Thursday, May 2, 2019

Methods to The Madness Part II: Climbing out of the valley of dispair

Oak and Grayson first meeting
After Bodhi died I had to do the lonely horse shuffle (when you start down the twisting  path of getting animals because your current horses need friends) which meant I had to start from scratch again building relationships with my new horses. I started to seek out resources again on horse training methods and philosophies and was astounded by how much the positive reinforcement horse world had exploded. I had sort of lost touch because I had been busy with graduate school and then new jobs. Also, I had kinda forgotten how hard starting horses was since it had been 8 years since I had first started Bodhi, so I guess I was a bit complacent.  Back in 2007 there were a couple of books by Alexandra Kurland ,Shawna Karrasch and Sharon Foley and a few websites were starting to pop up. When I plugged back in in 2016 there were tons of blogs, Facebook groups, Instagram influencers, and best of all local trainers and clinics! I was beyond excited and started just binging content.

Here are some samples of concepts that I have recently been chewing on:

 In general I have been learning more about the negative impacts of punishment, stress, and adversives on the learning and general well-being in horses. I have also been learning a lot of new concepts and considerations (I am just listing some examples here, and I am trying to include resources if you want to read more).
I was really loving learning all these complexities and considerations, but if I am being honest I am feeling a little overwhelmed too. Will I ever be able to be able to know enough to be the effective, ethical, and kind trainer I want to be? Innocence is truly bliss and all of a sudden I was seeing all these signs of stress in my horses that I did not know were there before whether I was training with the clicker or with pressure and release. I was often reminded of this chart of learning --- I am definitely in the valley of despair right now!


Look at that cute face!

Which brings me to now. How do I climb the slope of enlightenment and get to the plateau of sustainability (this sounds like a terrible video game)? I still have this baby horse (Mr Grayson) that needs training and now I have more knowledge than ever (for me) but absolutely no idea what my way forward should be. To add further complexity (yay) Gray is a more complicated horse than Bodhi was. He is both more confident and playful than Bodhi but also more sensitive and reactive. He also has the added layer of being very hesitant to move forward, both in part because of his personality and the long list of injuries that he has acquired in his short life that either cause pain and stiffness, or memories or pain and stiffness.

In order to climb up the slope, I have decided to go back to something simple to regain a sense of stasis again and to give me something solid and actionable to move forward with. SO I bought a membership to the Tristan Tucker training modules. Which is very much unlike me, because I normally just glean the info I can from books and free content I find and I don't normally "buy in" to training programs marketed as systems. But right now I have just too much floating around in my head, and I needed something to focus on.

So  I chose TRT because the training philosophy kinda spoke to me for addressing Gray's specific challenges -- mainly a lack of self control/impulse control and awareness and also a lack of ease/relaxation in the body. I also like that he does not spend a lot of time talking about dominance theory (pet peeve) and that he has a dressage background.  I know he really is just another pressure and release/negative reinforcement clinician, but I do like the packaging of shaping the horse to have self control over his reactions and body. Gray needs help with controlling his own emotions and feet more than any other horse I have worked with. Also, I feel like I have a firm technical grasp of the applications of negative reinforcement, but I have focused on clicker training for so long I really need help getting better in my application of pressure release, and TRT is as good as any to teach me that I think.
We are at least getting better pictures now with TRT #closetalker

I feel like I also need to add a caveat -- I am definitely not saying that I could not address Gray's problems with 100% positive reinforcement. Actually I know of a ton of amazing clicker trainers that are doing just that with horses that have similar issues.

I am not sure what has made me choose TRT over clicker this time. It just feels like the right thing to do I guess.  Maybe I making this all sound like some sort of logical progression, but I actually feel like this has been a very intuitive journey --- just following what feels right to me. I felt like Bodhi led me to learning about clicker training and postive reinforcement, Oak led me to learning about acceptance vs. tolerance, and Gray is now leading me towards learning about how to help a horse with body awareness and emotional control. I know it is a clichĂ© but, my horses are the real teachers. I am not sure where this journey is taking me, but I am trying really hard to relax and enjoy the process.




13 comments:

  1. I hear you about this. this is the first time I have ever subscribed as well. I hope it works for you. One of the perspectives I am getting from this is that it is, in some ways, getting the horse to positively reinforce their selves. I like that idea.

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    1. One of the other reasons I picked him was to be able to share experiences with people like you. That makes it more enjoyable. And yes that was a big motivator for me too. Helping to develop an intrinsically motivated horse through making them just *feel* better. :)

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  2. I've been wrestling with my mare's personality since we got her and I think one of the keys I need to unlock is helping her with her confidence level. I'm still mulling it over so don't want to make any leaps to conclusions right now but hopefully I'll be able to share progress as well. Can't wait to hear about Gray some more

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    1. It is good you are taking your time and not jumping to any conclusions. Patience is so important to understanding horses.... it is not something that comes easily to me :)

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  3. Sounds like you've mapped out a game plan. Looking forward to following along. :D

    Don't know if you've visited Anna Blake's blog - someone I would give anything to train with. She frequently writes about calming signals in her posts.

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    1. Yes I really like Anna Blake and her writing too. I just found this one about calming signals and holding grudges and found a lot to relate to: https://annablake.com/2019/05/03/calming-signals-and-holding-a-grudge/

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  4. Wandered through from.... some other blog :D I can't remember which, I opened a bunch of tabs :)

    The link to TRT looks very interesting. I'm reading up on training in preparation for getting my new boy home later this month (kill pen rescue of indeterminate amount of training- theoretically broke to at least a 'regular usin' horse' (as my grandad used to call them- basically meaning they PROBABLY won't run off with you and at least have a go and a whoa) level. My goals aren't super lofty (trails, maybe some endurance- dressage looks super fun but it's not accessible here in my very rural area) but it's been interesting reading up and seeing how much stuff has crossed over from dog training in the last few years from when I last really read up on horse training. It's cool that the concept of trigger stacking and calming signals seem to have really caught on and become widely known!

    (also, adding you to my blogroll over at Mountain Spirits, hope you don't mind!)

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    1. Welcome! I am glad you found us. ;) Sounds like you have a fun adventure ahead of you. My horse Oak was a "kill-pen rescue" too. He was sold as a kids horse, but was far from it.

      Can you leave a url for your blog so I can come visit? I can't find it from your profile.

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    2. Woops - yeah, I'm over on wordpress so it's wonky. :) (Thinking about swapping over to blogger because the free version of WP is so bleh, but I haven't decided yet.) Mtnspirits.wordpress.com :)

      Currently nameless pony wasn't labeled as kid safe, just 'well broke'. I was Teh Dumb and just liked the look in his eyes. He likes people, and we'll figure out the rest when he gets here.

      Anna Blake's stuff is okay but I'm not sure I 100% fnd it terribly convincing. Calming signals are definitely a thing (and if you haven't read it and watched the DVD, Turid Ragaas's original work on calming signals in dogs is well worth a look) but I don't totally agree with how some of it is intepreted in dogs (social scavenger carnivores) vs horses (social prey animals). I was supposed to be going to a talk about wild horses here in NM tomorrow but I'm going to have to drive a dog to the airport instead- I'd really like to do some more learning about wild (well feral, but close enough) horse social structures and behavior and am lucky enough to live where that's actually possible. :)

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    3. You are not dumb, a good look is as good a reason to pick a horse as any. :)

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  5. Reading and researching is always a good way to further our education. Good luck with your new system.

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  6. Fascinating stuff - thanks for sharing. I'm always looking to learn and build up my tool box with ideas.

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