Positive Horsemanship.

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Buyer Beware!

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There seems to be a rise in video courses aimed at helping people help themselves. The expansion of social media makes it easy to disseminate information to the masses.

Whilst I feel there is a need for this type of learning and there are some excellent courses available online – please choose carefully.

Choose a course that is backed up by the science of learning, where the providers can answer your questions personally.

Recently I studied with Jo Hughes of the Academy of Positive Horsemanship and learned about the ethology, and body language of equids and how emotional systems cannot be separated from behaviour. This along with learning theory gives us the tools to help our horses.

Connection Training has just launched new courses on the theory and practice of positive reinforcement. Connection Training have many courses from basic horse handling to training lateral movements inhand and under saddle all using positive reinforcement.

Horses are individuals and we need to tailor our training to each one. There is no one size fits all – so next time someones says a horse is right brained or left brained ask them exactly what that means in terms of behavioural science. We know from human psychology that left and right brained theory is inaccurate. It may be better to think of horses being either optimistic or pessimistic, but beware of labels. Ask them to explain what they do in terms of positive and negative reinforcement.
Many natural horsemanship program sound kind to the horse but use a lot of negative reinforcement with varying degrees of escalating aversive stimuli. I am not saying we should never use negative reinforcement but be aware of how it affects the emotions of the horse.

We do not need to buy into a system, follow a particular clinician or even believe everything we are told, even the most experienced horse trainers get things wrong.

All quadrants of operant conditioning along with classical conditioning are useful and help us understand what we are reinforcing or punishing in our interactions with horses.

So it is up to each person to choose how and what they learn, I do feel that with the increasing price of lessons and the intrusion of health and safety and political correctness we have lost a valuable resource in our UK riding schools.

Many people buy horses and then learn by trial and error – to the detriment of the horse or they have a few lessons on well trained horses and think they can ride anything. Owning a horse is a big commitment and we owe it to them to learn as much as we can.

My background is BHS Stages 1 and 2 plus lessons with classical riders, and many years spent caring for horses. I was manager of a livery yard, for a while, I never stopped learning.

Recently I have been overcoming some confidence issues with help from some very supportive people – a psychologist and an excellent instructor and a lovely pony belonging to a friend.

The lesson on my daughters horse was good too – this is me and Smoke, yes I do use negative reinforcement when riding other peoples horses but now I know how and why it works.

My daughters horse Smokin Hotshot and me.

Smokin Hotshot


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