Saturday, June 29, 2013

First Principles

I had a discussion with another boarder at the barn yesterday where I was trying to briefly summarize how I approach working with my horses.  This prompted me to try to briefly put in writing my "first principles" of horsemanship - I didn't invent any of this, but try to follow these principles.

Here goes - I could say a lot more (and often do) - but it's a good exercise to try to boil it down:

Always ask: what does the horse feel/understand about this?

Give the horse the opportunity to choose, and reward each small step towards the choice I want.  Set things up so the horse can succeed - each time the horse succeeds and is rewarded, this builds trust.  The reward is the consistent soft place I provide for the horse to find and stay in.

Provide leadership and direction.  Dominance and coercion are not leadership.  Do I want a horse that is a slave, or a horse that is a willing partner?

Be clear and precise about exactly what it is I want - build the chain by shaping/directing behavior in small steps.  Expect to make progress in small increments and be delighted with that.

Pay attention to what I do want and ignore what I don't want - just keep asking for what I do want.  Even "wrong" behavior can be directed and shaped towards what I want.

Horses always have reasons for their behaviors. Horses aren't devious or out to get us: they act out their feelings/emotions/reactions with their bodies.  Horses with learned “bad” behaviors have almost always been taught those behaviors by people, and they can learn new behaviors to replace them.

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