Assumptions...

Ambers Echo

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Inspired by some recent threads, I am beginning to question a few! So let's have a debate...

My dressage RI said some horses like a firmer contact. Mark Rashid and Buck Brannaman focus on softness and lightness above all else with the aim in some Western traditions being to be able to ride on a thread that does not break and Buck in particular criticises the heavy handedness of most British riders. How do we know horses prefer a light contact. I like a firmish grip when I am holding hands and firm hugs and heavy blankets. I don't like anything wishy washy. Makes me uncomfortable.

A horse in its natural state dislikes stables as his instinct will make him nervous being enclosed/trapped. But a domesticated horse born in a stable will have long ago over-written the brain pathways triggering that instinctive distrust and may well prefer being warm and dry with hay and water within constant reach. We are all born instinctively distrusting heights but most of us get over it and enjoy views from up high. I have known several ponies who don't seem overly keen on too much turnout.

Be the Boss was drilled into me as a kid. Then I got interested in natural horsemanship (whatever that means) where Be The Boss was replaced with Be the Alpha. Be the one who moves the horse's feet. Which when it comes down to it looks very similar to Be The Boss. But this attitude assumes horses will learn 'respect' via having firm boundaries. Whereas maybe horses just learn that boundaries are expected if you have firm boundaries. I look at people sending their horse out on circles in round pens and think what is the horse learning from any of this? Then Be The Alpha was replaced with Be The Trustworthy Leader..... But how is that different from just being consistent, fair and communicating well? A good horseman can go up to a horse he has never met and gain immediate compliance because of clarity of communication with good timing and feel. So why do we assume any sort of leadership role born of hours of groundwork is necessary?

Thoughts??!
 

Pearlsasinger

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A good horseman can go up to a horse he has never met and gain immediate compliance because of clarity of communication with good timing and feel. So why do we assume any sort of leadership role born of hours of groundwork is necessary?

Thoughts??!

I never have thought that!

I had never heard the term 'groundwork' until I joined HHO. I had worked with horses from the ground, when I wanted to teach them something, if that seemed appropriate, depending on the horse but it was just called 'working'. I think those who use the term 'Alpha' haven't spent enough time watching herds of horses to work out the relationships. I prefer to think of working in partnership with my horses to 'being the boss' etc..
But I never choose 'nervy' horses, as I just can't be doing with spooking all over the place.

As for heavy handedness: it's not just Western riders who talk about 'a thread', many well-regarded British and European trainers advocate being able to ride with a very light contact, and aiming towards the horse being in 'self-carriage'. I am sure that most horses would prefer a firm contact to one that fluctuates from firm to flopping about but why would we think that horses would like a firm hold of something in their mouths? - that is rather different from a handshake, we should take account of the nerves in the horses' gums.

It is always fascinating to get others' views about training/riding.
 

JFTD-WS

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I'm not sure I know anyone who thinks that sort of groundwork is "essential" for progress, and I think the rest of your post boils down to "horses are individuals" and "rider goals are also fairly individual".

There are types of groundwork which are essential - basic handling, loading, farriery etc - which are largely taught in situ, while actually doing those things to the horse. There are others which can be useful - e.g. in hand dressage training, desensitisation training, in hand intros to xc, but not essential to most horses as they develop. Drilling a horse round in circles? There may be a benefit to that somewhere, but I can't see it, in abstract!
 

Ambers Echo

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Maybe it's just me that has made assumptions then! But be the leader seems a 'theme' in some circles. There is this idea that if your horse 'respects you' then he won't barge or tread on you etc. So 'respect' gained in groundwork translates somehow to other behaviours automatically but I have not found that personally.
 

milliepops

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I don't think self carriage is directly related to firmness in contact, actually. If a horse is in self carriage then it won't be leaning on the hand, yes, but some horses so take a firmer hold without leaning, and they can be in self carriage. The 2 concepts are linked, for me, but not directly. Horses that are very light in the hand can be just as difficult to establish a proper connection in the contact, are often holding themselves and not over the back so extremes in either situation are undesirable but I think there is a wide spectrum of what is "correct" for individual horses (I am talking english riding obv).

I have had several that started out too light in the hand and the day they started to take a hold was the day things started to come together. I have one that does pull at times but when in self carriage she is still what I would describe as "confident" in the hand ;) trying to make her lighter just results in a loss of connection, she naturally chooses a firmer feel.

I think it never pays to try and fit horses into a one-size-fits-all box, same applies to the groundwork thing and it's the reason I don't like any school of training that rigidly tries to apply a philosophy or get people to sign up to a prescribed way of doing things to the exclusion or denial of other approaches. Horses are as individual as we are and couple that with the fact that many of us pick up horses part way through their learning/life ... it makes no sense to have rigid ways of working.
 

JFTD-WS

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. There is this idea that if your horse 'respects you' then he won't barge or tread on you etc.
I think that's a different way of saying teach the horse manners so it's safe to handle - which is reasonable. Most folk don't have to devote hours to actual groundwork to achieve that - well started horses generally come with them, and just need them maintained by good handling.

I've never heard anyone say that good ground manners make a real difference to performance in other spheres - other than by virtue of making the horse easier to be around when it's being trained for those. I think people who believe that spinning horses around on short ropes, like Parelli, will make them magically good to ride, are misguided!
 

milliepops

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I really dislike the use of the word "respect" in this context. You see it come up quite often (so not a criticism of you AE). It's often used in a way that suggests subservience on the part of the horse and I think that's horrible. I don't think my horses respect me. i think they know from previous training & experience to observe personal space boundaries unless indicated otherwise, and they generally follow my instructions when asked. Respect in a positive sense is something only a human could understand I think. With animals it just has negative connotations IMO.
 

Ambers Echo

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JFTD-WS I agree but if you look at join-up which is still popular the idea is that once the horse has accepted you as 'leader' then you can do anything with them - eg ride them! Without specific preparation for being ridden. Lots of horses hook on or join up after some ground work. I don;t know why they do but they do. I use it in EAT a lot because the kids get so much out of having an unrestrained horse following them around. But I don;t believe for 1 second that the horses who are following these kids movements are viewing those kids as leaders!
 

JFTD-WS

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JFTD-WS I agree but if you look at join-up which is still popular the idea is that once the horse has accepted you as 'leader' then you can do anything with them - eg ride them!
Ah, I should've said, I don't know anyone sensible who believes that. I thought the entire (sensible) community had realised that join up is a load of nonsense donkeys years ago. I don't associate with people who go in for that kind of idiocy.

(Obviously using it for EAT is a bit different - if the horses understand the drill and are treated fairly as I'm sure you do, and the people you're working with benefit from it, that's fine and dandy!)
 

milliepops

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I think they follow you about because they learn that is a way to stop you from chasing them round! :p

Lots of "NH" techniques use other things like flooding to get horses to accept stuff like being ridden, I think if you stand back and look at what is actually happening it's not that horse-centric and the marketing and euphamisms are just overwhelmingly effective.
 

Ambers Echo

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I agree MP. I don't really like the concept of 'respect' either. I prefer thinking about clarity. I think generally if a horse knows what you want, is physically and mentally fine with complying and you are fair in your requests and reward correct responses then they will usually comply. Unless some other bigger motivator is acting against that request. Eg the request to be caught up against a field full of summer grass....

Why do horses hook on? I have never really understood that once I stopped believing the Monty Roberts explanation of it. Also when I made Jenny move around in circles to not graze when she decided summer grass was preferable to coming in, why did she stay in circles around me. She had 5 acres to play in. She could have buggered off to the far end of the field but she just circled me. I have also noticed that with others. Eg a bargy pony who I was driving out of my space when fetching Max. He also circled me. Why do they do that?
 

Ambers Echo

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ETA ti be clear I don;t do 'join up ' in EAT. As in I never drive them round in circles. In the EAT sessions the kids do some inhand work - basically just leading politely, then some backing up etc. Then they unhalter and walk around and are followed in that lovely post join-up kind of way. In EAT training we called it 'hook on' not join up. I guess to be clear that it is not the same process.
 

Ambers Echo

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didn't they get a horse to join up with a remote control car once? Kind of disproves the human-assumes-alpha-role thing.
Did they really! Haha.
But MR and Intelligent Horsemanship is still going strong isn't it? Am I just in the dark ages?? Have they changed what they do or at least the theoretical framework around what they are doing?
 

be positive

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I want a horse to work with me, on the ground as well as ridden, most of the groundwork we see in the demos/ videos is more based on complete subservience and in some going as far as learned helplessness rather than the horse doing something because it wants to, has self confidence and genuine trust in the handler, respect has to come from both sides not just from the equine.
I think there are aspects that are good based on common sense but I cannot see any real benefit of having a horse so submissive it doesn't dare to move unless asked, it may have great benefits if riding in miles of open plain rounding up cattle which is where it started but to the average British rider who wants to do a variety of activities I think a horse that can make decisions for itself is more use, obviously training comes into it but training them to look, think and act with the rider and at times on their own is a better aim.
 

JFTD-WS

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They are still going strong - as are the very "traditional" (and I use that term loosely) trainers who batter horses into submission, or teach riders to fiddle horses into an outline - and all manner of other idiots. Unfortunately while there are still muppets out there who will buy into this kind of stuff, these people persist :(
 

milliepops

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Did they really! Haha.
But MR and Intelligent Horsemanship is still going strong isn't it? Am I just in the dark ages?? Have they changed what they do or at least the theoretical framework around what they are doing?
yes they are! they are quite big business now I think, with all the affiliated trainers etc so it makes utter sense for them to keep on pumping this stuff out. People love to watch the demos and I bet if you asked most people at a random horsey event what licking and chewing meant, they would associate it with various NH methods saying the horse was accepting, or relaxed or whatever.

The people who write articles questioning this stuff don't have anywhere near as loud a voice. It's not very exciting is it. And it's kinda disappointing if you've been to a demo, seen the wondrous transformation of a horse in the space of an hour... to then read that it might have been done in a way that was not constructive or fair to the horse. "Natural" is good, right....?
 

Ambers Echo

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So what does licking and chewing mean?
Other people (Michael Peace & Roger Day for example) talk of it as a sign of thinking/processing/ 'chewing it over'.
 

milliepops

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To add, I know a very good local person who has studied various NH schools but does her own thing, I genuinely think she does approach situations with positive reinforcement and none of the negative quick-fixes that some of these other methods use.
I found her really really useful with Kira. But it took a long time, it needed close observation, and really thinking about what the horse was doing vs what signals the handler was giving. You might call it boring, or difficult to do. She came several times a week to help me at the beginning and was quite an investment. Other people might have promised a quick fix but it wouldn't have helped in the long term.
 

be positive

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yes they are! they are quite big business now I think, with all the affiliated trainers etc so it makes utter sense for them to keep on pumping this stuff out. People love to watch the demos and I bet if you asked most people at a random horsey event what licking and chewing meant, they would associate it with various NH methods saying the horse was accepting, or relaxed or whatever.

The people who write articles questioning this stuff don't have anywhere near as loud a voice. It's not very exciting is it. And it's kinda disappointing if you've been to a demo, seen the wondrous transformation of a horse in the space of an hour... to then read that it might have been done in a way that was not constructive or fair to the horse. "Natural" is good, right....?
Licking and chewing is interesting, last week I went to a client to get her mare loading, during the hour it took she at times licked, chewed and showed she was genuinely stressed by what we wanted, luckily her owner also saw it as a sign of a stressed worried horse, she was surprised to learn that it is thought by NH trainers to be something positive, the mare did load and was self loading by the end of the session with no beating involved, which it what had been done previously and why there is now an issue, she went in once she had relaxed, worked out the question and gained her own confidence to take the steps forward without being hassled.
 

milliepops

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So what does licking and chewing mean?
Other people (Michael Peace & Roger Day for example) talk of it as a sign of thinking/processing/ 'chewing it over'.
Think that recent studies have shown it as a response to stressful situations and also that it's not really a submissive response.

Just the first thing that popped up https://www.horsetalk.co.nz/2018/10/08/licking-chewing-sign-submission-stress/

ETA I think there is a high potential for an owner to know when their own horses will likely lick/chew and the type of things that indicates - but this is different when looking at herd behaviour or unknown horses at a demo ;)
Just my case study of one again, but Kira def licks/chews after being stressed. She also always yawns when we get home from a trip and I put the ramp down, so she can see she is home.
 

mule

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I think join up works because it uses negative reinforcement in the form of pressure and release. But the pressure is body language rather than physical pressure. When the horse does what the person wants, they remove the pressure. Like releasing a leg aid when the horse responds.

I don't think the horse sees the person as a leader, I think the horse responds as it's been trained to respond.
 

ihatework

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So what does licking and chewing mean?
Other people (Michael Peace & Roger Day for example) talk of it as a sign of thinking/processing/ 'chewing it over'.
I think it can be very dangerous to over analyse training methods and certain behaviours. Not everything fits into a nice little packaged box.

I’ve never followed and particular school of thought - admittedly I’ve never felt the need to dive too deeply into any. I just watch what people do and how a horse responds, both on the ground and under saddle. Nothing more and nothing less.

I spent many hours yesterday with a yearling Tb trying to achieve one very simple task. The horse was under extreme mental anxiety/stress and did a lot of licking and chewing and I can tell you now I didn’t view it as positive all the time.
 

Ambers Echo

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MP that is really interesting! The Michael Peace explanation makes more sense then... the horse is presented with a question and he is not sure of the answer. So it is a stress response but possibly also one that helps them relax. Peace says to leave them be when you see licking/chewing as they need the time to 'chew it over' - ie process.

But in fact they just need to time to relax. So maybe Peace has the right response for the wrong reason?
 

milliepops

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I think it's more palatable to explain it as needing time to process ;) rather than that you've put a horse in a stressful situation and it's just coming down from that.

Thanks for starting another interesting thread btw.
I find watching my own horses really fascinating for this stuff, I am so aware that K wears her heart on her sleeve so when she does these stress-indicators it's important to notice them - not every horse is so demonstrative.
 

Ambers Echo

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Mule I agree join up works via pressure/release but why do horses hook on when they have not been pressured in the first place? Is it just that after a few minutes of leading work they think you want them to follow because that is what you have been asking for with a rope on. So they just carry on even without one? But oddly they seem better at staying right by your shoulder without the rope than they do when being led! At least mine do.
 

mule

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Mule I agree join up works via pressure/release but why do horses hook on when they have not been pressured in the first place? Is it just that after a few minutes of leading work they think you want them to follow because that is what you have been asking for with a rope on. So they just carry on even without one? But oddly they seem better at staying right by your shoulder without the rope than they do when being led! At least mine do.
I don't know. I thought they hooked on in response to pressure. I must have it wrong.
 

milliepops

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I think that horses that know you or are regularly handled do just also have that natural confidence, curiosity, see humans as able to give them nice things etc and that shouldn't be overlooked as it over-rides natural instintive responses :) Mine follow me round the field to hang out when I'm poo picking etc, I think they just haven't got much better to do at that time so it's worth seeing if I'll dish out a scratch or a pony nut.

I came across this article a while back which explains +/- reinforcement well as well as some thoughts about leadership and dominance.
http://www.bethbehaviourist.co.uk/articles/just-another-deluded-cowboy
 

Ambers Echo

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Thanks everyone for joining in with my Monday morning debate!! Very useful exercise in avoiding starting work!! Sadly I need to go and earn my keep now.....
 
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