Thursday, September 9, 2010

Boundaries VERSUS punishment

I'm not sure why we chose to pick on this particular individual today...

I get that, all facts considered, the ad does sound suspicious. Why buy horses if you have to sell your herd of yaks for financial reasons, and why buy said horses in a different state??! However, since I am not standing in Jennifer's shoes, I do not really feel I am in a position to judge. Sure the ad might be a little odd, but really, is it worth publicly humiliating someone over?? Criticizing them, judging them, and sending your dogs after them??

And, surprise surprise, yes boundaries do actually exist in Natural Horsemanship. Just. As. Any. depends on the person.

"The horse simply doesn’t ever get a clear, concise signal that something he did was wrong."
Yea. I don't punish my horses when they 'do something wrong'. You know why? Because they are living, breathing beings who are simply responding to their situation and who are communicating the best way they know how. I do not subscribe to the belief that my horse should be punished anytime he steps a toe out of line, whenever he does something I deem 'misbehavior'. However punishment does not equate to boundaries...or lack thereof of either.

Had I punished our Paint when he kicked, because I pushed him past his limits, I would have only further proved his point - that humans are not to be trusted. In his case, he has an abusive past and does not trust people to pick up his hind feet. Pick up his hind feet and you have now effectively removed his means of flight - his first survival mechanism - should the need arise. So if he does not trust you, the last thing he is going to do is let you lift up his hinds. I certainly do not feel it appropriate to discipline a fearful horse for responding defensively. Instead, I work on his trust between him and I and he picks up his feet nicely for me. In the mean time, I am careful to read him so as not to push him too far for his current emotional state and level of trust or training.

Same follows for my Thoroughbred gelding, Link. He lashed out defensively on the ground at times as well as under-saddle. It was a fear-based reaction, a I'll-get-you-before-you-get-me reaction and punishing him to 'clearly and concisely let him know what he did was wrong' would have only further compounded his fear issues and lack of emotional collection. Instead, I did what no one yet had done with him - nothing. And soon he started to relax, realizing I was not going to hurt him, that he could trust me to be predictable and fair. Today, he never lashes out defensively. It just doesn't happen, because there is no need to.

One last example: punishing my warmblood gelding only elicited escalated behavior from him. Escalated behavior that was uncontrollable. Instead, establishing boundaries created control and eventually created a respectful horse.

The same has followed for any like horses I have ever worked with. Solving the root of the issue just works so much better - for both you and the horse, than responding to the symptom of the disease.

In short, you punish a disrespectful horse and it may work but it will ultimately create resentment and distrust; punishing the distrustful and fearful horse is only going to create a horse who is even more fearful and distrusting of you. It might not necessarily be all that noticeable, it might simply prevent the partnership between you and your horse from being all it can be. Boundaries, limitations, rules - all ways of earning respect, are vital. However respect cannot be forced and giving a 'clear and concise signal the horse did wrong' might not be the best answer.

"Therefore, being a horse, he starts to expand the range of his behavior. He says, hey, if I barged into him and that was okay, maybe I can smack him with my head the next time."
To get a little technical here, I really do not believe that horses smack your head on purpose. They just don't care or respect you enough to stay out of your space and thus not smack your head. The difference is huge. I don't tell my horses directly that 'smacking my head' (or any like rude behavior) is not ok, but my horses do not escalate their behavior, because they can't barge into my space in the first place. Boundaries. You don't have to smack a horse or otherwise punish it to prevent it from escalating rude behavior. Don't want him to bite or push past you? Keep him out of your space in the first place, unless invited (when he is polite). He can't push you or bite you if he is nowhere within your personal space. Don't want him to kick? Earn his respect. Have him move his feet more than yours and respect your space. Pretty simple.

"And there was that day when I was fidgety and she didn’t ride me because Pat says it’s ok not to ride on a day when they don’t feel like being ridden, so maybe this time I will strike at her in the cross-ties."
Let's get real. A horse is not going to strike at you one day because you didn't ride it when you felt it best not to ride last time. There is never any harm in dismounting. Let me repeat that: there is never any harm in dismounting. You might dismount because either your horse is too dangerous or posing a threat to your safety - in which case it is SAFETY FIRST or because you just do not posses the knowledge to handle the current situation. Continuing when you do not have the appropriate knowledge and skillset is a disaster in the making: you are either going to frustrate you and/or your horse (frustration in the rider leads to aggression versus assertiveness and frustration in your horse does not create an optimal learning environment), create mistrust in your horse (particularly if you are frustrated and thus your responses are aggressive) and/or create a situation where your horse does not learn and maybe even create damage you will later have to undo. If you are unconfident on your horse and feel the need to dismount, it usually is best, regardless of what the horse is or is not doing. By staying in the saddle and projecting your lack of confidence, you likely are not going to offer the type of leadership your horse requires and thus handle the matter in an effective matter where the horse is asked to respond respectfully or where the horse can trust your leadership and do as you request confidently.

To be honest, I have gotten off of horses many a time and it never ever set us back. Not even one step. Should the horse be disrespectful and misbehaving under-saddle (and you cannot handle it effectively), you simply walk away and approach it another day. On another day you might be in a better frame of mind, have researched the issue and be able to approach it from another (hopefully successful) angle with new ideas, or you might bring a professional along to help you. In this way, you have a relatively fresh start - as opposed to having continued on your horse last session when you really should not have, and having failed (ie. horse learns it can walk all over you or mistrusts you - digging yourself a deeper hole that endangers your partnership with your horse). If the horse is just not in the right frame of mind and is jittery, staying on may only compound that (if you do not handle it correctly), whereas dismounting represents not potentially pushing the horse excessively past its comfort level. Doing so allows the individual to backtrack and establish more foundation, build the horse up to the point where that comfort level may later be pushed safely or that comfort level is raised in the first place. Continuing when you should not have may only escalate a situation and create excessive and unproductive emotional distress, resistance, and tension in the horse (as opposed to relaxation) when there was another way.

Dismounting does not necessarily mean having to work the horse on the ground or remount after groundwork. Of course that would be optimal however if your horse is acting up and you are just not in a position to deal with it, there is no harm in dismounting, untacking your horse, and throwing it out to pasture for another day. Doing so will actually progress your training with the horse in question by allowing yourself a fresh start with said horse the next session and no work to undo. That said, if you have to do this say more than 3 times it is definitely time to find a trainer to help you because you are now establishing a pattern of behaviour the horse will attempt to continue.

Striking, for the record, is often an act of disrespect. What can you do about it? Keep the horse out of your space and stay away from his front end until you have sufficiently earned said horse's respect. My warmblood gelding learned to strike as a youngster however though I never directly addressed the issue, I addressed the root - disrespect. By earning his respect, he naturally had no reason to strike anymore.

Personally, I would much rather an individual constantly be putting away a horse they can't handle (and never going anywhere with said horse) than continuing on session after session, frustrated and lacking the appropriate knowledge and skillset (and frame of mind) to actually teach the horse anything correctly. The latter is going to create a frustrated horse who is an emotional wreck, whereas the former only creates, at worst (ie. the horse being turned out repeatedly and never being taught anything but that misbehavior results in no work), a horse who simply walks all over a person - which is so much easier to undo and less harmful to the horse. Dismounting excessively is not going to create damage that is impossible to undo, whereas failing to dismount when one should could create a wreck of a horse that could take years to undo (if ever possible).

"For example, if a horse is trying to barge along, I don’t just run alongside like a kite on a string. I take the time to stop, growl, back the horse up a few steps and then ask him to proceed at the speed I was wanting to walk."
Because growling really does the trick. Actually seriously, there are a number of ways to deal with this. My own rule with horses is that they can do 'anything' they want while being led, provided they remain out of my space and keep up. When I allow them to do a little of what they want, they usually opt to do a little of what I want ;) 99 percent of the the time leading my horses as such automatically results in them leading quietly behind me and to the side (for the record, if they jump at something, no, they do not jump on top of me - say hello to respect - ask me how I know). 1 percent of the time they might choose to grab a couple mouthfuls of grass (without stopping or holding me up) or might be initially (prior to sufficient emotional collection) too hyped up or disrespectful to walk quietly. Personally I find there is little to be gained by forcing a horse to walk quietly at my side. Instead, I set up a situation where they can make the choice to walk quietly with me. Forcing a horse to physically 'collect' when they are not 'emotionally collected' creates a horse who is stifling their emotions and who could possibly blow. In contrast, when they are permitted the choice to move their feet, more often than not they choose not to, simply because they know they can, should they absolutely have to.

When the fearful or reactive horse dances around, I simply continue walking along my original line and ask them to disengage their hind. Besides the obvious - halting forward movement, doing so causes them to cross their hind legs, which encourages thinking over reacting, and allows them pause to re-think and relax. When the disrespectful horse dances around in an attempt to have me move my feet, I continue on my original path and ask them to disengage, move their feet, move out of my space, etc - ask them to do more work than they would have had to do had they simply walked politely at my side. This puts me in the dominant position and thus in control. I have created boundaries (stay out of my space), limitations (no holding me up), and rules but allowed them the choice (you can move here and here, but not so much here). Allowing them the choice, they figure out pretty quickly that it's just less effort to walk quietly as opposed to dance around - they choose the right answer (particularly if they were dancing around disrespectfully). Furthermore, as you develop a balanced partnership with and further develop your horse, they choose the right answer more often than not anyways because they can (because they are sufficiently emotionally collected and respectful) and because they want to.

Juuuust sayin'.

In short, punishment just does not equate to discipline, which encompasses rules, limitations, and boundaries and just because a method (ie. NH, clicker training, etc) does not include punishment, does not mean it also does not include boundaries. When the ultimate result is a respectful, willing, and happy horse who is beginner-safe and/or well-rounded and well developed, boundaries obviously were involved.


PeterC said...

Agreed and I now get compliments about my girls because boundaries are the only thing that works, in any method. I am often amused how people compare a "Parelli" horse trained by someone who "once watched a DVD" home study course to horses trained by folks with say 20 years experience, and maybe a certification, in any method. A "unmannered" horse trained in any method is as dangerous as one trained in any other style.

It also reminds me of the Pat Parelli Catwalk "incident" where Pat did use "more forceful" methods. I didn't see any punishment but everyone was going off about how the RSPCA should arrest him and stuff. Crazy.

I believe that some people like getting violent for their own internal reasons. People punch cars, the wall, their wives, their husbands and I've only ever seen one good reason for it in all my life...


Equus said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Personally, I feel boundaries work best in anything - whether it be raising polite and respectful kids, horses, dogs, whatever may be.

What upsets me about the Catwalk incident is the very same people who recommend shanking a misbehaving horse or carrying a whip to whip said horse when it is out of line, critisizing Pat. That is not to say that any harsh handling is better than another, however I highly doubt that Pat's handling was 'harsh' and out of line. I have yet to see accurate and proper video footage yet though, hence my hesitation to blog about it. But I highly doubt Catwalk's owners are so lacking in knowledge that they wouldn't recognize excessively and unnecessary harsh handling when they see it.

Mystifies me but some people do seem to like the drama and violent arguments, etc.

Parelli Central said...

I very much enjoyed your post! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. This is one of those I will put in my "blogs to keep" folder...
Keep up the good play!

Petra Christensen
Parelli 2Star Junior Trainee Instructor
Parelli Central