Monday, July 26, 2010
The following was an article I definitely felt worth posting here! Originally found here. My own comments/input on some of the more general info at the start, in green italics. Read the article first, my input on the matter at the bottom.
Guest Article: Clinton Anderson
The hard part about teaching horsemanship to the general public is there aren't a lot of hard, fast rules. There are very few rules that never, ever change. Because a horse is a living creature. He is a reaction with four legs. He's constantly reacting to everything around him.
Depending on the horse's mood, depending on his temperament, depending on the weather, depending on what mood the person is in, there are a lot of variables that will generally affect how well a training session goes (or how well it doesn't go).
But there are a few rules that don't change.
The first one is: Do what you have to do to get the job done. Whether it just takes a little bit of a wiggle of the rope, or a really big wiggle of the rope, it depends on the horse. As long as you start gently and finish gently, you're ok.
Note: On a related note, if you finish with relaxation, your work will eventually come full circle and you will soon be starting with relaxation. It is ok if what is in between is 'resistance' or 'tension' - as you progress, those periods of tension will decrease to the point where they eventually no longer exist. Try to always start and finish with relaxation however - leave your horse in a better state than you found him.
The other part to that rule is: Do it as easy as possible but as firm as necessary. You always want to start gently with everything that you do. If it doesn't get you to the desired response, or if the horse isn't trying to do what you want, then you need to be as firm as necessary. This basically means to increase the pressure to make it more uncomfortable for the horse not to try.
Note: This is where initially your work with a horse might actually increase their tension as they initially resist - but ultimately if you are communicating correctly, you should 'break through' and see the horse relax. The level of resistance (from 0-10) entirely depends upon the horse and their emotional state, in addition to your communication.
As long as you start gently and finish gently, pretty soon, that's all the horse remembers - the gentle part. Most people want to start gently. Then the horse ignores them and they don't want to escalate the pressure to make the horse feel uncomfortable. This is what I call being a Nagging Mother. The person is asking for something and not getting it, but you don't change how you're asking for it.
Then, there are other people that want to ask for something very aggressively. For example, if they want a child to make the bed, instead of saying, "Hey, Johnny, would you please make the bed?" they walk over and yell in his face and slap him on the backside of the head, saying, "Make the bed!" They never give him the opportunity to do it nicely.
We want to start gently and finish gently.
Another rule that doesn't change is: We want to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. That is a very broad saying. Make the right behavior seem easy to the horse. Whatever he wants to do - which is the wrong behavior - make doing that difficult. If you do this in a way that is easy for the horse to understand, it won't take very long at all and your horse will start to regularly choose the easiest part of the solution, which is what you want him to do.
That's what appealed to me when using the Vice Breaker®. The Vice Breaker® was a way that I could make my horses feel uncomfortable for doing the wrong thing, but without it affecting the relationship between me and the horse.
Let me give you an example...
Let's say you had a stud horse that was tied up to the fence. Every time you led a mare past him, if he started to whinny at her and squeal and act all studly, typically you would go over there and move his feet around. You might have to spank on him some with the end of your stick or dressage whip. You'd basically have to find a way to make him uncomfortable for acting that way.
The drawback is, you are doing it to him. He knows it, too. So, sometimes what can happen is you get the reverse effect - sure he'll stop whinnying every time a horse goes by. But then every time you walk past him, he jumps and flinches and gets worried and scared about you.
Note: If he is flinching and getting worried and scared about you, you need to balance out your assertiveness, your level of respect, with your level of trust - ie. more 'friendly game', more undemanding time with your horse earning his trust. Also, you want to be cautious you are assertive but not aggressive - horses can feel the difference between the two in your emotions and energy. The difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness will mean the difference between your horse seeing you as a stable, firm, but fair leader, and seeing you as the exact opposite.
What I like about the Vice Breaker is that if I lead a horse past that stud, and he gets studdy, bellows out and whinnies and so forth, I can press the button and immediately make that stud feel uncomfortable for a split second. But the secret is, he does not know that I did that to him. He doesn't know where that stimulation came from. He doesn't know who did it to him. He has no idea.
Usually, it takes about three or four times for the horse to figure out that they are actually causing themselves to feel uncomfortable.
If I lead a mare past the stud again about ten minutes later, and he squeals and whinnies, I press the button again. I might have to do it two more times. But it won't be very long until as soon as I lead that mare past, he won't sing out or do anything disrespectful or bad. He realizes that every time he whinnies out and makes studdy noises, he's going to feel uncomfortable for a split second.
So basically, he's making it difficult on himself. That's the real key. Because I want the horse to think that he's basically reprimanding himself, rather than me having to reprimand him.
Note: This is one reason I say punishment is not necessary with horses. If you set up rules and boundaries appropriately and are an assertive leader, you can set it up so that the horse 'reprimands himself' rather than you reprimanding him, which can lead to resistance, distrust, and one disgruntled horse.
There's a name for this technique. It's called counter conditioning. We're conditioning the horse to feel uncomfortable every time he wants to do something we do not like.
Another example, if you had a horse tied up to the fence and it was pawing the ground all the time. You could get a small rock and throw it at the horse's hindquarters, making him feel uncomfortable every time he pawed the ground.
But after a while, those horses get smart. They realize that as soon as you bend down to pick up a small rock on the ground, they stop pawing. So, essentially, you bending down to pick up the rock tips the horse off that you're actually the one making him feel uncomfortable. Horses are incredibly smart animals.
The thing I like about the collar is - if it is used correctly - horses will never, ever associate the collar or you with what's making him feel uncomfortable.
The key is, it's got to be used the right way. That's why it's very important to put the collar on the horse and let him wear it for a few days before you want to use it. Let him get used to it. Let him think that it's just a new piece of tack for him that he wears all the time.
I don't recommend leaving it on in the pasture initially. I would rather leave it on in the stall, where the chances of him getting hooked on something are much smaller.
But let the horse wear it for a few days before you actually use it. This makes sure that he's not associating this new piece of equipment with what's making him feel uncomfortable. Once he's used to wearing it, then you're in good shape to use it.
I've used this for all kinds of things. It works extremely well with cribbing horses. Every time the horse cribs, you press the button and make him feel uncomfortable. Make him think he's doing it himself.
It works great with horses who want to paw when they're tied up to the fence. It's effective with horses that act aggressively toward each other out in the pasture. It stops stall weaving and stall walking. It's great for any stall vices, because basically, you want to make the horse feel uncomfortable for doing it to himself.
Just as with any product, the Vice Breaker® is only as good as the trainer using it. If you're not consistent and don't use repetition with this training device, it's not going to work - just like none of my tools or videos are going to help you unless you watch them and use them and put some effort into it.
It's very important that you're consistent. Don't just do it for one day and then leave it off for 4 or 5 and then wonder why the problem is not fixed.
You might say, "Clinton, who has time to sit around the barn all day and watch the horse?" Well, the answer comes back to you. How much do you really want to fix the problem? If you really want to fix the problem, you'll find the time, pay somebody to take the time, or you'll arrange the situation where you are around.
If you don't really want to fix the problem, you're obviously not going to do it. So there's no point talking about it.
You get out of it what you are prepared to put into it. But you can't expect to send a kid to school two days a week and think that he's going to graduate with the rest of the class that's going 5 days a week.
Other things that people have done to help with this problem is they put inexpensive video cameras in the horse's stall. Then you can run the line into your house or office and can see what the horse is doing. You can get your barn help to do it - whoever stays around your barn - you can give them the transmitter and show them how to use it.
It works well on studs that want to get aggressive, horses that kick in their stalls, horses that are very aggressive around feeding time… I love to use this for any problem, or any vice, that my horse is doing that I want to teach him not to do it, but I don't want him to think that I am punishing him. Then they don't associate any fear toward me and they don't associate any fear with the collar. All they think is that every time they go to paw, or every time they go to bite, or every time they go to do something negative, they feel uncomfortable for just a split second.
It's not so much that the stimulation really hurts the horse. More than anything else, it comes as a surprise.
When you touch an electric fence and you get zapped, the electric fence really doesn't hurt you very much. What it does more than anything is it surprises you. It gives you a surprise that you weren't expecting. It's not necessarily that the electricity was really harmful to your body and you fell on the ground and you're in a coma for a week. It's more about the surprise. That's exactly how the collar affects the horse. It's more of a surprise than anything else.
I'm not trying to hurt the horse when I use this. I'm trying to make the horse feel uncomfortable for doing the wrong behavior.
One time I had a lady ask me, "Clinton, how can you be promoting and endorsing a product like this? This can't be good horsemanship. You're using electricity to train a horse." She said it was inhumane.
I asked her if she used electric fence for her horses. She said her whole property was fenced with electric fencing.
I asked if she left her horses out in the pasture all day and all night in the electric fence. She did.
"I can't believe that you would actually let your horses live in an electric force field like that," I told her. "How inhumane is that?"
She tried to tell me that the electric fence was different. It only made her horse uncomfortable when he leaned or pushed on it.
I said, "What happens if he doesn't lean on it or push against it?"
"The electric fences don't do anything to my horses at all," she told me.
I said, "That's exactly right. That's how the collar works. I only press the button on the collar to make the horse feel uncomfortable when he's doing the wrong behavior. If he's not doing the wrong behavior, I'm not doing anything to him. So he is the one who really chooses whether I push the button or not."
When she really got to see it from that point of view, she realized that this is not some piece of nasty equipment that I'm trying to take around and electrocute horses with. That's not what we're trying to do at all. We're trying to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.
I think electric fences are some of the safest fences in the world. A safe fence is a fence that the horse won't touch. Most horses take three or four repetitions before they finally figure out that every time they lean on that electric fence, it's going to make them feel uncomfortable. But as long as the person leaves the electric fence on, usually the horse won't touch it very often - if at all.
People make mistakes by leaving the fence off for days and days on end. The horse starts to lean on it one day and pushes through it. And then the horse starts to test the electric fence more often.
Now, there are going to be times when you're going to fix the problem with this collar and take the collar off. Then, three or four weeks later, the problem may start to show some signs again.
It's like anything in this world, it's going to take some maintenance to get your horse completely cured. It's just like regular training. If I don't ride my horse for a few weeks, some of those problems that he used to have might start to come back again.
This is not a miracle collar. It's only as good and as effective as the person behind it. If you're consistent and persistent, you're going to get wonderful results with it. If you're inconsistent, and you use it in the wrong manner, it's not going to be very good for you.
I like it because - rather than seeing a horse weave in his stall for hours on end, or paw, or crib on a fence - I'd rather try and fix the problem in a very humane way that makes him think that he's doing it to himself.
I'm well aware that weaving horses and cribbing horses and horses that kick the walls in stalls - horses that have a lot of stall vices - I am well aware that these problems would never have happened if these horses would have had more socialization with other horses and more time turned out together. But, unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world.
The perfect world is: every horse owner has 40 acres and the horses spend 24 hours a day outside socializing with their buddies. But reality is, that's never going to happen. As long as we have race horses and horses that show, and all kinds of individuals that live in the city, we are going to have to keep them in stalls. It's inevitable.
So, while I'm well aware that prevention is much better than a cure, unfortunately, there are going to be bad habits that develop.
To me, it's very sad to see a horse standing in his stall, just weaving back and forth for ten hours straight, or cribbing on a post for ten hours. To me, it is more inhumane to let him do that for hours and hours on end than what it would be to put the collar on him, spend some time and actually teach him that he doesn't need to act that way.
Horses are creatures of habit. Once they start to get in the habit of something, whether it's a good habit or a bad one, they don't know. They just know that they want to keep doing it. It's up to us whether we think it's a good or a bad habit.
For example, look at a horse that's cribbing. He doesn't think it's a bad deal. He thinks it's great. It's the same with a horse that kicks in the stall. He doesn't think that's bad. But it's bad in our eyes. So we need to show him that every time he does something we don't like, he will make himself feel uncomfortable.
The thing I like about the Vice Breaker® is that it does not affect the relationship between me and my horse.
Tri-tronics have made an excellent video describing what the Vice Breaker® can fix, and how to fix it. It's a great video. I have had a lot of success with this product and I would highly recommend it for people having these types of problems with their horses.
This does not substitute for good training. This is not a substitute for my videos and good horsemanship skills. Nobody is trying to say that it does. This is a device to help horses with severe bad habits. It does it in a humane way that is not going to hurt the horse and not going to make them be scared of you at the same time.
Working with horses has a million and one variables. I'm always happy to find something that can make training more predictable and consistent. I find that the Vice Breaker®, when used correctly, can help make the most of the rules that never change: It gives me the ability to do what I have to do to get the job done - even if that "job" is having a horse give up a bad and potentially dangerous habit. It allows me to be as gentle as possible, but as firm as necessary. And it gives me the ability to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult for the horse. That speeds up the training process so that rather than focusing on a horse's bad habits, I have more time to teach him good ones.
When I initially heard that Clinton Anderson was using shock collars on horses, I was a litte appalled, I won't lie. However after I read his statement, I guess my position is, in the right circumstances, with severe vices, why not? He is right in that the little shock administered, when done consistently and appropriately, can be beneficial and certainly is not inhumane. On the other hand, I definitely stress that the root of the problem needs to be addressed and other solutions evaluated first (more turnout time if possible, etc etc), however if no solution is found and/or the root problem just cannot be addressed (ie. turnout is not possible, separating a witchy mare from the herd is not possible, etc etc), then perhaps a shock collar, on a low setting and used proficiently in experienced hands, may be a good solution.
I say this too after seeing a fellow boarder use a shock collar on her very well-behaved German Shepherd. She explained to me how she had used the shock collar on her own arm first, to better understand the settings and the type of shock administered. Then it was placed on her long-haired GS, on the lowest setting - set only to vibrate. The vibration setting was more than sufficient to garner her dog's attention the rare times when he was caught up in his own little world, chasing something or generally wandering about with closed ears, in a focused state of mind. The minor vibe was enough to gently knock him out of his own little world, causing him to realise he was being called or otherwise instructed to respond, and thus allowing him to respond to her requests. Used in such a scenario, I honestly do not have a problem with such a training device and while I would consider it a last resort for a horse (we have so many other strategies accessible to us that can address the underlying problem and thus hopefully resolve the issue another way), for a severe problem and used in proficient hands, I think it could possibly be a beneficial tool. I still see a problem with possibly having to re-address the problem once the collar is removed, but if the horse does not associate the collar with the shock (ie. the collar is left on for a few days prior to actually being used), hopefully the problem will not have to be re-addressed, and if the problem is severe enough where no other solution will work (which, admittedly, is relatively rare), then perhaps re-addressing it every so often is still a better solution than leaving the problem intact entirely. Ultimately, though I have yet to use a shock collar myself, it does not seem to be an inhumane alternative, though I would be wary about simply advising others to use it, particularly without supervision or help to ensure they are using it correctly - consistently, with the appropriate timing, etc.