Sunday, September 8, 2013

Using "Force" in Horse Training

                                    by Laura Crum

            My last few posts have generated some interesting comments, so today I would like to take up what seems to be the bottom line when it comes to the difference between NH and traditional horse training. And this appears to be the use of “force.”
            First off, force is going to be a bit tough to define. But for the purpose of this discussion I am going to define force as using firm physical methods to insist that a horse do something he doesn’t want to do, or not do something he does want to do. In other words, to “force” the horse to behave as the handler wishes him to behave.
            Force would include everything from the extreme of beating a horse about the face with a lariat rope until you put out his eye (which I have seen) and just whacking a horse in the shoulder with the end of a leadrope when he tries to push through you on the ground. It would include all kinds of bitting up where the horse is forced to give his head, and swatting a horse with a crop when he balks and won’t go forward. It would also include beating a horse in the face and neck with a shovel, such that he has scars (this happened to Wally’s horse, Twister, before we got him).
            I’m sure you can see from my examples that I believe that force can be used appropriately or in very cruel and inappropriate ways. However, I do believe that force is necessary in effective horse training. The horse must at times be forced to do what he doesn’t want to do, and forced NOT to do what he does want to do, or the horse will never accept the human as leader/boss…whatever word you want to use. In my opinion, this is basic to having a reasonably obedient horse that is safe to ride and handle.
            Now we could go on and on about when force is needed and when it is cruel, and what methods are Ok, and what are cruel, but I don’t think much productive discussion would result. Different methods and degrees of force are needed for every horse. I am absolutely opposed to any sort of force that harms a horse. There are very many sensitive horses that NEVER need any more force than the lightest tap of crop or a bump with the leadrope to get their attention, or even just a sharp/loud word. I have several of these in my barn. And there are those horses that need a firmer approach. I have one of these, too.
            The thing I am interested in here is the basic concept. If I have understood it right, NH methods assume that a horse never needs to be forced to do something against his will. (Please tell me if I am wrong about this.) I can’t see how this could ever work.
            In every horse discipline I know of, including trail riding for pleasure, a horse must sometimes do what he doesn’t want to do. If he is only to do what he can be coaxed to “want” to do, any trail ride will be aborted when a horse has had enough. Let alone all the more demanding things we do with horses.
            I mentioned in the comments on my last post that I once practiced with and showed my cutting horse against Tom Dorrance’s wife, Margaret. Margaret had a lovely mare who enjoyed working cattle, as many horses do. But this mare was only competitive at the intermediate level, in my opinion because she was never pushed past what she freely offered to do. Never spurred to be a little quicker and sharper, or try a little harder. In my current, not-interested-in-competition state, I think that is a very nice way to train a cutting horse. But back in the day when I competed, the hole in that system was quite obvious to me. 
            The thing is, like almost everything else, it’s all about finding the middle ground. There were cutters who spurred and jerked their horses unmercifully, in order to make them try harder. Depending on the skill level of the trainer, this could totally backfire with the result that the horse was so blown up he could not be shown successfully, or, in certain very skillful hands, it could create a world champion. Even in my days of competing, I was never willing to subject my much loved horse to this sort of intense training in order to win. Yes, I spurred him to make him a little sharper. But I refused to take it to the degree where I felt I was taking the fun out of the event for him. It’s a fine line, for sure.
            Today I don’t compete. I trail ride for fun. I don’t ever wear spurs. But I will whack my stubborn little yellow trail horse in the shoulder with the leadrope when he purposely tries to step on my foot, or nips at me, or pushes into my space. I will whack him on the butt if he turns his butt to me when I go out to catch him, or balks on a trail ride. The thing is, because I have been consistently firm with this horse (who has needed more force than my more sensitive, reactive horses), he almost never tries these stunts any more. He is confident in me as his boss/leader, and he trusts me. We get along great. I am quite sure that no one who was unwilling to use any sort of force could ever have had a happy partnership with this particular horse.
            So today I would love to hear from those who do believe that force of some sort is needed in horse training, and from those who don’t believe force should be used. And if you don’t believe force should be used, will you please explain to me how you cope with it when your horse decides that he has had enough and he is turning around and going home now. Or he doesn’t want you on his back and decides to dump you. Or he wants to come out his corral gate and eat grass and you are an obstacle in the way of what he wants. Surely you must use force of some kind to let him know that you are in charge and he must yield to your wishes?
            For those who will insist that force is never needed, I would like to hear how you manage to remain in charge/the leader or whatever you would like to call it. I think we can all agree that the human must be in charge/the leader rather than the horse, if the human is to interact safely with this 1000 pound animal. This is not to say that a wise horseman will not sometimes/often let the horse’s choices stand—I do this myself when it seems appropriate. But it is my decision.
            I also want to say that not all horse training issues can be solved through the use of force. Far from it. If a horse is fearful, usually force is the wrong approach. Though even a fearful horse must learn (usually through some kind of force) that he must still respect your space/obey your cues. If you can’t get this done, you are in very real danger when you interact with such a horse. If a horse doesn’t understand what you want, force is almost always the wrong approach. The use of force must be carefully judged. Usually the time for force is when a horse is “testing the boundaries.” There are types of force, like tying, and some kinds of bitting up, where the horse is essentially struggling against himself, and these can be very effective in teaching a horse patience, calm and acceptance, without the human having to conflict with the horse. But the horse is still being forced to do something he doesn’t wish to do.
            Anyway, I’m interested to hear others’ ideas about the use of force in horse training.
            (It is also possible that we could redefine the concept of “force.”)


Gayle Carline said...

"Force" seems too broad a spectrum to be of any use, just as you've demonstrated. Horses in a herd situation certainly use their bodies to establish leadership and to stop unwanted behaviors. We could certainly call their actions "force."

My mare needs very little in the way of discipline and even a slap on her shoulder from the lead rope will make her run back in an almost melodramatic way. My gelding will mouth me like a wad of chewing gum if I don't whack him with the lead rope - hard and often.

Perhaps we should think in terms of discipline. (Of course, we should always be aiming for the right amount of discipline for each horse.)

I've seen people who let their horses run over them, and I can't help but think they have self-esteem issues. I'm not exactly an egomaniac, but I am into self-preservation. Why would I let 1000 pounds step on me or push me?

Laura Crum said...

Gayle--I see your point, but I am going to venture to say it might just be semantics. People don't like the word "force," but I don't see the difference between that concept, as I described it in my post, and "discipline" the way you've described it in your comment. Both force and discipline can be used effectively/correctly or abused--in my mind. The bottom line, to me, is exactly what you said--we cannot afford to let our horses run over us if we wish to live to old age, and it takes force (or discipline if you don't like the word force) to teach some horses to be respectful of our space.

Anonymous said...

I think the rider/handler's intent has a lot to do with it. I think "punishment" - after the fact whacking/spurring/yelling when the horse doesn't do what you want - is pretty ineffective as a training method - it only tells the horse what not to do, not what to do, and 95+% of the time it's the rider's fault anyway for being unclear or checked out - why punish a horse for that? If you get to the point that you're punishing a horse, you're so far behind the curve that it's largely useless, except to introduce emotion and upset into the picture, which is almost never productive. Can you train a horse using punishment? Sure, it's used all the time, but it produces unhappy horses and if used with some horse personalities can result in mental breakdown or viciousness, and certainly doesn't produce a horse that's a willing partner. I want my horses to do what I want - and to give me the benefit of the doubt in situations where they need to rely on my leadership and are worried, because I've shown myself to be a reliable leader - not because they're afraid of what will happen if they don't.

All riders and trainers use "pressure" - this can be anything from a thought to an all out beating or spurring. For me, my objective is to use the least pressure I can - preferably just about zero - to indicate where and how I want the horse to be, ahead of time - and it's never punishment after the fact. I think of it as setting up boundary conditions - the pressure is set by the horse, and is zero in the soft place I want the horse to be, and increases as the horse puts pressure on the boundaries. Is that force? Maybe, although I think of force as something we do to a horse, not a horse making decisions and finding your boundaries and reacting to them.

Probably the thing I do that's closest to what you mean as force is defining my personal space - I will do whatever it takes to have the horse stay outside my boundaries - but if I'm clear and consistent about defining where my horse can be in relation to my body - this includes mouths and teeth - the need to get this "big" goes away completely, since the soft spot becomes with me, at an appropriate distance, and the horse just reliably does it.

Don't know if that makes any sense. You don't have to use force to get a consistently soft, willing horse, it just isn't necessary - but it takes attention and care to get there without it. Just because horses are big is no excuse for whacking, spurring, abusive use of the hands or other aids - "horses are big" is just an excuse for yahoo training methods. And if to be successful in a particular discipline, you have to treat a horse with disrespect, I'd be looking pretty hard at the discipline - competition and money tend to be at the root of a lot of evils.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I don't agree with what you say entirely, though there are many places where what we think intersects. Sunny, for instance, doesn't test me much any more because I've proven I'm a good and effective leader, as you say. But we got there by me being willing to whack him. I never needed to whack Plumber and Gunner--they were both far too sensitive for that, and neither was the sort to test.

I do agree about competition and money being the root of much evil. It is one reason I do not compete any more. Neither do I pay money to have horses trained, or sell my horses.

My horses seem to me to be content and to trust me. I never use a forceful method if a less forceful one will do--another place where we agree.

Perhaps the words whacking and spurring are triggers, but when you tap your horse with the crop to get forward, you are whacking him (albeit lightly). Spurs can be a very big help when training a horse if used appropriately. I have seen appropriate use of these methods and inappropriate/abusive use and I know the difference.

As I have said before, it depends what you want. If you want pleasant, non-conflictive interactions with your horse and you don't care, for instance, if you are ever able to feel comfortable going out for a trail ride by yourself on your horse, or any number of other things that people sometimes would like to do, then I think methods that never "force" a horse can be effective, if the practitioner is persistent and reasonably skilled at reading a horse, as I believe that you are, and willing to be very, very patient when it comes to making progress. But if you, say, are working on a ranch (as I have done in the past), and there are things that need to get done regardless of the horse's mood that day, these methods are inadequate. In my opinion.

That horses are big and can kill you is a very important point, NOT merely an excuse for "yahoo training methods"--sorry, but I'll stand on that one. If I choose to let my twelve pound dog without an aggressive bone in her body invade my personal space by jumping in my lap at her own choosing, I may be allowing my dog to be a nuisance, but its no threat to my life. If I allow my 1000 pound riding horse who likes to test boundaries to get away with crowding me without an appropriate reprimand, the result will eventually be that I have a broken foot...or worse. If I allow that same horse to turn around and head for home at his own choosing, I will soon have an out-of-control horse that bolts back to the barn--a completely unacceptable situation. And yes, reprimands do work and are effective on testing behavior in a horse; I'm afraid I'll stand on that one, too. I have trained roughly a hundred horses in my life, and I've seen that sort of assertive, testing horse personality plenty of times. Timing is all, of course. Reprimands that come too late are useless. But Sunny understands perfectly when he steps into my space and I growl and whack him. He is careful of my boundaries for a good long time after that. Being who he is, he will eventually have to test a little bit again. In Plumber's case, if he forgets himself, a very mild "here now" and a bump with the leadrope is all it takes. Plumber is not testing--he has merely not paying attention. It all comes down to reading the horse--like most of horse training.

I always enjoy discussing this stuff with you--as you present the Planet Y view so well (!) I may not agree, but I do find it interesting to hear the logic behind other methods. The biggest thing, I have found over the years, is the willingness to be consistent and persistent with whatever method you choose, to love your horses and prioritize both their welfare and your own welfare, and just to spend the many long hours that it takes to learn to understand and read a horse. And these things, I think, we have in common.

Dom said...

From the few NH clinicians I have seen, it's NOT that there is no force. In fact, there is a good bit of force. Parelli's training is all about increasing pressure until the horse responds, then removing the pressure. In general, that's a concept I agree with, but I've seen Parelli get pretty nasty with a few horses. He is perhaps the most famous Natural Horseman, but I would definitely not say that his methods are force free. Quite the opposite in fact. He talks about how he doesn't want a well broke trail horse to so much as LOOK at something that moves in the woods. It's definitely not about letting the horse do whatever he wants. Same thing with many of the other NH big names.

My personal opinion on 'force' is as follows:
Horses learn well from the release of pressure as well as positive reinforcement. I do think it's possible to teach a horse solely through R+ methods, but I think it's the 'long road', if you will. It's much faster to teach them through pressure release for a lot of things. For example: pull the reins, when the horse stops moving, release the reins, is a much faster way of teaching 'whoa' than waiting around with a clicker until the horse stops on his own, then rewarding until he puts two and two together. As for discipline... I think that is best reserved for dangerous behaviors such as kicking and biting, and is NOT an effective way of teaching new behaviors. Just my two cents.

hammerhorses said...

Unless we ask the horse to do nothing but eat, poop and pee, some force is required. I've smacked a horse for stepping on me, biting me, etc, used a whip to encourage forward movement. I've never used a whip to "punish" a horse.

However, if we watch horses interact, if they don't do what the boss tells them they get hurt a LOT worse than I can hurt them with a smack of my hand, but it gets the point across.

So, yes, I "force" my horse to do what I want but I don't think that what I ask is unfair. I want them to go where I tell them, at the speed I tell them, with minimal fuss and preferably a good attitude. I expect them to respect my space and to stay out of my bubble unless I invite them in. My horses come running to me whinnying and vying for my attention, so I don't think they are resentful... :)

But, this makes most people laugh, I expect the EXACT same behavior from my children. Of course they can talk and reason with me, but I expect them to do what they're told, when they're told to do it, with minimal fuss and preferably a good attitude. My kids, also, come running (or crawling as the case may be) to me when they see me, and do not, generally, seem resentful.

Laura Crum said...

Dom--That's interesting. Because I am happy to have my horse look at everything and even express, in minor ways, that he finds something to be concerning, as long as he will obey my cue to pass it. I actually LIKE my trail horse to be expressive.

As for teaching new behaviors--well, take checking up a horse in various ways, and/or tying. These are not exactly disciplining a horse, but they are using "force" of a sort to get the horse to do something he doesn't want to do (give his head to the bit or stand and wait). There is also a continuum involved in training. Showing a horse a new concept virtually never involves force. Once he understands the concept it is up to a skilled trainer to judge the point where some pressure/force or whatever you would like to call it, would be useful. Sometimes you sit back and let a certain sort of horse figure it out. Sometimes, with another sort of horse, you need to "encourage" the behavior you want (use a little force/pressure). Let us say you have a lazy horse. Once you are quite clear the horse understands the signal for lope, and it is also clear he resists this signal because he's unwilling to exert himself, a well timed use of spur or crop can absolutely diffuse the problem. This isn't discipline, in my book--its effective cues and use of mild force when needed, in order to prevent the bigger problems that will result if a horse is allowed to persist in the resistant behavior.

Laura Crum said...

Stephanie--Well said! You and I sound a lot alike. I am very protective of my horses and my kid--in very many ways. I won't allow them to be put in positions where too much is asked of them, or where I think there is a serious risk of them being hurt. But I do expect respectful behavior and will enforce it.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

"Let us say you have a lazy horse. Once you are quite clear the horse understands the signal for lope, and it is also clear he resists this signal because he's unwilling to exert himself, a well timed use of spur or crop can absolutely diffuse the problem. This isn't discipline, in my book--its effective cues and use of mild force when needed, in order to prevent the bigger problems that will result if a horse is allowed to persist in the resistant behavior. "

Where does the above philosophy allow that the rider may have given the cue poorly: either without clarity or perhaps just plain wrong because she is off balance, crooked, inexperienced or some combination?

Keeping a horse safely out of my space is definitely a situation where "force" may become necessary in my book - as long as it is used with no emotion and let go immediately by the handler.

Other than that, my practice is to examine my actions first before punishing, disciplining or forcing a horse. Too often what could be interpreted as "attitude" in a horse can be explained by handler error, discomfort, confusion or fear.

I have a long way to go in my horsemanship journey, but I know I prefer my horse to be a willing partner rather than a slave.

Laura Crum said...

CFS--I do believe my horses are all pretty darn willing partners and we seem to be pretty happy with each other, judging by the way they all meet me at the gate to be caught. It is common for those who haven't worked with a lot of different horses to misunderstand when/if a particular horse needs a more forceful approach. I have no interest in horses that are "slaves" either. To be frank, most people aren't capable of turning a horse into a "slave" even if they wanted to. Using too much force in less than extremely experienced hands generally just ruins a horse--as does letting a horse walk all over you. Its the middle road that it so often is.

As for the example of the lazy horse--yes, I am assuming the cue to be given correctly. Take my lazy horse, Sunny, who was definitely trained with spurs. He understands the cue to lope perfectly. And I can virtually 100% of the time, wearing only soft Ugg boots (I have never used spurs on this horse) get him to take the lope in one stride from the walk, in either lead. Why? Well, because I do know how to give the cue correctly, and if I'm not in harmony with the horse I know better than to cue. I cue when I know Sunny will respond. The other reason is that having been trained by some pretty tough cowboys who always wore spurs, Sunny is conditioned to obey the correctly given cue and not to resist it. Its a win/win situation for both of us as opposed to a lazy horse who was never properly trained to accept the cue and simply resists picking up the lope-causing conflict between horse and rider that is no fun for either.

You have a very good point about the lack of emotion. Force should never be used in anger...all too true. It never works out. If a person is angry, he/she should put the horse up and come back when the anger is gone.

And finally, its back to what I said earlier. Good horse training is all about knowing how to read a horse. The longer you spend working with horses, the clearer you are when a horse is confused or hurting or afraid, as opposed to testing. You are more able to recognize the moments when you aren't getting your message across and need to try a different approach. I've been working with horses for forty years. A lot of what I say is based on those many years of experience training and riding well over a hundred different horses. I don't have any problem respecting where everyone is on their own journey, but I will say that it took me many years and the experience of working with many different horses to become truly confident that I understood what my horses were feeling/communicating and how to respond appropriately.

If what you are doing is working for you and you and your horse have a happy partnership, more power to you!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I despair - I must be really bad at explaining what I mean. I think you sort of get what I'm saying, but also not. What I do with my horses works - I know this from personal experience and from seeing it work for others. Does it take more time? - sometimes but not always - but good training is always about breaking things down into steps. Horses are incredibly sensitive creatures - they're not inanimate, stupid objects, and when things are going right it's possible to do amazing things just with thoughts and intentions alone.

To clarify - my horses never walk all over me - they lead and handle just about perfectly and don't test my boundaries - because they know where my boundaries are, every time - a horse that nips, or intrudes into your space, is telling you that you're not being consistent - if you're consistent that stuff just goes away. I don't wave sticks at my horses, I never use a round pen and do almost no groundwork after initial stages. I get on and ride, every day. My horses are connected to me in a way that means they will continue to listen, even when a situation is troubling. I ask my horses to do things they don't want to do all the time and they do it for me, and we maintain the softness while we do it.

Just because force works (with some horses, for others of sensitive temperament it can be a disaster) doesn't mean it's the only way. I believe you are a caring, responsible horse owner, and only use what you define as force in limited circumstances. I wish you could see my horses - or even better could see Mark Rashid work - then maybe you'd understand what I'm trying to say (apparently badly). Sigh . . .

Jan said...

Another interesting topic.

I think most can agree on two points. No one thinks "extreme" force is appropriate.

The 2nd point is, unless you have hundreds of acres, with year-round forage and water, and your horse/horses are feral, then your horse is being forced to do something. From confinement of some sort to eating on the schedule you decide, there are many choices horses don't make for themselves. Even if you don't ride your horse, there are still things you force them to do, including deworming, probably some sort of vaccinations, treatment for injuries or illnesses, and farrier work. Is all of that in their best interest? Yes. Would they voluntarily do it? No. So that is another way of thinking about horses and force.

When it comes to training I agree with Laura and some of the others that have commented. I don't think a firm smack or a re-enforced cue via a little spur pressure or tap with a crop, is out of line. If you time it correctly and use it sparingly, you will seldom need it. If you nag at your horse or do it at the wrong time, it's not effective. They either learn to ignore you or get pissed off.

I wholeheartedly agree that if you let a horse become the boss, it will end up badly. I want to be the one in charge of making decisions, and my horses understand that "because I said so" is not negotiable. Consequently I have a mostly harmonious, low stress relationship with my horses. On the ground and on their back. Does that mean I have had to on occasion smack one? Hell yes and I imagine I will have to again. But it's very seldom, in fact I can't remember the last time I had a serious I am the boss discussion with a horse.

My final thought on NH and force. I agree with Dom that I have seen NH trainers use a good deal of force. Just because they aren't beating them doesn't mean they aren't forcing them. In many instances I have seen an NH trainer work a horse in the round pen until their sides are heaving and their head is down. Maybe that is what the horse needed to get the desired result, but it certainly wasn't force free.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

"Make the right way easy and the wrong way hard." Forget which NHer said that (possibly Tom Dorrance), but I think it really applies. It's just the degree to which you work at making the wrong way hard--which can include force.

A more NH approach (which is what I use with my sensitive reining-bred mare) is to set the horse up in a situation where they have to learn safely from their behavior. Example--teaching to tie, bitting up, free jumping, round penning.

I also did not get aggressive with corrections until my mare was pretty much finished in her training. *Then* I did more growling, yelling, or intense backing--there have been times when she simply didn't want to do what she was asked because she wanted to do something else, and it usually only takes one, maybe two such corrections and she's back on track. Just a testing of boundaries. But again, knowing that means knowing the horse and knowing the feel and being able to differentiate between confusion, pain, or boundary testing. Takes time and experience to get there.

When you were talking about Margaret Dorrance, I think part of the deal is the intensive consistency you have to enforce if you're going to ride at the upper levels. It's the difference between intensive training aiming at the higher levels and doing something intermediate level and having fun with the challenge.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Further point--if a simple holler of "QUIT, DAMNIT!" or a raising of the quirt end of the romal elicits the proper form when a horse is acting up and not doing something right--that ain't confusion or miscuing. That's a horse testing boundaries. Some horses test more than others. Just a difference in temperament.

I spent too much of my formative horse years wrangling Shetland ponies to say that horses don't test boundaries. Ponies do, especially during their training (and some horses have pony brains and attitudes). They have strong opinions about what they're asked to do, and you've got to be able to channel it appropriately--and sometimes that means they know you'll enforce your dictate as herd leader, whether you're on the ground or on the saddle. Herd leaders may bite or kick when a young'un challenges them, but only as much as needed.

Let's put it this way--when my mare runs through seat, leg and hand cue to continue circling in one direction in order to change leads and take off the other way, still in the pattern and not bolting in fear, and I'm working at speed--a.) that's a safety issue because as a result of her choice I'm suddenly off balance and b.) that's not misunderstanding or miscuing, that's wanting to follow a pattern and testing the boundaries by telling me she doesn't believe a strong cue. She doesn't do it often, but it's pretty darn clear she's blowing me off when she does it.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I've read your blog a long time. I also believe you to be a great horse owner. I do know the ups and downs you have gone through with your horses, using these methods. I also know, from your own writing, what sort of things you do with your horses and what you don't do, and there are pretty big differences in what each of us expects our horse to do. That's not to say that what you do is wrong...I just don't think it would, in the case of my Sunny, say, produce a horse that you could reliably ride solo through the hills any time you felt like it. You might consider that Pie, who came to you with what you have said were very good manners, was almost certainly trained the way I train horses. That was the foundation you were given. Nothing wrong with that, right? I am glad that you are happy with your horses and I think they are very happy with you, and that's what counts. But when you say that reprimands are ineffective, I find that to be simply untrue. There are some horses that need reprimands and others that don't. It all comes down to knowing your horse and reading him accurately, whatever method you use. Force can certainly be abused. No argument there. I think the most important thing is what you do--put in those hours with the horse so that you know your individual and can respond appropriately to him/her. The single biggest overall problem I see in horseman of all sorts is an inability (because not enough time spent) to understand what the horse is thinking/feeling. Thus confusion is read as defiance, or conversely, testing behavior is read as confusion. I think if you can read your horse accurately and you are persistent and consistent, most methods will work. If you are happy with your horses and they are happy with you, then what you are doing is successful. We all have different goals with our horses, and some methods are better for some goals. I believe my methods are better for my goals, as your methods may be better for your goals. Maybe we can agree on that?

Jan--Yes, that is pretty much how I see it. I have had very little experience with NH trainers and it is interesting to me to get the varied takes on them. I sure agree that round penning a horse until he's exhausted is just another form of force.

Joyce--I agree with all of what you say there. I have always used tying and some forms of bitting up as part of training. I grew tired of showing when I was attempting the higher was just too hard on my much loved horse. Horses of a certain personality do test boundaries, and ponies (including our beloved Toby) are notorious for this. I couldn't agree more. And again, results are the proof, as you say. A correct reprimand will result in a sheepish but uncowed look from the horse and instant obedience to the cue, whatever it was. If a horse is testing he literally wants and expects that reprimand from his "leader." If the horse looks fearful or confused after being reprimanded, reprimanding was the wrong thing to do. Once again, back to reading the horse accurately.

Anonymous said...

No, actually I don't agree and we'll have to leave it at that. I'll stop commenting on here since there's little point in my doing so - from reading the other comments it's clear I'm in the minority among your readers and never going to change any minds with my ramblings.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--Well, I enjoy your comments and reading your blog. I may not agree with all that you believe and do, but I admire your dedication and love for your horses. You seem like a happy horsewoman with happy horses, and, as I've said many times, that is really the bottom line. I don't mind at all agreeing to disagree. There are very few horse people, or people of any sort, that agree about everything.

Jan said...

Kate, I hope you don't quit commenting and don't feel ganged up on. I think it is hard for most horse people to understand a new concept without actually seeing it.

It is possible that if we saw you work with your horses we would be more receptive. It's also possible if you saw some of us work with our horses that you would see that our philosophies aren't that far apart.

I have read a couple of Mark Rashid's books and it seemed very much like my own methods of training, with just a few small exceptions.

I think unfortunately a couple of the big name NH trainers have turned people off, and ultimately done more harm than good when trying to promote their product.

That coupled with most of us seeing the by-product of people who have tried NH and didn't do it very well, has us very confused about what NH actually is.

I certainly understand your frustration in trying to explain an entire training method via comments on a blog. You may well have had more people than you think agree with you, they just didn't post a comment.

I hope that you continue to read the blog and post, because I might not have expressed it, but I do appreciate reading different points of view.

Laura Crum said...

I agree, Jan. I think Kate and I have a lot in common, which I have tried to say repeatedly. There are areas where we don't agree, but surely all horse people have areas where we don't agree? I'm not sure that Kate would call her training methods NH--I'm pretty sure she said that her trainer of choice, Mark Rashid, doesn't use that label. I think the big area of difference between my thinking about horse training and Kate's is the concept of reprimanding a horse for "testing" behavior and/or the use of firm physical methods at other times when I think it will further a particular horse's training. But in many other ways we are on the same page.

I don't write these posts to attack anyone. I find it interesting to discuss what people believe is effective in the way of horse training and horse handling. I'm not trying to convince anybody to drop their method (whatever it is) and try mine. I do honestly present what has proven workable for me over many years and a great many horses. I'm comfortable saying where I disagree with some methods, and why. But I think that if people have happy partnerships with their horses and both horses and human are thriving (like Kate and her horses) then that is great and nothing needs to change for them.

If, on the other hand, people are not happy with how things are going with their horse, reading other people's ideas can sometimes prove useful. I try to put out there the things that have worked for me and the approach I take toward horses in an honest, clear way, hoping that there may be something helpful for someone else there. And in return I have learned a great deal from the comments on this blog.

GunDiva said...

My mom's a huge Mark Rashid fan. Me? I'm a huge Julie Goodnight fan. Both have valid training points. Both trainers achieve excellent results with their training. Julie just makes more sense to me, and Mark makes more sense to Mom. Not that one or the other is better, it's just that we both want what's best for our horses and one of the primary things is that we have to understand what we're being told.

Kate, I certainly hope you weren't feeling attacked, because I saw much more similarities in what you and Laura were saying than differences.

I'm learning a lot from these posts and comments. In fact, until this series of posts, I'd never given the term "natural horsemanship" a second thought. I just automatically associated it with "good" things and assumed everyone else did too.

I'm all about being a good leader for my horse, not my horse's friend. A lot like being a parent as someone else mentioned. I loved Estes dearly and, yes, she was my friend in many ways, but I was always her leader.

Dom said...

I agree about letting horses look at everything on the trail. I like my horses to look and understand. I feel it makes them less fearful.

I think it's important to differentiate between pressure and discipline. Pressure is SO important in horse training. Discipline, when used in anything but extreme situations, does more harm than good, IMHO.

Laura Crum said...

GunDiva--I'm learning from these posts, too.

Dom--When you put it that way, I agree. I don't "discipline" a horse for anything other than "testing" behavior. A good example of this would be nipping or attempting to kick or purposely stepping on (or towards) my foot. But that is why I used the word "force" in the post, rather than "discipline" or "reprimands." Force includes various forms of pressure, such as bitting up and tying and insisting that a balky horse go forward...etc . People don't like the word, but it represents a concept that I think we all use.

Even those who are very against the idea of "forcing" a horse to do what he doesn't want to do, will admit that they use "force" or "whatever it takes" to make a horse respect their space. And if they use a crop to get "forward", that's "whacking" a horse. I think calling some forms of force "pressure," and some forms "discipline" does create a distinction that people can be more comfortable with. And there IS a difference. But IMO they are both forms of force. But then again, as I said in the post--maybe we should redefine "force?"

Its an interesting subject, though it does seem to push buttons in a lot of people. For the record, those who know me can attest to the fact that I am very against the misuse of force to punish a horse and have publicly stood up for this by literally facing off people who were beating their horse at various events...and taking a lot of abuse myself from some of these tough and ignorant cowboys. I won't stand to see a horse abused in front of me and not try to stop it.

Laura Crum said...

I've been thinking about it--let me give an example of where force/discipline/reprimands can/should be used in training. Dom or anyone else--feel free to tell us how it might have been done differently.

Many years ago I had a friend with a green horse--roughly four years old, had been ridden for a year or so. My friend liked this horse, but the horse had developed the habit of bucking--hard--when he didn't want to do something. It wasn't cinchiness--it was a genuine determination to get out of what he was being asked to do by bucking the rider off (and yes, there are horses like this--I have known a few). My friend got bucked off a few times and sent the horse to a trainer, who had no better luck. The thing was that the horse could buck hard and he'd learned to jerk his head down unexpectedly, so the usual things you do (take the horse's head BEFORE he starts bucking, make him circle..etc) didn't work. The horse was getting worse and worse about the bucking habit, due to having successfully bucked his rider off every time he tried.The horse at this point was truly dangerous and many people would have sent him to the sale.

As a last resort my friend sent the horse to a former roughstock rider who was now a horse trainer. I went along when the horse was delivered. The roughstock rider took the horse to the round pen, cinched him up and climbed on. After some preliminary walking and trotting, he asked for the lope. The horse immediately bogged his head and started bucking--hard. I could NEVER have ridden this horse, nor could any of my friends. This guy did not try to stop the horse from bucking. He sat up on him and spurred him and over and undered him (punished him) and just let him buck. It took awhile, but eventually that horse's head came up and he quit bucking. I'm sure you all can see that the horse had been successfully reprimanded for what was a very dangerous, unacceptable behavior in a riding horse--that the horse was using as a testing behavior.

The horse stayed with the trainer only 30 days. He tried bucking a few more times with the same result. My friend took the horse back and as far as I know, the horse never bucked with anyone again. The last I heard he was a useful riding horse with a good home.

Now you all tell me why that wrong. It was a use of fairly extreme force/punishment/reprimand in order to cure a horse of a very bad and dangerous habit that would have ended up seriously hurting a person or landing the horse at the killers. I have known horses like this before, and no, you cannot dink them out of this habit through round penning..etc, or any form of training that doesn't involve sitting up on the horse and riding him through it. Very few of us can do that (I never could), but that is what it takes IMO.

Any thoughts on that?

GunDiva said...

I could have never done that, my take-away is that he made the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy. Over and over again, the horse thought he could get out of work by getting rid of his rider. Until he got a rider who wasn't so easy. I see nothing wrong with "bucking out" the horse in that situation.

Jan said...

Seems reasonable to me. Like you said, the horse's other option was the kill pen.

Here is how I dealt with a problem on the other end. A few years back a friend of a friend had a big, stout dun QH gelding for sale. I knew this horse from a previous owner and thought he would make a good lesson horse, and I needed another one. My husband and I went to look at him. I asked the woman what she had been doing with him and she said trail riding. I asked her to tack him up and she said you already know the horse, there is no need to ride him. I told her I still wanted to see him ridden. She said she wouldn't ride him but I could if I wanted too. Big red flag, but I tacked him up and got on. He was fine for that and I started walking him away from the barn. He got to the end of the open barn area and stopped. I gave him a little kick and he went straight up in the air. When he came down I over and undered him and he walked about 20' and then reared again. Now I was pissed off so I hollered at my husband to get me club of some sort. The woman was in an absolute panic and yelling for me to get off. The horse was just standing there perfectly relaxed, unless I tried to turn him away from the barn. My husband brought me a pretty good sized stick and I walked the horse back towards the barn. Then I turned him away from the barn again and he went up again. As he was going up I gave him a mighty wallop over the head. His front feet hit the ground, I turned him around and he walked away from the barn as nicely as could be. I gave the woman 1/2 what she was asking for him and he made one of the best lesson, trail, using ranch horses that we ever had. That one time was all it ever took, he never once even thought about rearing again. He went from dangerous, with no future, to solid citizen in 5 seconds. From a horse that was going to hurt someone and end up in a can to one of the best I ever owned. I would say that was worth one whack over the head.

And yes I know that can go terribly wrong, and that whack could have killed him, but that was a very small chance, and frankly I was too pissed to care. Not at the horse but at the stupid woman who take a wonderful horse and turned him into a rearer.

By the way, no way no how would I want to be in that situation today. Time took away my ballsyness. At the time it didn't faze me at all.

Laura Crum said...

GunDiva--Yep, that is how I see it, too.

Jan--I knew a horse with that exact problem that was cured the exact same way. (However I didn't do the "curing") I've known a horse that had literally learned to attack when a person walked in the corral (a once gentle gelding who had learned to intimidate the girl who owned him) and that horse was also cured of this dangerous habit by the one time use of a "club" to his jaw. These things sound harsh, yes, but, as you say, its much worse for a good horse to end up at the kill pen because the humans that owned him weren't willing to be tough enough. And sadly, sometimes you do have to be tough. Sometimes because the horse's nature requires it--like my friend's horse who wanted to buck--and more often, like your rearing horse, because the previous owner has let the horse get away with too much and created a dangerous habit. It sounds to me like you did that dun gelding a huge favor.

Dom said...

I see nothing wrong with that either. I rode the bucks out of CP and it was exactly what he needed. There was no spurring or over/under, but he did get several sharp whacks with a crop along the way. He is not being ridden successfully by kids. I guess the big difference for me when it comes to discipline is as follows: is the horse misbehaving out of fear or confusing, or is the horse exhibiting dangerous behavior as a form of 'f**k you'. I have all the patience in the world for scared, confused, green horses. I do NOT tolerate malicious behavior for a second!

Anonymous said...

I despise people who think by abusing a animal to make it listen to you is cruel you don't deserve to have them you are nothing but animal abusing assholes i hope someone beats the hell out of you !

Laura Crum said...

Dom--I'm with you exactly. You did a wonderful job with CP. Think what his life might have been like if you hadn't been able to ride him through it and teach him that bucking people off is not OK.

Anon--You clearly have never trained a horse in your life; I doubt if you've ever owned one. Why don't you have a look at my 33 year old horse, Gunner, pictured in the next post, who has been with me for thirty years and is still thriving before you call me an asshole. I will bet everything I have that you have never been a faithful caregiver to a horse for thirty years. You speak from complete ignorance and it is obvious from your tone. I absolutely won't tolerate anyone abusing a horse in front of me, but unlike you, I have spent many years training horses and I do know the difference between abuse and an appropriate and necessary reprimand to a horse that is testing. Thank you so much for giving me a chance to put this clearly for all the ignorant folks who don't actually know anything about horses and think that being "nice" to them is the answer to everything. To be quite frank, it is this attitude that spoils good horses to such a degree that they become dangerous enough that no one can retrain them and they end up at the killers. Ignorant folks who try to be "nice" to horses do just as much damage as people who really do abuse horses in overly harsh ways.

Dom said...

CP probably would have gone back to the auction he came from... and with his history as public as it was, probably would have gone for meat.

As for the anonymous comment... *eyeroll*... I don't even think it warrants a response pre-deletion. Force (whether pressure or discipline) does not constitute abuse. Yes, animal abusers should obviously be punished. I've got a couple horses I'd LOVE to see Anon train with love and butterfly kisses.

Laura Crum said...

Dom--You know, I thought the Anon comment gave me a chance to put it out there in very straight talk, so I was grateful, People like Anon, who think that any use of firmness or appropriate reprimands is abuse are a big part of the problems I often see in the horse world. I do believe I will address this in another post. So thank you, ignorant Anon.

And I truly believed you were absolutely CP's savior. By riding him through it and not putting up with his guff, you gave that so-cute red pony a chance at a good life. Which he certainly wouldn't have had without you or someone else with courage, horse sense, a good seat, a lot of ability, and the willingness to be tough when necessary and also make a lot of space for encouraging the right behavior.

dunslidin said...

I was at a Ray Hunt clinic once when a young man brought a nice paint mare that just wouldn't load. She didn't act scared, would walk right up and put her head in and cock a leg but not take another step. Ray eased his horse over to her and slapped her hard between her back legs with his car antenna with a flag on it and she jumped right in. Everyone was a little shocked but when they unloaded her and tried it again she once again stopped and cocked her leg but as soon as Ray put a neck rein on his horse she jumped right in. He said well sometimes we have to give them a reason to move their feet. He also said she will learn to load but probably she will always need a reminder because she got by with this behavior so long. Even the NH guys will use "force". Even other horses will use "force" on each other a lot harder than most riders do. My mares would bust my geldings if they looked wrong at them with both back feet or their teeth and it wasn't pretty or nice. I don't think I ever ride in something that could hurt as bad as a 1200 lb mare with shoes on and an attitude. IMO

Laura Crum said...

dunslidin--Love the Ray Hunt example. Just what I would have done with a horse that clearly wasn't scared, merely calmly defiant. I have had horses try this very thing (when I KNEW they knew how to load--they did it all the time). All it takes is one firm reprimand the first time they try it--and they don't try it again. Thanks for the comment!