Remember: The severity of a correction must be in proportion to the severity of the offense. You must learn to read a wrong response accurately to correct it properly. There are three kinds of wrong responses.
• The horse just draws a blank and doesn’t understand what you want him to do. In this case, you just continue the cue or repeat the cue.
• The horse knows what you want him to do, but the response that you have gotten from him has not yet become consistent. In this case, you just reinforce the cue with a stronger leg or stronger hand or more exaggerated motion.
• The horse responds with blatant disobedience. If this is the case, you enforce the cue with as much pressure as it takes to get a response, but always make sure that as soon as a clear, correct response is given, you give a release from pressure. When the horse is blatantly disobeying, it is okay if you have to brace and pull with both hands as long as you still release immediately when he gives the response.
Too much punishment can be defined as using force, pressure or a severe reprimand after you have gained the correct response. That might happen this way: You ask the horse to move his body with your leg. No response. You continue to ask. This time, he still doesn’t move away from your leg but actually leans into you. Then you really ask with a lot of pressure and he just leans into you again. Now, your next move is to keep exerting the pressure, gradually engaging the spur and putting on as much pressure, steadily, as you can, until he finally moves away. The instant he moves away, your spurring has to cease. If you don’t stop the pressure when the horse responds, it is too much punishment.
Nor does riding have a place for emotion in the process of interacting or carrying on this conversation with a horse. It makes no more sense to get angry at a horse than it does to get irritated at a rock.
There’s also no place for excessive personification. Horses do not have the range of emotions that humans have.
You never want to punish the horse out of anger, but don’t be afraid to correct a horse. Because he learns that an attitude of obedience and acceptance can allow him to get along, you save him from abuse later because he has learned the limits early.
Conversely, the more the horse is forced, the more his natural reactions, as far as fear and flight go, overcome the conditioned responses that you’re trying to instill. When that happens, he’s no longer able to react with confidence. All he can do is to try, as quickly as possible, to avoid or stop the pain. A lot of training is done by force, using equipment or rider strength to muscle a horse into the desired behavior.
Forcing a horse to work doesn’t teach a conditioned response —it instills an attitude of avoidance.
That skill of avoiding pain builds and grows just like the attitude of acceptance or cooperation in the other scenario. Like the horse that begins to respond more and more quickly to a cue, this horse learns how to better avoid the pain.
Eventually, the horse that’s trained through force becomes so good at avoidance that he can avoid 95 percent of what you’re trying to do.
For example, The horse that has been taught to turn around, back up and change leads to avoid pain and force eventually becomes so good at avoidance that he avoids walking through the gate in the first place. Or he reverts to that natural flight instinct and “runs off” on a loose rein when he gets into the pen. The jumper does a U-turn before the jump; the rope horse refuses to go into the box; the Western pleasure horse begins to anticipate commands; and so on.
Dick Pieper is internationally recognized as a horseman’s horseman and this iconic individual has influenced and developed the careers of riders and trainers for decades. After fifty plus years in the horse industry, his name has come to stand for a special brand of arena excellence that never compromised the welfare of the horse.
For more information go to dickpieper.com
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 2