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Attaching spiritual advancement and emotional attunement into horse training can be misleading

Updated: Feb 5, 2023


Attaching spiritual advancement and emotional attunement into horse training can bring in misleading information and create confusion - Commercializing the concept of connection for the purposes of financial gain and the dangers of it:

Firstly, let me be clear, I have nothing against spiritual advancement and personal growth. Quite the opposite, I like to exercise both on daily basis. I do however think that it is a subject that is best saved for our personal work and therapy sessions and for the sake of fairness and clarity, leave our horses out of it ... From a coaching perspective, telling ppl to "lower your energy, create connection or attunement" and the like are very subjective concepts that cannot be measured or evaluated. Therefore, clear and precise instructions based on factual matters cannot be given. This will create confusion, particularly amongst young riders and is the reason I do not encourage it.

Many believe and aim to achieve " a connection " with their horse in order to feel safe around them, riding them and so on. Some even believe that when a horse is attuned / connected to them, it will stop any unwanted behaviors once and for all. A couple of decades ago, I went down this rabbit hole myself. However, it's essential to understand that a horse offers such behaviours due to pressures from the environment or as a result of confusion to the handlers cues - according to the history of the behaviours that have been reinforced in the past interactions. At those times, the horse is utterly ignorant to the fact that in our books he is misbehaving, unless we communicate this to them, often by using punishment, which as a general rule is not recommended nor proven all that effective. Whilst saying so, it is however true that I value and have a deep connection with all my animals including my horses. This is a deeper connection that I've ever had with any human being. That connection formed once I truly started to understand the nature of horses and in particular, learning about how the horse learns. It deepened once I was able to understand how to give clear, precise cues that the horse can understand easily and respond to appropriately, due to timely release of the pressures. This brings predictability and controllablity to the animals life, which is essential. Horses that know how and are able to make even the lightest pressures go away quickly, are calmer, more relaxed and it contributes to their sense of safety. In their natural environment they can control outcomes to pressures such as hunger, thirst and bad weather. They can seek shelter, feed and water and make the discomfort caused by those pressures go away. When in our care, they often can't. One example would be a nagging rein or a leg aid, that does not get released in a timely manner when a green horse gives a slight response towards the right answer ( Basic Attempt ). This will carry on throughout their careers if they are unfortunate. The horse will become dull to the aids and / or start showing conflict behaviours such as bucking, rearing, bolting etc. Those are problem behaviours that need to be fixed by installing the basic responses by giving clear, precise cues and timely release to pressures. Once learned, the issues disappear. The understanding of the cues and responses, is what makes the horse safe to ride and handled and attuned to their riders, so to speak.

For example, let's say the horse has a rearing issue. This is an issue typically associated with deficits in stop, go and turn responses due to incorrect application of the aids and incorrect timing of the release. Many ppl resort to round pen training with such horses. They seek achieve that connection that in their minds will make the horse either submissive or tuned into the rider, by showing that his attention is targeted towards the person. This however, does not fix the problem. We should not complicate our training by over analysing the situation and over - or underestimating the horse's capacity to learn and understand our intentions. We need to target the actual behaviour and think - in this example - what is a rear? What is the anatomy of a rear? The horse simply does something other than what we asked and is now either wanting to go somewhere other than we point him or refusing to go somewhere. Both, going somewhere and nowhere involve a cue to stopping, going forward and turning. And the horse is not responding to those cues appropriately. Which is why we need to ask ourselves: are we delivering our cues in a clear and uniform manner and escalating our pressures until we get the right response? Are we releasing those pressures at a right moment? If we fail in doing this - no amount of round penning sessions - or spriritual connection so to speak, are going to fix the issue with the rearing. It really is that simple. A horse that understands our aids and gives immediate responses to cues delivered by applying light pressures is a safe horse. Once these responses are well established in several different environments - due to horses being context specific learners - the horse becomes reliable at all situations. It then becomes irrelevant if the horse is labelled hot, quiet etc by nature. The key word here is obedience. And obedient horses tend to remain far more calmer in challenging situations compared to those that have not got basics put in place. The deeper the animal’s knowledge of training in terms of consistency of response - the greater the rapport between the trainer and the animal. This is because of the absence of stress and presence of predictability and controllability.

Again, clarity creates understanding - consistency and predictability build trust - A decent start for heading towards a great partnership with horses.

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