Equine Affair - 2003
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There are many useful clinicians, videos and books in the horse world today. Often we pick up a book or watch a video and see only the down side of the information that is being portrayed. That is to say, that we look at the information with too critical an eye. Or, conversely, we initially like what we see or read and then have trouble applying it or our horse does not seem to understand the information as we present our interpretation to him so we dismiss it.

When watching or listening to a clinician, we can easily be turned-off by their presentation style. Perhaps its feels too condescending or they make jokes about people or horses that are not to our liking or they talk to much or explain too little. Often, when this occurs we turn off everything that is said as "not being for us". The flip side of this coin is we like what is being said so we listen and watch carefully to the person. But, then, something feels wrong. The actions do not match the words. Or, a person says the same thing over and over as in a rehearsed "speech" type of presentation. That "speech" sounds wonderful. But, what do the actions tell us. How do they respond to in-depth questions. Do the answers stand up to logic. And, how do they respond when presented with a horse that does not fit the mold. And, are the same words repeated over and over from open presentation to the next. This might indicate that the person is "SET" in their ways. In clicker training, I believe, we'd like to be open and learning all the time. We've set it up for the horse to be learning. So should, we also must never stop learning.

If you are watching a tape of someone, separate the words from the actions. The first time you watch the tape, do not listen to the words or the rider. First, watch the horse. How is the horse responding. Do you like what you see in the horse. How is he before, during and after each exercise. If you like what the horse in the video tells you, proceed further. If not, ignore this information for the time being.

Now, if you like what the horse in the video told you, go back and listen to the words carefully. Ignore any side comments, or attempts at humor and try to focus on the words that provide information. Often, when you do this you will catch a phrase that is not commonly or often repeated. There are two such things that I can provide an example of:

In a presentation by John Lyons, he said at one point "head lowering is not a forward moving exercise". If you were not present at that particular time and place, you may have missed that comment. You will not, I believe find this comment in print nor spelled out. But, its very important.

In a video of Clinton Anderson, he said "no unrequested forward". He said it almost in passing. Yet, it is a very important bit of information.

This happens because John and Clinton know this so well that it is in their body. They have forgotten about this little detail because its always in the present for them. Its always accessible. Its these details that you will catch by listening only to the instructive words.

Now, go back. Watch and listen at the same time. What little body movement can you detect that confirms or adds to the information that is being presented. Dissect the information and try to put into context with things you already know or have heard others say. The one rein stop is an example of this. All of the NH horseman use it. And, so do the dressage and jumping people. In dressage, however, its lumped into the half-halt. Its just as easy to lump a one rein stop into dragging the nose around to your knee and spinning like a top as it is to lump it into half-halt terms.

The contents of the one rein stop are a softening of the whole body, elevating of the forequarters and a rocking back of the weight onto the hind-quarters which results in a stop because "giving at the poll reduces leg speed". Its a natural by-product. Look for how the teacher gets to the result. Dissect it. Be open to, rather than critical of, the information.

Now look at it with an eye to what parts of it do you like, which do you not like. Do you see stiffness? Do you see blocking traction? Where? Where is the tension, the pressure, the release? Don't worry if you don't see much of this the first time. If the information is valuable, you will go back to it again and again and each time you will see more.

At a live presentation, sifting can be harder. One reason is that the clinician is under a time pressure to present as much information as possible in a given about of time. He or she must do this not only in a set amount of time but they must do it in a way so that if you go home and try it you will not get you or your horse killed or hurt. Now if they don't take this into consideration, you might want to review their motives. You must take this into account when you watch live presentations. This occurs also at clinics.

The best way to do this is also the hardest. Try to divide the information and your notes into columns. Most people, when they watch a demo or clinic will write down much of what is said. They will forget to notice what the horse is telling them and what the unspoken interactions between horse and teacher are. And, once you get good at this type of sifting, you will also notice what the students are taking away from the information. How they are applying the information they are receiving right then and there. Ask questions. Try to make your questions cause the clinician to expand upon a thought rather than become defensive of it. Examine the depth of the answers. The depth of the answers will tell you much. Be very cautious if someone tells you "don't do this or I wouldn't do this at home" or "I'm only doing this because its a demo"

How about books. Books can be chock full of information. Sometimes though, there will be slight incongruity in a passage. You may think the author doesn't like something, like treats. But, for some reason it seems out of context with the rest of the book. For example, I recently read a book that had a section on the advantages and disadvantages of using treats for horses. In the disadvantage side it was said that horses don't see food as a reward. Yet, on the advantage side it stated "Food is undoubtedly a pleasant association for the horse".

The lack of consistency is clear in this example. What has most likely happened it that the author is parroting something that might have been said by their mentor. Or, something that was instilled into their thought patterns that they are hardly aware of. Be on the look out for this type of change in tone. When you encounter it, make note, and try to determine the real thoughts of the author. Try not to dismiss the information out of hand because of a mistake like this. You may find that there is much information that you do like and that you can add to your knowledge base.

There is an old saying "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater". The real meaning behind this saying is that in the early 1900's a family would pull one bath and everyone in the family would bathe in the same water. Usually, the baby was last. Hence the saying. However, in more recent times, the saying has come to mean that there may be more to dirty water than the water itself. So, keep you ears and eyes open, listen and learn from everyone.

One of the things I truly like about clicker training is that the emperor always has on real clothes. We call a spade a spade. Its not magic. Its developing the relationship with your horse so you can whisper.

We have added a marker. That's what is unique. Its not the food, its not the tiny box. Its not the absence of pressure. Its the marker. We can be very specific and very quick about what we mark. The clicker does not replace good horsemanship. Its a tool that added to a good horseman's toolbox can make that horseman great. The NH folks don't know what a powerful tool they are missing.

So, lets be clear with ourselves so we can be clear with our horses. Let's get to the heart of what exactly is or was happening then, now and in the future. Bring out the spotlight and scrutinize it, lay it all out on the ground for inspection. Then, ask the horse.