It is my experience that horses are very sensitive. They can jump around like a rabbit shying at shadows on the ground and can respond to aids as light as a fly's touch. It is also my experience that they have amazing problem solving abilities when put to the task. They can learn new behaviors easily, when at first they have no idea what it is you are trying to teach them. On Facebook I saw someone put up a statement that said “you can lead a horse to education, but you can not make him think”. I am not sure what they were getting at. Whether they thought horses did not have an ability to think or they were trying to make another point. Whatever the purpose, it caused me to want to write this blog. I put on some Pandora blues music and off I went to plead a case in the way horses function. I will share with you in a moment how horses think, but first I want to say this – Yes they think! Can you imagine that?
For people who train horses, using my method, they know that horses think. However, in the general public, regarding the training of horses, some people are still not sure. Which is a shame. With this attitude I see people controlling horses in their performance too strongly. This is created from thinking a horse has no ability to think on his own. Training a horse in this manner does not allow a horse to be truly brilliant and excel from his own direction. He is not allowed to enjoy his own development. Horses just like us, need to feel their own successes from learning new things and be able to perform without always being made to perform.
Today I was working with Firelight. He has just started volunteering a rear at Liberty so I began figuring out how to get him to rear from a cue in this stage of his training. We worked together as a team perfecting our dance. I had discouraged his rearing in the past and not allowed it because I needed more training on him so that he did not use the rear against me. I have now had three sessions with him on rearing upon request and how not to offer a rear when not asked. He is getting the idea and enjoying the process at the same time. He knows what we are working on and he is enjoying the process. This is an example of training a horse when he understands what it is that I want him to learn.
He is doing well, but he began laying his ears back when he was companion walking with me afterwards. His ears are not flat back nor is his nose wrinkled and he was not at all trying to threaten me, but I felt that I needed to take care of this matter while I could nip it in the bud. I decided to train Firelight to keep his ears forward. This would help him to relax and feel more connected with me.
What I am about to share with you will show you something about how horses figure out what it is you want to train them to do when at first that they have no idea what it is you are getting at. A few of my students have worried that a horse needs to understand what is being asked of him at the time it is asked. It can help and it can hinder. How it can hinder is that knowing what you are requesting in a lesson can remove the curiosity, which can cause a horse to lose interest. When I am training a horse I use both approaches by presenting to the horse the lesson that makes sense to him as well as to give him more challenges to figure out what it is I am asking him to do.
As trainers it is our responsibility to balance these two approaches of training for the purpose of keeping a horse interested. In the case of training a horse to keep his ears forward there is really no way that a horse would understand the concept that I want him to relax his ears and stop laying them back. He must figure this one out on his own from trial and error. Which is a form of reasoning. Reasoning is a form of thinking.
The lessons animals learn in nature are mostly learned in situations from not knowing. They learn from experience and then they use that experience to their benefit later on. I find that even teaching people that the ones that know what it is that I am trying to teach them actually learn slower than the ones that have an empty cup. This is proved to me time and again that beginners and trainers learn my method at the same rate of speed. Trainers can often learn at a slower pace when you would think that a trainer has an advantage over the beginner.
My lesson with Firelight on him laying his ears back is a good example of a horse having the ability to figure out what you want when he has no idea and no help coming. This approach allows a horse time to process and think.
First I started companion walking with him to a destination where there were carrots in a bucket waiting for him on the other side of the fence. As we approached the bucket, about 35 feet away, his ears were back. When I saw this I stopped and waited for him to put them forward. He stood there with his ears back for long time. Eventually he put them forward and I then began walking, which caused him to lay them back again and I repeated my response. The first time he did not understand. I stood with him a very long time but really no more than about 10 minutes waiting before he chose to put his ears forward. I needed to stop at least 6 times before we got to the carrots. The next time was much shorter but still he did not know what it was that I was looking for him to do. Then the next time his ears went forward sooner and were going back less frequently, but still he did not really understand what I wanted him to do. But after the fifth trip it was obvious that he got it because he would shoot his ears forward as soon as I stopped. This lesson took no more that fifteen minutes for him to get the idea. On my other horses I can say “ears” and they perk up and move them forward from my request and all of them learned this easily.
I hope this might offer some food for thought in how horses can reason. From my experience horses have a great capacity to learn. I have always found horses learn much faster than people, so people need to see this and give a horse time to figure out the lesson. The more time you give a horse, and opportunity to think things out, the more it increases a horse’s ability to problem solve. So in conclusion, “you can lead a horse to education and they have a natural ability to figure out what you want them to learn”. It really helps to allow the horse to process by not pressuring him to respond. He needs time to think. If you do not give them this time, of course you would naturally come to the conclusion that horses do not think.
Have a great weekend! Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.
ESCONDIDO, CA - 2014
Beyond the Waterhole Rituals Clinic in Escondido with Carolyn Resnick
December 11-14, 2014
COSTA RICA - 2015
Self Realization through the Training of Horses at Liberty with Linda Salinas
February 22 - March 1, 2015
CANADA - 2015
Self Realization through the Training of Horses at Liberty with Teddie Ziegler
July 31 - August 2, 2015
For those of you that are wanting to take a clinic in my method, Linda Salinas has a clinic coming up in Costa Rica.
Join Linda for an amazing adventure and clinic in Costa Rica. You will have an optional 3 or 5 days horse clinic with her. The retreat is ALL inclusive in a 5 star resort. All you need is your airfare. Food, lodging, clinic, and activities are all covered in the price. Take advantage of the early bird special ending November 30, 2014. Activities include: zip lining, massage, yoga, white water rafting, rappelling and other adventure tours!
What could be better then Costa Rica in the winter? Join Linda Salinas for a magical adventure with horses and more.
If you are just starting out with my method you can come to my ranch and work with Teddie Ziegler here in California or she can come to you for a private or group clinic. Teddie Ziegler has a clinic in Manitoba, Canada July 31-August 2, 2015 and will teach the Waterhole Rituals to beginners in the Method as well as those who have taken Carolyn's classes before. Further your knowledge in the Method and deepen your relationship with your horse.