This video was taken on the first afternoon and follows straight after Session 1. It was filmed after a 15 minute break. In this video I start by walking back and forth on my arc using approach and retreat. I am able to decrease the distance between us much quicker after the break. It doesn’t take long for Major Bob to take his first forward step towards me. I pick up my stick as I feel I need to move his feet a little but then he takes a few forward steps towards me and this is really big for him, so I change my plan. It is super important I stay flexible in my approach and I can adapt and change my plan according to his feedback. As I get closer to him I use approach and retreat by rocking my weight from one foot to the other while reading his thresholds. This allows me to work through his next threshold.
By going slow, never going past one of his thresholds and using approach and retreat and most importantly retreating at the right time I am creating curiosity and this will lead to building his trust and confidence in me. I start to desensitise him to the movement of moving my arm up and down as I want to be able to hold my arm up for him to touch but I step back and do this from a distance first. To keep his trust I need to break down every step into really small steps and prepare him for everything I am about to do next so nothing is unexpected. As the session develops I start to work on desensitisation of my arm moving up and down in closer to him. When I hold my arm up and he is initiating the touch towards me it’s important I stay really still and don’t move my arm towards him at all, also not to take it away, just hold it and wait for him to do what he needs to do. After a 10 minute break I move his feet around for the first time. Over the next few weeks I move between desensitisation and moving his feet. I will spent a lot more time with desensitisation but when he knows I can influence and move his feet in different directions and gaits and also stop him our communication and language will develop further.
I point with my hand and put soft energy in the stick to send him off, I don’t want him blasting around, just moving a few meters to start with. The moment he moves his feet I release and reward so he quickly starts to understand this new language. To stop him I softly stand in front of his drive line using the angles of the round yard. You will notice that my posture, energy and communication cues are completely different when I ask him to move his feet compared to when I am desensitising him and want him to stand still. Over years of practise I intuitively feel when I need to move a horse’s feet so I can then progress further with the next step. This is a real balancing act when working with young horses that have limited handling (or a wild brumby….). I believe there is nothing wrong with negative reinforcement (pressure and release) when training horses.
I believe it’s all in how you use it. Negative reinforcement is a great way to develop a language and communication with horses if you are mindful of each horse’s sensitivity, you don’t go past each horse’s thresholds, you are super clear in your communication cues and you know how to release the pressure at exactly the right time. People run into trouble with negative reinforcement when they put too much pressure on the horse and then release the pressure at the wrong time. Then the horse can get stressed, confused and anxious which can then lead to behavioural problems. I also believe in positive reinforcement (touch, scratches and sometimes food treats). Both of these have a place in my training program, it’s all in how you use each approach.