Sunday, 22 January 2012

Training Term of the Week

Shaping: gradually teaching a new behaviour through reinforcement until the target behaviour is achieved.

Have you ever played the “hot and cold” game? As the player gets closer to the prize, you yell “Hotter!”, telling him that he’s on the right track.

When I tell my horse that he’s on the right track, I reward the approximation of the behaviour. I call it rewarding the thought, or rewarding a try.

Sometimes the right try happens by accident, as if the horse is guessing. When teaching my horse to shorten his canter stride, I catch the moment he starts to shift his weight back in an attempt to collect himself. A turn on the haunches may begin with a transfer of weight onto his inside foot.

As with all training, timing is the key!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

When Evidence Bumps into Emotion

Why does that happen? How does it work? How do we know that’s true? I ask a lot of questions. There’s a wealth of information available. Reliable information-from researchers who have studied horse after horse and trainers who’ve had success after success, year after year.

Anecdotal evidence can get me into trouble – charismatic personalities can convince me with persuasive testimonies of their experiences. My emotions can get caught up in a great story.

The field of Equitation Science is about looking objectively into how horses learn and think. Dr. Andrew Mclean summarizes this idea as separating what is true from what I’d like to be true.

As I look at the evidence of how bits work, why cribbing begins or whether horses learn best by reward or negative reinforcement, it makes me think. Long held beliefs are now put to the test as I consider how saddle fit, turnout, nutrition, or the structure of the equine brain might affect a horse’s performance. Some of what I see might confirm what I’ve concluded in training hundreds of horses. But other facts may bump into the way I’ve always done things.

I think it’s human nature to manipulate facts somewhat to support our beliefs. In buffet style, we select the facts we prefer and ignore the ones that challenge us to change.

Horse training is not the only area in which feelings and facts can collide. Human nutrition. Child raising. And the larger issues of life, purpose and God.

I don’t want to build my life only on my emotion or the experience of the latest bestselling author…climbing up a ladder only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall!