Friday 2 July 2010

There are only 2 ways to train a horse...

I've been thinking recently about the myriad "training methods" for horses which are out there at the moment, each with their own guru (as often as not) and each presenting itself as THE way to train.

When you look more closely, there are numerous similarities and overlapping themes which link them (even if they try to deny it!) but the individual trainers are understandably more interested in emphasising why they are different - which in such a crowded marketplace is only to be expected.

From the horse's point of view, though, its much simpler - there are only 2 ways to train a horse to do something (lets call it Plan A). You either (the "Carrot") make Plan A intrinsically attractive so that the horse is happy to do it or (the "Stick") you make Plan B so unattractive that Plan A becomes the lesser of 2 evils.

In the real world, of course, there can be occasions when both techniques are used at once, and often neither is right or wrong. For instance, you can get a horse in from the field and away from his friends by putting a headcollar on and leading him, or (if he loves his breakfast!) you can simply let him know that breakfast is served and watch him gallop in of his own accord.

Still, I find the "Carrot" and "Stick" a useful way to demystify training techniques and look at horse's behaviour. Here, for example, we often have rehab horses who have "behavioural" issues - sharp, lazy, bad to load or travel or whatever. I am not a "trainer" - my job is not primarily to solve these behaviours but to improve hoof health, and therefore soundness, and get each horse moving as well as possible.

What is fascinating, though, is the number of times that "behavioural" problems simply go away once horses are sounder and have better feet. Its not because we used a "Stick" to make the horse behave differently, but because of the "Carrot": the horse now finds easy and comfortable something which was previously painful or difficult - end of training problem.

Admittedly, once a horse is feeling really well, you can have a whole new set of challenges to deal with ;-)

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