I consider myself extremely lucky to be around during a period of prolific information sharing; never have so many novel facts been made available via books, DVD’s, social media updates, blogs and forums. Does this mean we have a plethora of new age horsewomen/men who can all ride in balance and enjoy perfect relationships with their unshod, bit-free horses?
Joking aside I think we may even be moving further from the perfect goal where the majority of equine interactions are good for the horse. There are, of course, many reasons for this but here I’m thinking of the confusion that surrounds the new horsemanship gurus that promise anything from reading your horse’s mind to talking equus. I will even include my own pet novel training tool of clicker training in this but there are literally hundreds of different systems popping up constantly and I’m really not singling out any one system for special attention here. Is it really possible for us mere mortals to go from no knowledge to full knowledge in short timescales? Is the promise of new found expertise too good to be true or can we really throw out the old methods in favour of the new?
I can’t really be the judge of this but I do know how easy it was to be seduced by the novel system of clicker training for horses when I first became aware of it. I also know that without some really decent previous horsemanship behind me the clicker would have at best been useless at worst dangerous; it’s why I now rarely teach the use of clicker unless there is a huge commitment to learning from the student.
Just a couple of days ago after a lunge lesson with a student I found myself catching up with my past. Let me explain. Whilst I truly believe in positive reinforcement methods I first believe in crystal clear communication whether that is via positive reinforcement or not. The only thing I cannot abide is punishment of a horse for doing what a horse does naturally; there are no bad horses just horses for whom communication has been unclear in the past. I live in the real world and if I hope to improve communication for horses then it needs to be in a digestible format that more traditional riders and trainers can accept and adopt. The reason for the déjà vu? Well I was teaching exactly the way I did 15 years ago, no chance of reaching for my clicker this was purely classical positioning for the handler and giving the horse praise for offering the right answer or at least an approximation of it.
So did I feel like I sold out? Absolutely not. Did I feel like I missed an opportunity to promote positive reinforcement? No because we discussed other methods including clicker which was something quite new for the student and who knows when sown seeds will germinate?
So whilst more positive reinforcement is my long term goal I truly feel that we must adapt and grow rather than preach and put off. Or as the saying goes slowly, slowly catchee monkey!