her own speed; and Rema has chosen to work harder for the reward in the corner. Without having to whip or kick this pokey pony around the ring, and Rema has learned she can make choices with Lindsey as a partner.
Another example of choice would be when we were teaching Shania how to canter under saddle. When asked to canter she would race around at a very speedy trot, rather than switch her gait to everyone's comfort. So we offered her the choice to follow another horse at the canter, to encourage her gait change; or she could choose to continue to trot. When she would pick up a canter for a few strides, we would immediately stop and give her reward. If she didn't, we would continue to trot and ask for transitions. In this way she learned the reward came after she tried to canter, and more work came when she continued to trot. From here we also took her on a trail ride, to allow her some room to run and the choice to run (canter) with the other horses on the trails. She took to this method extremely well; and by the end of the ride she was offering canter transitions off of a simple voice cue.
Choice is a very important part of a partnership, and it invokes the need to trust each other. Offering choice therefore builds confidence in both horse and handler, for their own workings and for working together. When you continue to offer a choice to a horse, and they continue to enjoy the outcome of the right choice; they become more likely to trust you and begin to follow your leadership without question. If you force a horse; you break that trust and they are weary to follow you. Force invokes fear, and fear can lead to all kinds of nasty attitudes. A good example of this happened just today with a horse named Angel. We hadn't expected any issues with her, and had pulled her out to ride as a leading horse to pony another horse we were starting. But when I got on Angel, we discovered some sour attitude. She would stop unexpectedly, and stand with pinned ears. Even with no leg pressure, and no rein contact; she would stand angrily. When urged forward, she would threaten to rear and pin her ears further. After some long thought on the matter, we concluded that after a lesson with another student, Angel had become sour to leg aids, as the other student had been too firm with her squeezes and kicks. By pushing Angel constantly, this rider had taken away her choice. And had doing so had made her sour to wanting to do anything at all. Together Lindsey and I reaffirmed Angel that all we wanted was for her to walk on, and that we would not kick or push her too hard. By positively reinforcing her tries to work for us, and by only asking her to move with our voice; Angel learned once more that she had a choice. And so again, she trusted us as her leaders and was able to walk/trot around the ring easily again.

By Jesse - a student with Partridge Horse Hill from Guelph

(Pictured is Jesse with her horse Johnny at a 2012 Partridge Horse Hill clinic)

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