Speaking of Harvey preferring his right side for things…
Here is the speedy version of saddling him. Please watch with the sound off! I forgot to remove that and with it sped up it sounds ridiculous. Harvey is loose for the whole thing and chooses to come stand for the saddle. He also chooses to have the saddle put on from the right. As soon as I got the big heavy thing switched around to be put on from the left. Dang horse.
He is also free to leave if he wants. Granted not very far. For the sake of all of us concerned smaller distances make life easier, and closed gates keep the other horses away. He can still leave though and although I could go get him it would be a sign to me that he wasn’t happy with what was going on. A sign that I need to do things differently.
I had a discussion recently with a horsewoman and trainer that I always enjoy and respect. She was discussing her ideas on choice. She felt that choice is the greatest motivator of all. By using +R we are giving the horse a choice. He can choose to do the trick / behavior and get the treat or not. At liberty he can choose to walk away if he doesn’t want to play with us. But … Doesn’t -R also give them a choice? The horse can choose to back away from the pressure or stay. The horse’s choice / behavior decides the outcome. As long as the pressure is released the instant he makes the decision to back then he has created a situation where the pressure is released. He has been given a choice. It is when the horse has ‘no choice’ – no way out of the situation – no relief eg with flooding, that creates a terrifying and confusing situation for the horse.
I would sure like to think that in my use of -R I am listening to what my horse has to say, without flooding and terrifying the horse. After all we are doing -R at liberty leaving him free to go any time he wants.
While I feel a horse should be given choices in training and in life I think we offer them the same choices we do small children. Both if free to make any choices they wanted would make terrible ones. A horse would happily eat alfalfa or corn until foundered. A child would stay up all night eating candy until foundered. They would be happy, in the short term, but life isn’t about being happy all the time. There is no fulfillment in that. True happiness, contentment, self satisfaction, comes from the hard things we accomplish, the difficult choices, practicing restraint. While I’m not sure horses are able to process things that deeply, that doesn’t mean immediate gratification is the answer to all their problems either.
It is up to us as the adults in the relationship to offer horses choices to make. The same way I offer a child a choice between broccoli or carrots, of going to bed now and getting a book read to them or staying up a little later and giving up the story, I offer a horse the choice of moving away from a stirrup touching his side and getting a cookie or standing there and not getting a cookie. As long as we don’t poison that deal by escalating pressure the horse is free to choose.
When we take away the choice we can poison the cue. When we force a child to sit at the table until they eat their cauliflower that child may never touch cauliflower again for their entire life, sorry mom 😉 If we force a horse to stand while we strap a saddle to their back they may never happily accept a rider.
Instead of concentrating on the method we use to teach a horse perhaps the important thing is in offering them a choice. Letting them take a roll in deciding if they are ready or willing to continue with the next step in training. Watching and listening for our cues from them. When a horse is working with you, ready and willing to take that next step it is possible to happily face challenges and take those difficult steps and even practice restraint. The hard things in life that make it all the better in the end.


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