For most of my life I have been searching for lightness and harmony with horses, but I didn’t find it in Horsemanship methods of today– I found it in the old classical art of riding. But a glimpse of it comes from the late Bill Dorrance who did not work horses with traditional pressure- release methods, but with feel!
And something that goes beyond Horsemanship – by Carolyn Resnick who taught me how to work with horses free from start without tack, roundpen, coersion or pressure. A horse communication based entirely on the relationship and the horse´s freedom of choice. The horses always had a voice.
HOW WE TRAIN HORSES
Horses are trained positively with reward and praise, but also negative with consequences and punishment. Normally they are trained based on science through operant learning, which means using consequences to shape a behavior through reinforcement or punishment.
Negative reinforcement is to remove something unwanted to make the behavior more likely to happen again. It gives a consequence to an act that results in the act being performed with greater frequency. It removes a negative consequence to encourage the horse to respond to requests again and again.
Punishment is a consequence of an act that results in the act being carried out with less frequency. It adds a negative consequence so that the horse does not repeat the behavior.
Most horse methods are based on the fact that the horses are motivated by minimizing or avoiding discomfort or pain. Most systems base the training on negative reinforcement to motivate a horse to perform what has been requested. Examples of negative reinforcement is to start with a light pressure and then escalate the pressure, make it harder and stronger until the horse does what it has been told. Then the pressure is removed to tell the horse he did the right thing.
For example, if on the ground you are going to teach the horse to move the hindquarter and you use a light pressure with your hand. When the horse does not react, the pressure escalates and is made stronger until the horse moves a step in the right direction. Then the pressure is removed as motivation and reward. And then the same procedure is repeated again.
In horseback riding, for example, it is to pull the rein until the horse turns its head in that direction and then release. To ask the horse to move forward, you press with the legs. If it doesn’t work, the pressure becomes stronger. If it still does not give reaction, the rider kicks with the legs or whip the horse. The horse’s reward becomes that the uncomfortable pressure or pain, caused by the rider, releases when the horse moves forward.
The method is based on making unwanted behavior difficult and uncomfortable through reinforced pressure, and rewarding the desired behavior by releasing the pressure. This works well for the horses learns pretty soon to start responding to lighter and lighter pressure to avoid consequences of discomfort or pain.
But pressure is not an aid. Pressure goes against the nature and instincts of horses and develops resistance and fear, because the method is based on discomfort and coercion.
When horses do not respond, it is believed that the aid was not strong enough, but in reality the aid was not light enough.
In this method in horse training with pressure and negative reinforcement, one does not benefit from developing a deep connection and contact between horse and human in training the horse.
The horse does not get away with the demands created by the trainer until the desired result is achieved.
This approach does not take the time to shape the horse’s behavior to have a desire to perform something, which he initially does not want to do.
The reinforced pressure is a threat based on fear and forces horses to submit to our will to do what they have been told.
It doesn’t matter to start with the lightest pressure. It’s still a threat for the horse that something worse will come if he doesn’t listen. Every time the horse submits to pressure against his will, whether it’s subtle or by aggression, he is diminshed.
Not letting a horse escape the trainer’s request and have the right to say no to guide his trainer, building insecurity in horses. If we persist and force the horse to do what he is told, he is treated as a subjugated creature, no matter how careful the approach is.
Giving a horse the opportunity to have a voice and respond positively or negatively without consequences, is valuable for building connection and trust between horse andman.
To express their feelings and participate voluntarily is life-enhancing for the horse and creates well-being and an enthusiasm for life, as well as an optimistic attitude for collaboration.
In this freedom, we offer time to pause and allow evolution to do its part.
In our relationship with horses, we need to practice more trust in the evolution of the learning process.
We need to avoid forcing a horse into things he doesn’t want to accept. If the horse says no, we should ask another question. A horse that refuses usually has a good reason. The horse is neither stupid nor lazy. The horse may be forced to continue performing, but often people do not understand the consequences of how the horse suffers.
A horse that has no choice but to obey and stick to our ideas, may be harmony for us, but is it for the horse?
HOW WE WORK WITH LIGHTNESS
Lightness is nothing to achieve, it’s not a goal. Lightness is there from the beginning.
My first experience of lightness and schooling of horses without negative reinforcement, I got during my education in French dressage master Philippe Karl’s school “The school of Lightness” from 2012 for his wife Bea Borelle.
Light pressure was used without escalating pressure or reinforced aids. As Philippe Karl says: ” Making the aids stronger is like shouting to someone who doesn’t understand your language.”
Instead, the horse was asked in lightness and given the chance to think and choose his response.
From another classical dressage master, I learned about an old work from ancient times – a time when they spent years getting the young horses used to touch. This is because they only educated them through harmony.
From the beginning of working with horses, the horse handling methods used were rooted in matriarchate, that is, women had the power in families and in leadership positions in society, and whose relationship-based cultures were once common.
These caring, interconnected cultures gave rise to a concept of beauty, symmetry and divine interconnection that was Pythagora’s philosophy.
Pythagora’s thought touched men of precious blood for centuries after his death. And these men created the doctrine that would become classical riding.
By this method, there is no resistance. One creates a habit of the mind of the horse that encourages to seek harmony with the rider. The horse is looking for the rider’s touch, and follows that touch to which it leads, and both are free to express themselves in a collaborative exchange.
In doing so, I learned to move and communicate with horses with touch instead of pressure and always work in lightness from the beginning. I developed The Art of Lightness™ in my training of horses and riders.
In the old French classical art of riding, the lightness is there from the beginning and the whole work through with the horses. It’s not something to achieve.
It is possible to train and communicate with horses without pressure and negative reinforcement for horses can feel a landing fly.
The foundation of the aids is touch and once we’ve established that’s all we need to use. We do not wait to work the horse in lightness after years of strong aids to get the horse “light”.
We work with connection, feeling and lightness from the beginning and the horse becomes our teacher. How light can the aids be? Like the weight of a rein. Like the weight of your mind.
So how do we learn lightness through lightness? Touch and not pressure? How do we learn to use the pause as a training aid instead of using coercion and pressure to get the horses to respond to our request?
We can use touch, vibrating, stimulation. Pausing before we give the horse a request gives us enough time to get full attention from the horse.
Pausing between each request will provide excellent timing to our communication aids and give us enough time to read our horse properly. Using the paus as a training aid will give the horse time to process and respond, or not respond, and this will create a great desire in a horse to follow our lead.
Using pause instead of pressure and correction, and asking in a relaxed way helps keep us in the flow of harmony.
We need to teach the horses the language of the aids. We need the horses to respond to minimal stimulation for our aids. It starts from the ground. Light as a fly we present an idea to the horse and see how the horse responds.
Touch impulse-like with your fingertips or a thin twig on the horse’s skin with the weight of a landing fly to stimulate the horse to take his first step. Never touch the horse harder than this. Pause and wait. Let the horse choose his response.
WHAT IS TOUCH?
There is a phase, a nuance before pressure – touch! Through touch, we do not use physical pressure but instead physical contact. Like a touch, like the weight of the hand, the weight of the rein.
Rhythmic stimulation that encourages movement. If there has been pressure, we have already done too much. Less is more! If we can guide a horse without using the muscles and without making a bulge in the skin, how would it change the way we use the reins and legs? Could we touch a water surface without breaking through?
In order not to take more than we need, we can’t even squeeze the skin. We just feel it. We listen to the horse. Even if the horse pulls the reins, jerks, presses our hand, we shouldn’t do any of this. To take enough is to slide on the surface of touch. It’s an art. It’s harmony. It’s the beginning of real art of riding.
HOW WE START
The first stage is to build connection and trust with the horse by spending very undemanding time with him in the pasture and then starting with Touch meditation with the horse free in the stall. We only use touch without direction, without a goal. Our only intention is to follow. We work over the horse’s body with our touch and listen to its response.
If the horse moves, we move along. When the horse has an interest in staying with our touch, we can start to suggest movement. This is the first step in developing aids with touch. The Art of Lightness.