Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Myth Buster - Treats in Training

Persistent Myths keep circulating among horse owners when it comes to treat rewards and their use in training

The following statements are MYTHS unless treats are used improperly. When treats are used without a solid strategy and consistency then those “myths” can turn into a reality.

“All your horse will do later is going to be food motivated”.

“You will end up having a horse that bites and searches your pockets constantly”.

“Your horse will never learn to respect you and will do nothing for you unless there is a treat involved.”

“When you use treats to teach your horse then you will forever have to give him a treat upon completing a certain task(s)”.

How to use treats the right way:

The basic rule is, give a treat as a reward for a job well done. In other words, ask your horse to do something in order to earn the treat. The keyword here is “earn”. Don’t just hand the treat out for nothing. It does not have to be a big complicated task you ask of your horse. Even a little something that takes only two seconds is great.

Why in the world should I do this, you ask? Well, it is all about the psychology behind it.
Always think of a treat as a bonus. The idea is similar to a person doing a great job at work and receiving an unexpected extra amount of money in their next paycheck. Just think what effect that has on the employee?
A bonus helps to raise your horses self-esteem and confidence, shapes his work ethic, brings in an element of fun, and fosters better decision making.

If your horse is rather timid and generally unconfident, bonuses will make him braver because the treat/bonus will function like an incentive for him to try something he would ordinarily avoid. Be gentle and reward even a small try at first. As he becomes a little braver you can gradually expect more before giving him the treat.

If your horse is rather dominant and resists many of your requests, the treat will help getting him into a mindset of finding purpose in working with you rather than against you. In this case though make sure you set a clear expectation of how well you expect him to perform before you give him the treat and stick to your plan. Otherwise, this kind of horse will tell you when you are to give the treat.

A word of caution. Please NEVER use a treat to trick your horse into something he is afraid of doing. For example if you had a horse who is afraid of being locked alone into the trailer don’t get him in there via some treats just to slam the door behind him and think you got something accomplished. See, a trick is a breech of trust – something damaging. This is NOT what this treating method is for. Never resort to tricks! The trust your horse places in you is the most precious thing you could receive. Honor it accordingly.

To sum it all up, this treating method is all about getting your horse TO WANT to do what you are asking him to do. The implications of the “I WANT” vs. “I HAVE TO” are far reaching and will be discussed in a different post.

above: Charlie is being handed a treat as a reward and also as a stretching exercise

This article was brought to you by Diana Shaffner. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at dianashaffner@gmail.com or visit www.DianaShaffner.com for more information.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Base Tension - What In The World Is It?

This short article by trainer Diana Shaffner examines and explains what base tension is, why it is important to know about, and how it can affect your work with your horse negatively.
This article does not aim to give detailed information about what to do to reduce this kind of tension in your horse. Other articles available within this website will offer specific strategies and explain helpful activities.

Probably, you are familiar with the idea of tension yourself. Even people who are not easily upset get tense from time to time. Tension starts in our minds and subsequently shows up in the body in the form of increased heart rate, tense muscles, and shallow breathing etc.  It also makes it hard to concentrate on much of anything. Tension puts your body into a flight or fight mode. At any rate experiencing tension is highly uncomfortable. The same is true for horses. However, because horses are prey-animals the negative effects of tension mentioned earlier are even more noticeable. Tense horses find it nearly impossible to concentrate on what you are asking them to do and are often very prone to spooking and bucking.

Tension in people as well as horses is caused in one of two ways:
1) a stress causing stimulus occurs and the individual becomes tense as a reaction to what just happend
2) a stressful situation is anticipated. The individual reacts with tension based on what he/she thinks is going to happen in the near future

Number 2 brings us to the explanation of “base tension”. When your horse is already tense by the time you get him groomed and saddles because he anticipates you asking him to do things he doesn’t feel ready for – you have base tension. Tension is already present at the outset of your planned activity. You are starting off with an already tense horse. In a situation like this you can expect some or all of the following:

- seemingly random spooks even in familiar areas and around familiar objects
- overly reactive
- on extremely high alert
- bracy
- potential for bucking

Detecting tension in your horse can be difficult if your horse is of a rather introverted personality type. Extroverts will give you lots of easily detectable signs. Introverted personalities tend to hold everything inside and may even seem calm to an untrained onlooker. However, inside the tension is mounting. A horse in this state is almost like a pressurized container with explosive gas in it. When the tension has reached a level that can no longer be contained you will likely see an enormous reaction that seemingly came out of nowhere. It is therefore very important to study various horse personality types and how to read them. Early intervention is key here.

Once your horse has “anticipatory fear” or “base tension” it will serve no purpose to do the same activity with him in the same manner that is causing him this fear. In fact often we see horses getting worse when this strategy is being used. Instead you will have to give him experiences of a different nature to eliminate the anticipation of something scary. Once he no longer anticipates something negative to happen and his confidence has increased you can work back into what was previously causing him the fear.

Very effective exercises and activities are available to help with this. They consist of a mixture of ground work and riding exercises.

This article has been brought to you by Diana Shaffner, Horse Behavior Professional and Equestrian Trainer. For more of Diana's articles please visit: www.DianaShaffner.com
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