Posts Tagged ‘brio’

I’m not a professional horsewoman. I’m an amateur who works her one horse into a crazy life packed with a full-time job, two young children and a husband who knows his primary competition for my affection is a gelding.

Of course, maybe if John had given birth twice, he’d better understand the draw of a gorgeous, docile gentleman with no aspirations of reproduction. I’ve mentioned more than once that my horse is the only creature who’s primary question to me is “What can I do for you?” rather than “What are you doing for me, and why isn’t it done yet?”

Not that I’m bitter.

But I treasure my horse’s brio above all his other qualities. I grew up with quarter horses, and I’m still a huge fan. But Sican is my third Peruvian, and he’s without question my favorite horse. All because of that giving, focused intelligence that’s the hallmark of our breed.

I appreciate that brio so much that I’m always on the lookout for better ways to communicate with him. For the past four years, I’ve taken lessons from Patti Haddon, a natural horsemanship trainer who worked with Ray Hunt for about 20 years. Patient groundwork when I first got him two years ago was critical to establishing a good bond and improving his confidence.

Before I got Sican, I used clicker training on our border collie. After several classes at my local Petsmart, that dog would pick up her toys, push a shopping cart and play my daughter’s toy piano on cue. She actually beat the store record for most tricks taught to a dog — I think we hit 37.

So I’m a big believer in clickers for dogs. But horses aren’t dogs. So I picked up some books by Alexandra Kurland specific to clicker training equines. About two weeks ago, I started Sican on some basic clicker exercises. He’s taken to it well so far. He’s not playing the piano just yet, but he’s standing better for clippers, touching things with his nose on a verbal command and tolerating ear “torture” better.

It’s a gradual process based on the principle of shaping and positive reinforcement.  Temple Grandin, the renowned autistic animal behaviorist, says the two primary motivators for horses are fear and curiosity. She encourages positive reinforcement — the horse moving toward something he eagerly anticipates — over negative reinforcement — the horse moving away from something he doesn’t like (leg pressure, the bit, etc.).

I see how this all works from the ground, but I’m scratching my head over doing this from the saddle. I’d love some tips on how to develop an overall training program with nothing but positive reinforcement.

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