Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut . . .

Do you ever feel like you are an alien from Planet X who is on a visit to Planet Z?  Sometimes in the world of horse blogging, I do.  See following dialogue (names are changed and humor introduced so with luck there won't be any hurt feelings):

Kate:  Hi, I'm from Planet X and I work with my horses using primarily non-coercive training methods.

Planet Z resident, call her Meg: Oh, you're one of those people from the lunatic asylum . . . and you people practice free love!

(Kate to herself:  lunatic asylum?  free love?!!! - what have I been missing?)

Kate: um, no, I just ask my horse to do tasks and then shape the tries the horse offers me, using mainly positive reinforcement but also the softest possible pressure followed by a release, until I get the response I want - my goal is to develop a horse with excellent, responsive behavior who is a true partner in anything I choose to do.

Meg:  I'll bet you use one of those sticks with a string on the end of it - and do you people put crystals in there too?

Kate:  um, no, I don't use any special equipment or follow any specific training program - I try to address each horse's needs as an individual.

Meg:  I expect you have hoofprints down your back from your horse taking advantage of you and walking all over you since your horse probably gets to do whatever it wants.

Kate: my horses learn very quickly never to intrude into my personal space - good ground manners and personal safety come first - and my horses do what I ask because they're willing to accept and follow my leadership - but I have to provide clear, consistent, fair leadership first before they're willing to do that.

Meg:  Well, I get after my horse any time he does something I don't want, and he knows to respect me and do what I tell him to do.

Kate:  If your horse does something you don't want, do you first rule out teeth/pain/metabolic/saddle fit/bit issues or anything you might be doing to cause the behavior?

Meg 1: Yes, I try to do that.
Meg 2: No, I don't believe in that stuff - if my horse misbehaves, I punish him - it's his job to do what I want. (Meg 2s are increasingly rare out there on Planet Z, which is a good thing.)

Kate: But I'm not a horse trainer, only know what I know and only have had the experiences I've had, and sometimes what I do with my horses doesn't work - I'm still learning and expect I'll keep learning up until the last day I work with a horse.  Maybe that disqualifies me from having an opinion and maybe it doesn't - you'll have to come to your own decision on that.  And maybe I'm wrong and maybe you're right.  And maybe there's a middle ground on this topic and maybe there isn't - I wish people from Planet Z didn't have misconceptions about what I am and what I'm saying - I expect I have misconceptions about people from Planet Z too although I did use to live there.

* * * * * *
You get the idea.  This type of  dialogue shows the gulf that sometimes exists between the way I think and operate (or at least the way I'm able to express it - the fault may well be mine) and those who use "traditional" training methods, including punishment.  (I'm not being entirely fair to "Meg" here but just wanted to point out that the communication gulf is there.) When I try to have a dialogue with someone from Planet Z, I feel like they just don't get or hear what I'm saying. Now to be clear, I'm talking about good, caring horse owners who provide excellent care for their horses and care about their welfare.  I'm not talking about people who rip up their horses' mouths or sides, hit horses in the face or head or have poor emotional and anger control skills and take out their frustrations by abusing horses.  I'm talking about traditional horse training methods that use punishment as a significant training element - it's a world I participated in for many years so I'm pretty familiar with how things work there.  The horse does something wrong, you punish the horse - using bit, spur, whip or other means of coercion (such as aggressively running a horse in a round pen) - until the horse does the right thing and then you leave the horse alone.

And to be fair, these methods work pretty well for most horses.  I think of horses as falling into roughly four groups (it's actually a continuum) - the not bright, stoic horse; the not bright, sensitive horse; the intelligent, stoic horse; and the intelligent, sensitive horse.  Fortunately, many horses are reasonably intelligent and stoic and training methods using punishment can be effective - that's why they're so popular.  The horse figures out by trial and error what behaviors elicit punishment and which don't.  It worked for me for years until I began to see that it sometimes didn't work - in fact sometimes was disastrous - and I began to think more about the horse's point of view.  When traditional training methods are used, a not bright, stoic horse will often become dull and unresponsive (you have to do more to get even less response), a not bright, sensitive horse may become fearful and eventually shut down (and potentially explosive), an intelligent, stoic horse will comply but resent you for it and never be willing and an intelligent, sensitive horse may come completely unglued and even break down mentally - once I started paying attention I began seeing examples of all of these types.  I've seen one horse of the fourth type go from a wonderful, competent horse to one that was completely wrecked and unrideable due to being overfaced and then punished repeatedly, and it almost happened to our Dawn.

There's also a "moral" underpinning for traditional horse training that bothers me, a lot.  The assumption is that horses have to be dominated and controlled (not directed or led, controlled) to work with us (some folks use "alpha" language to describe this and some don't).  I now believe that this concept only has direct application in defining your personal space and making sure you are safe on the ground.  I believe it isn't the way to go otherwise - I think you have to provide consistent, fair, clear leadership at all times when around horses if you want to stay safe and have the horse do what you want, but that's not the same thing as dominating the horse.  A lot of folks also seem to assume that if the horse does something wrong, it's the horse's fault - I used to believe this too - hence the punishment.  Some folks seem to think that horses are always looking for a way to get out of things or to put one over on them.  I would describe this approach to horses as adversarial - the horse is an adversary to be dominated/controlled and punished if it does the wrong thing.  But all punishment does is focus on the thing you don't want - it does nothing to tell the horse what you do want.

I've also come to believe that intent matters - if you use an aid - whip, spur or bit - as a punishment, you've just contaminated your aids - your horse might be pretty darn responsive afterwards (assuming it even has a clue what you want) because it fears the aid will turn into a punishment.  (I do use a whip/crop as a secondary aid to reinforce a primary leg aid by slapping the saddle or my chaps, but I only rarely have to touch the horse with it to do this.) I also firmly believe as I've learned more and become more aware of what I do and communicate (or fail to communicate) when working with a horse, that in a very high percentage of cases, if the horse fails to do what I want it's because of something I've done or failed to do.  If I provide leadership and ask in a way that the horse understands, I pretty much always get the behavior I want.  It takes more time and effort and attention to work this way and you have to break things down into small steps, but it works - I've seen it work and it works for me.  And at the end I have horse that's a partner and not a slave and who has skills that generalize to new situations.

And, to anyone from Planet Z who may be reading, no, that doesn't mean that I let my horses walk all over me or do whatever they want.  But maybe I'm just a nut from Planet X . . .


  1. All I can say is AMEN! Although I have taken to cutting to the chase in conversations like that - which for me is the ethical/moral stance that horses, and all animals, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

    At least then the other person understands that for me it's not about a training style or technique as much as it is a philosophical stance that I have no interest in debating.

    I had a visitor to my farm recently and the subject came up of our neighbors' grandchildren needing to be taught not to throw sticks over the fence at the horses to get their attention.

    The visitor asked, in all sincerity, why didn't I just put the horses in their stalls and keep them there while the neighbors' grandchildren were visiting?

    That's the kind of thing that comes up for me - I immediately said, we don't stall our horses, and I definitely wouldn't stall them for that reason - this is their home and they deserve to be here without being harassed.

    But of course the visitor has seen horses stalled around the clock in big fancy barns and for her, that was an obvious solution.

  2. I'm a nut like you, and actually, most people don't seem to care that I do things with a clicker--once they see the results.

    I'm not doing it because of any philosphies--I'm doing it because it works. If I can train my cat to jump through a hoop by doing this, I can train anything.

    Oddly, no one at our large barn has yet to buy a clicker and give it a try. I don't preach, but I try to show by example.

  3. As a resident of Planet X who's moved here from Planet Z years ago,I say great post alien friend take me to your leader!

    Seriously, how can people in this day and age still subscribe to the old ways of dealing with horses. Training methods and training philosophies have advanced and information is everywhere showing horse people how to interact with their horses humanely.

    I don't subscribe to having a horse walk all over me but there are so many ways of training horses without putting them in jeopardy of shutting down completely or on the other hand becoming dangerous.

    I've always used a healthy dose of common sense when working with or around horses and it's been very easy to have my horses respect me and become my partners.

  4. Hilarious dialogue and great post. It's sad, but true. I've given up trying to make other people see my ways, and just laugh quietly to myself when they ask how I got such a great relationship with my horse. Pressure release is key, as far as I'm concerned, and the people who refuse to believe it are the ones who end up paying me to fix their problem horses.

  5. KAte you nailed it early on ewhen you said" provide clear, consistent, fair leadership first ."
    That in a nutshell is why your training techniques work. I don't care what school of training you subscribe to ,without that simple premise ,most will strubggle

  6. I too have migrated to Planet X, but more because of the horses I've owned and own. They have been the sensitive intelligent type that just do not respond well to strong methods.

  7. You can lead a horse to water...

    As I rode Val yesterday, we had repeated issues with turning and moving through a certain part of the arena. I attempted to explain to my Dad who was there watching, that Val was doing what I asked him to do, but not what I thought I had asked him to do. What looked like misbehavior to my Dad, was really bad communication on my part, and feedback on Val's part.

    I could see the father of my boarder chuckle (in disagreement) as his daughter ran her horse off his feet (with no warm-up) in tight circles, pulling his head down because "he just won't get into a frame".

    I don't consider myself a trainer, but like it or not - every time you interact with your horse, you're either training or un-training.

    It has been my experience that until I took responsibility for what happens in our work together, and did the personal work necessary to become a fair, balanced leader worthy of being followed (in progress), we weren't going to progress very far as a team.

    To become a better horseman, you must become a better human :)

  8. I believe that Planet Z's citizens believe that respect is born out of fear. Fear occurs when the need to be more powerful is present.

    Me, being of Planet X I realize that respect is earned and there is a huge difference between respect and fear reactions.

    The same goes for human interaction.

    Great post Kate ~ Love the humor =)

  9. Terrific post. The horse world is littered with the debris between planets. I live on Planet X as well.

    I also own a horse that likes to push the envelope, he's not afraid of me (nor should he be), and occasionally needs a pointed reminder that I will not be a doormat.

    I've seen way too much of Planet Z extremists. Occasionally, I'll find someone who appears to live on Planet Z, but upon closer inspection, is riding a path parallel to mine on Planet X. I'm guessing the tag words scare them away from claiming Planet X?

    And what Jeni said about respect and fear! :)

  10. Jane - good reminder that there are those on Planet Z who we can recognize as fellow searchers - I was in that state myself when transitioning between planets. And there are lots of ineffective flakes (some of whom are "trainers") out there that give non-coercive methods a bad name (wrongly because they do work if used properly). I think it's easy for Planet Z residents to use the flakes as an excuse to dismiss the Planet X approach to life with horses, sometimes without really thinking about it much. And a lot of Planet Z residents see no need to change because what they do basically works to produce a horse that obeys their commands - until they get a horse that doesn't fit well into their system - that's when they have to rethink - at least that's when I decided I had to change my Planet Z approach.

  11. Kate, you are one of the few, there arent many of us, but we are out there!
    I have given up talking to those "numpties!" I dont even attempt to try and explain. My horses do it for me. Like yours, they are happy, healthy and content to be with you.

    So dont feel like your from another planet, lets start our own!

  12. My life in a nut shell. GREAT post!!!

  13. Not much to add that hasn't already been said. Good post.

    I like nuts.


  14. I guess I'm a planet Z dweller :) For now I'm satisfied with the interactions I have with my horses and that my treatment of them is fair. I'm always quick to find the fault in myself having being brought up that it's not the horses fault. I can understand your frustration though. It's hard to be sneered at for what you believe in. I guess I don' mind what planet people are from providing they look after the horse first.

  15. I'm probably sticking my neck out to no purpose, but I do believe my post titled "Trust" on the equestrianink blog is the source of "Meg" and Planet Z. I can't say that I actually live on Planet Z as described--my horses are happy and content and every single one of them nickers when they see me and meets me at the gate and sticks their head in the halter when I come to get them. Does this sound fearful and unhappy to you? Yes, I make them behave, but we all seem to find that quite acceptable. I have to say that I have seen great harm done by extremists of both types--the overly harsh and the overly permissive. I'm not a fan of either. I will say that when I read certain statements of what people are doing/allowing with their horses, sometimes this is not behavior I would think it wise to allow. My main priority, as I said in my post on equestrianink is that human and horse stay safe. My methods are geared to that end and I have a very good track record there. But by all means feel free to read the post and give me your opinion.

  16. I personally think the problem lies with people thinking horses are stupid. I had one of these conversations with a Planet Z trainer back at my old barn. Gwen saw me reaching for Coriander's halter and starting flipping out. I remarked on how impressed I was that she had the reasoning and foresight to know exactly what was coming just from me reaching for the halter- Coriander leaving the barn. Planet Z trainer completely dissed me and then proceeded to have a fight with one of his horses...

  17. I would have hoped that we are not on two different planets, but on the same.
    Perhaps with some language differences, and a slightly sceptical view of people from "the other side".
    But then we need to try and understand each other better, won't we?

    I have been fortunate enough to own some wonderful horses. I have tried to do my best with them and we have had many memorable moments together, without any large problems.
    But I also acknowledge the fact that I have chosen them myself, and chosen them out from my own preferences; with a sound body and mind coming on top of that list.

    Had I however been working professionally with horses, my life would perhaps not been that easy.
    I would often have got those horses that were difficult, even dangerous.
    My experiences would perhaps not be the same as they are now?

    I guess what I want to say is that we all act out of what experience we have.
    I have had an easy horse life as I only keep horses for pleasure, and I am fortunate enough to have relatively uncomplicated horses to deal with.

  18. Laura - your post was the occasion but it wasn't really your take on things that made me feel like an alien - it was the perspective in some of the comments and some other things I've encountered out there recently in blog world. I completely agree with you that there are people who are taking huge risks by not establishing boundaries for the behavior of their horses - the too permissive types that give us Planet X folks a bad name (although we don't agree with what they're doing).

    Both you and I lie on different points in the middle somewhere between too permissive and too harsh - my post is really directed at the people who are too harsh and just don't see any nuances and who think that those who don't see the world the way they do are by definition too permissive - I don't like being tarred (inappropriately, I believe) with that brush.

    I think people should certainly read your post as it contains many valid points.

  19. Horseofcourse - I'd like to think that all horse people are on the same planet but it sure feels sometimes like we're not - it's partly a matter of words that are used but there are real substantive differences as well. As I said in my reply to Laura above, what I don't like is feeling like nobody even gets what I'm trying to say or that some people make no effort to (not talking about Laura here) - they just assume, since I think about things from a somewhat different point of view than they do, that I must be one of those people who lets horses walk all over them which just isn't so - hence the parody in the dialogue. Laura correctly makes the point in her comment above and also in her post that some people take dangerous risks through inexperience or wishful thinking - I couldn't agree more with that.

  20. Kate--Just for fun, since I do not consider us to be opposed, but as you say, on two different points in the middle ground, what would you have done with the bolting behavior that Danny displayed? Reading your post it appears that running him until he decided that wasn't so fun didn't sound good to you. You obviously didn't like me calling this "bad" behavior. But from the point of view of a rider's safety, bolting is very "bad" behavior. It can get you (and your horse) badly hurt or killed. I think we can agree that we don't want this behavior. Remember we are talking about the specific situation I described in the post--not all bolters. Danny was not afraid. He was testing out this new behavior, which he had never tried before. What better thing could I have done to reduce the chances that he would ever do this again--endangering himself and his rider? You have said that Dawn bolts, which causes you to be afraid to ride her on the trails. I'm not suggesting this would work on Dawn--not at all-but knowing what a huge problem this is, wasn't I right to nip it in the bud? Which I did. Danny never tried bolting again. He also remained a confident, intelligent horse who learned very quickly and liked people. What would you have done differently?

  21. Laura - I might very well not have done anything different that you did if I'd had the presence of mind to do it - you took him in exactly the direction he chose to go which probably surprised him - you effectively said to him "that's the choice you made, let's go with it". Bolting, when it isn't a fear behavior, is a learned behavior - the horse is just doing what the humans have taught him to do - "if I bolt I get to go back to the barn." Particularly if that meant he didn't go back out again which meant he got a reward for bolting. Some people call that disrespect, but I call it doing what he was taught to do, by people. You broke the pattern - successfully - but I don't think it's because you "punished" him for bolting.

    That said, there are some horses that just aren't suited to the trail because they're so reactive and spooky and Dawn may be one of them. In her case respect or lack thereof isn't the issue, it's fear and reactivity so that's what we're working on. My younger daughter has a special trust/leadership relationship with Dawn that allows her to ride on the trail, and she's also a more confident rider with a stickier seat than I am. Maybe we'll get to the trail and maybe we won't - I won't consider it a failure if we never go on the trail - I've got at least one good trail horse now. I think that's part of what I was getting to in my trust post - I need to lead Dawn with real confidence to have her trust me - she needs that - if I'm hesitant at all in my leadership it won't work with her.

    In closing, I'd also make the point that I'm not a trainer and never will be - I'm just an amateur who does the best I can with my horses. You've probably ridden a lot more miles than I have and as you pointed out in your post, being able to "read" the horse is critical - many people get in trouble because they don't see trouble coming when the signs are clear - if you're interested in this line of conversation read my post "The Horse Is Thinking About Leaving . . ." on my sidebar - it's about Dawn and the challenges she presents. Always glad to get your input and advice - Dawn and I will be starting up work again shortly as soon as the arena dries out enough.

  22. Laura - one other thought about Danny - I might just have turned him in a circle (if that was possible and safe) and just ignored it and gone on riding. At that point if he were just trying something on just dealing with it and moving on might have worked too.

    Mark Rashid sometimes tells people that riding out a bolt can be a good option, particularly if a one-rein stop isn't feasible or safe - not so different from what you did - he says we can ride as fast as the horse can run and if conditions are appropriate (no busy roads or cliffs) that can work to take away the horse's motivation to bolt. He also acknowledges that most amateurs don't have the gumption to do that without fear so it's not always practical.

  23. Laura - remember that old TV show "Point/Counterpoint"? Maybe we need something like that - it's always interesting and engaging to talk about this stuff with you and your point of view always makes me think about what I'm doing and why. But then you're a more experienced horse person by far than I am, so you'd have a big advantage - I'm just an amateur who likes to think about things, has strong opinions and probably talks too much!

  24. Kate--Well, that's interesting. It looks as though we might have done exactly the same thing--for different reasons. Danny tried this bolting in a big arena, as an evasion from work. (And I should add in here that when you are training a horse to do a demanding form of work there are going to be points where the horse would just plain rather not do it--pretty much any horse--and you have to be able to get through this.) Danny was bright enough to "try" different things. As I said in the post, he tried bucking first. When that didn't work, he took off at the dead run when I kicked him up to the lope. I ran him him hard in big circles until he wanted to quit and then I urged him to run more--until he was pretty darn tired of running. Then I stopped him, and we went back to work (work at the walk since he was out of breath and I didn't want to hurt him). In essence, in my mind, I reprimanded him for bolting in a way he comprehended. Bolting did not work out--he got no reward (I didn't quit working him) and, in fact, bolting was more work than the work I was asking. This very bright horse never tried bolting again. I suppose Mark Rashid might have said I "rode the bolt", I, on the other hand, would say that I taught Danny not to bolt by making bolting unpleasant for him, as I've taught Sunny not to turn his butt to me and offer to kick by walloping him. To me, the reprimands I give are aimed at teaching the horse what behavior is unacceptable and in the long run, the horse and I are both far happier and safer. So, maybe its all in how you want to describe it.

  25. Kate--Sorry for all the comments--its a great break from working on my novel. I like hearing your insights, too--it makes me think, just like you say. My days of training horses are long behind me and I am also just an amateur with a couple of trail horses. I also wanted to say that I don't think anyone who commented on my "Trust" post was really misunderstanding you. If you look closely, they were all referencing things they'd seen in their own lives where people (sometimes guided by NH types) allowed their horses to be the dominant partner. A lot of times these people didn't realize this was happening and defended their horse's (to me) bad/dangerous behavior. I think this is where the trouble comes in. If you want to use Planet Z versus Planet X as an analogy, sometimes I hear Planet X "types" behaving like that woman with the dangerous stallion that I wrote about. Simply denying their horse is walking all over them, when its apparent to me that this is exactly what's happening. (And no, I am not saying this of you--like you said of my post--I just started thinking about the subject and it led me to bring up some thoughts and ideas.) Anyway, I think this sort of discussion is very productive, because the real path lies in the middle ground between too harsh and too permissive, and this is what such a discussion is refining.

  26. I meet those people too sometimes. Not often in person but every once in a while.(have you ever gone on a cyber bulletin board? People on that can get very aggressive about their ideas! And most of them I am not even sure I agree with!) I figure that if something doesn't go right with my horse then I haven't asked her what I want the right way. Maybe she just doesn't know what I am asking her to do. Of course if she's displaying some kind of dominace over me, I'll have to tell her in her own language that she better behave herself. I don't like "punishing" a horse either, just as I don't like "punishing" a dog. I am still learning how to speak "Horse" and each time I get on my horse, I must remember to be her leader. But the rewards will be great--for both of us!

  27. I like that post Kate. Over here (Ireland) we have a lot of experiences horse people who assume that horses should be punished and that we should show them who is boss. There can be quite a macho culture around this.

    Now, I have been fortunate enough to have ridden, mainly, some pleasant leisure horses, who could be pushy and dominant if given the chance, but who equally respond and grow in response to fairness and honesty on the part of the person. By honesty, I mean congruence in terms of one's own energy and intent so that one is not lying to the horse.

  28. Interesting discussion, Kate and Laura--and I'll head over and read Laura's post. I have gravitated, personally, to planet X after having spent a fair amount of time on planet Z. I will say, planet X language used to scare me, and I've often wondered if one hasn't spent time on planet Z, can one move to planet X? Even Rashid made his mistakes as a young man (planet Z), but continued to grow toward planet X.

    I think, as a person becomes more confident with horses, a number of dangerous horse behaviors tend to subside. Is it because we're more aware and stop things sooner? Is it because the horse recognizes the confidence and is happier to partner up? Maybe, the person has learned to communicate better with horses. Maybe all three.

    I think the divide between us all is sometimes due to a language and experience barrier--prejudiced from what we've seen, but we all seem to agree--safety (boundaries) first. Maybe we can all also agree--we want to use the "least" amount to get the "maximum" result--a softness of sorts. BTW, this is not new--I'm finding "soft" methods were used by the finest horseman of every generation, but the softness I'm talking about comes from confidence.

  29. "if the horse fails to do what I want it's because of something I've done or failed to do. If I provide leadership and ask in a way that the horse understands, I pretty much always get the behavior I want."

    Being now a resident of planet X myself this is the biggest change I have noticed in myself. My horses always are happy to please me, because I make it rewarding-- which made me realize that I am always the limiting factor in progress.

    I think the planets are all mixed up in the horse world. Some people who THINK they are on planet X are really still on planet Z. Some people who think they are on planet Z, actually have a lot more in common with planet X than they think, if they knew what being on Planet really meant.

    Does that make sense? I may have taken you metaphor a little too far. :) great post though!

  30. Great post, Kate.

    I just told Brian the other day that I had to take a break from reading the blogs because sometimes I read accounts that make me worried for the horse and they are coming from the kindest horse people I know. They are just following what they have been taught to do in a traditional discipline and are forgetting to observe their horse's reaction. It makes me sad and I was beginning to feel like I didn't fit in anymore. Then you posted this. Thanks. Perfect timing.

  31. Interesting dialogue. I can tell you that the hardest part of coming to the horse world, later in life than many, is deciphering the rhetoric. It's hard when someone with vast experience is falling on the side of "alpha" and punishment AND that just doesn't feel right to you! Who am I, right? BUT I have decided to follow my heart above all else and I get the results I desire from my "intelligent and sensitive" mare. If that makes me touchy-feely (funny because that the farthest characteristic from my real personality you could come up with,) then so be it. I want a relationship of mutual respect with my horse... not one of dictatorial tyranny. :)

  32. Fascinating discussion, y'all. I do believe that I am a commuter between Planets X and Z!

    Having survived an overly-bossy trainer who came from the CENTER of Planet Z, I moved to Planet X, only to discover that Z had a few good points also. So, I work without coercian, (dang, I bet I spelled that wrongly!) but I do use a few tools after experimenting and discovering that my mare PREFERS the precise instructions I can give with my puny spurs as opposed to the general instructions I can give with my leg. I threw the whip away, it didn't help.

    I've "ridden the bolt" because I was in good shape and the bolting mare was a fatty-fatty-2X4 and I knew I could push her further than she preferred to go (and she never tried THAT evasion again!). And I always try to figure out WHY my mare misbehaves...sometimes, with great success. Stay tuned.

  33. Linda - thank you, that was very well put!
    Exactly my thoughts too.

  34. Huh. I've never looked at it that way, but it kind of makes sense. My horse is very intelligent and very sensitive. His previous owners were definitely from planet Z. He's also a very kind hearted horse who does everything he can to TRY to be good, so he got sour and unhappy, yet spent every stolen moment he could making friends with people. This post kind of makes sense as to why he loved me and my planet X-ness.
    There was a cowboy trainer who instructed all the isntructors at my first riding stable. My mom and I were lucky enough to get to ride with him, too. There was a lot we learned about lateral work, various clues, engaging the hind end, etc. But the wisdom we both repeat most often includes: If you punish a horse for doing something you have to do it EVERY TIME for the horse to stop. If you reward a horse for something, it will keep doing it in hope of another reward - so horses are just happier and easier to teach if your reward instead of punish. He also taught us to always end on a success. Spend half an hour and never get the leg yield you want, the smooth canter transitions, the slow jog, but the horse halts really well? End on a couple of halts and praise, and the horse won't think it "got away with" anything, but will remember doing what you wanted and getting praised.

  35. Greetings fellow Fruit Loop! *grin* I too seem to have gotten here from some alternate universe and do not, it seems, relate too well to others in the industry either. I have only two horsey friends, and the closest of the two is an hour away in Florida.
    Living on the Redneck Riviera (Alabama) I have learned - the hard way of course - to keep most of the awesome equine information to myself ;o) Very few people seem to understand the "less is more" concept; and most seem married to the show 'em who's boss mentality. Wonderbits are quite popular around here for problem solving. *sigh*
    If only I had read Mr. Rashid's book a bit sooner, I might have saved myself considerable headaches in the past by simply not saying a word (I totally get it now though :oD

  36. Linda - very much liked your comments here and over at Laura's post.

  37. For future readers - here's a link to Laura's post:

  38. omg so SO SO true.
    It's crazy. I get crap all the time for what I'm doing with my horse from some, not all, but some of my fellow boarders. Who cares. My horse, I feel, is genuinely, trusting me and feeling happy and secure. Mission accomplis(ing) for us. Using certain aids and tools also doesn't make one brain washed into that method I would like to point out. I am happy to use our carrot stick as an aid so my horse who was petrified of whips, is now leaning into it for a good feeling/reward.
    At the end of the day, we do what we think is best for our horses and sometimes other dont see or understand that language..hence the different Planets. Well put! :)

  39. Very interesting conversation. I think it's really important to have conversations like this I'm not a huge fan of labels, though. They get in the way.

    I remember the first time I saw a "planet X" video. I laughed my butt off, not because I thought it was hokey, but because this "new method" was what my family had been doing for generations. (We just weren't clever enough to market it) Obviously, I think it's a sound principle. But, just like any other training method, people misuse and abuse it.

    I think some of the problem lies in the language used. The language used on planet X is gentle and appealing, but can often be misleading. Some people warp and twist the planet X language to mean that any reprimand or use of negative reinforcement (which is not the same as punishment) is "abusive". I also find that many people simply do not understand the concepts of negative and positive reinforcement at all, but gleefully throw the words around as though they do.

    I can honestly understand why people poo-poo planet X, based on the attitudes I see displayed by some people claiming to be from planet X. I also see a lot of people claiming to be from planet X who just do not understand the theories they are touting. The same thing happens on planet Z. There are a lot of idiots out there, but it's not because they're from planet Z or planet X, it's because they're just idiots.

    And that was a really long ramble, but my point is that we shouldn't label ourselves. I think that if conversations are started, people can see past the loaded words and phrases and realize that a lot of times, we're just using different words to talk about the same things. I think many times when people are talking about "alpha" or "control" or even "dominance", they aren't talking about punishing or abusing their horse, their just using slightly different (but no less loaded) words.

  40. This post was very interesting, but the dialogue even more so.

    Thanks for sharing,

  41. As a raw cashew, I am with you.

    As someone who rode out a fear based bolt and brought my horse back to work, I can see that keeping him running in that situation would have only convinced him that he did have something to fear.

    Which is a subtlety only time and experience teaches you. I just find it easier to think of these things on planet z

  42. I am just catching up on my reading and it sure is nice to know that there are so many people from Planet X! And yes, people from Planet X can successfully be partners with our horses and work with them and show with them. Positive reinforcement and communication make the equine/human partnership a wonderful and extremely rewarding one.

  43. This is a very well-written post, Kate. I've been in your shoes many times, especially concerning handling stallions. 95% of stallion owners believe that a stallion must be dominated, and that is exactly why there are so many downright mean stallions out there. Even after showing people a better way of handling a stallion, and even getting the "wow, he really handled well with you" response, they refuse to change their methods. It drives me crazy.

    My Fabian (3 year old gelding) was one in your last catagory--the intelligent, sensitive horse that had a mental breakdown when traditional methods were used on him. Thankfully, with a lot of time and just general confidence and trust-building work he's back in a good place, but he was deemed "no good" and "dangerous" just because he couldn't adjust to a negative reinforcement sort of training. It's not that he was beaten or neglected--not at all. He just couldn't handle that type of training. You described exactly why to a tee.

  44. Hear hear! I can certainly relate to what you're saying... careful balance, isn't it?!

    Thanks for writing this, made for a really interesting read!

    Kerrin Koetsier
    Parelli Central

  45. omg! The more of your posts I read, the more I feel that whatever it is that I am trying to accomplish with my horse falls right in line with your way of thinking.

    A few weeks ago, someone at my barn made the statement that she did not understand why my friend and I do not beat our horses when they don't do what we ask. I said that is not how we operate. She said she had to "take care of" her Percheron a few times, and now she has no trouble with him.

    I do not want my horse to fear me, I want to her respect me and be in a partnership with me.


Thank you for commenting - we appreciate it. No spam or marketing comments will be published.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.