Horse Training Perception, A Big Misconception, A Surprising
Clarification, A Revealing Question… Plus, My Personal
Horse Training Philosophy
Larry Trocha here.
Before you start reading this issue of the "Horse Training Tips Insider", I want to make an important clarification.
There are many professional horse trainers and wanna-be professional trainers who read this newsletter.
This particular issue was written primarily for them. It was also written for ALL riders who are interested in doing well in show competition.
If you do not fall into these specific categories, it's probably best if you stop reading now.
For many people, to continue reading will only cause them to get angry… and I really don't want that. I'd much rather have a positive, feel-good relationship with my readers.
With that said, let me get started.
Dear Professional (or Would-Be Professional) Horseman,
Thought I'd follow up on the "Horse Training Tips Insider" I sent out a while back, titled "Horse Training 911".
The response to it was huge!
It caused a lot of passionate (and heated) controversy.
A BIG MISCONCEPTION:
After reading what I wrote in that newsletter, many people think I'm AGAINST Natural Horsemanship.
Some readers thought I was telling Sue that NH and clicker training didn't work and that those training techniques were responsible for her troubles.
If you'll re-read what I wrote, you'll notice I told Sue it was her "PERCEPTION of horse behavior" that was causing the problem.
As a professional horseman…
I view Natural Horsemanship the same way I do any other method of horse training.
If it works for you, use it… If not, don't.
Let me make this clear… There are some NH trainers who I feel are really good hands with a horse. Good trainers.
And of course, just like in any other profession, there are some NH trainers who are not so good.
To my way of thinking, there actually is no such thing as "natural" horsemanship.
There is only "horsemanship".
Either good horsemanship or bad horsemanship.
Either a good understanding and communication with horses or poor communication.
Either effective horse training or ineffective horse training.
The term "Natural Horsemanship" is simply a NAME it's originator thought of to market his horsemanship clinics and dvds.
An absolutely BRILLIANT name to be sure. True marketing genius. (And yes I'm envious. I wish I'd thought of it first =o)
Anyway, I have no problem with the actual training techniques. For the most part, they're fine.
What I DO have a problem with is many people's PERCEPTION of what NH is.
Oftentimes the "perception" is an emotional, idealistic fantasy or something totally unrealistic.
I've actually had NH fans chastise me for wearing spurs. They pointed out that Pat would NEVER wear them, nor does he need them.
Fact is, in most of his dvds, Pat's wearing spurs.
The point being…
People believe only what they WANT to believe.
The actual FACTS seem to be inconsequential.
Thousands of people embrace NH believing it's something it actually isn't.
Many are attracted to it because of their PERCEPTION of achieving a deep EMOTIONAL connection that will take them to the highest level of "oneness" with their horse.
However, it never occurs to them the only emotions involved here are THEIRS. Not the horse's.
And of course, the ADVERTISING used to promote NH is mostly responsible for that.
Promoting it this way is very appealing to a certain kind of person. And it's this type of person NH tends to attract.
Unfortunately, it's also this type of person which gives NH a "less than credible" reputation in the world of professional horse training.
And no, I'm not saying that to be vindictive or hurtful. It's simply a well-known fact. Common knowledge among professional horsemen.
Along with the emotional aspect above, here's part of the reason why…
Go to a typical NH exhibition and look at the folks in the stands. You'll see quite a few people there who look like pet owners who just attended a renaissance fair.
You'll see plenty of those leather, hippy/cowboy hats (or those curled-up country/western music hats).
You'll see lots of brass, "Coors Lite" belt buckles (or belt buckles with an "eagle" on it). And you'll see plenty of folks who are there simply for the ENTERTAINMENT value alone.
What you normally WON'T see is a quality, well-shaped, western hat. You WON'T see a silver "Championship" belt buckle. And you probably WON'T see anybody who looks like they might ride a winning, performance horse.
Is EVERYBODY there like the people I described above?
Of course not.
There's plenty of average, every-day horse people there too. You're just not as aware of them because the "renaissance fair" folks stand out so much.
As a professional horseman or a soon-to-be professional horseman, you should be aware of the NH niche and try to understand it if you plan on making a living serving this audience.
Now, don't expect these folks to put a horse in training with you for any length of time, no matter how good of a horse trainer you are.
However, they might like to attend your exhibitions and clinics and they darn sure might buy your dvds and tack.
Just be aware, if you're not going down the road as a professional clinician, it's pretty tough to make a living with this crowd.
When in doubt, emulate the marketing tactics of the NH founder and you won't go far from wrong.
If you are a Natural Horsemanship fan and you elected to read this (even though I urged you not to), I'm sure it's upsetting to hear me talk about NH as merely a marketing tactic to attract customers for it's founder's products.
I'm truly sorry if you are offended by this but it's simply the truth.
Just like everybody else, the founder of NH is in "business" to make money (that's why he has a business). Without "customers", he doesn't have a business (or food).
I realize you were hoping he had some higher, altruistic reason but that's just reality (and there's nothing wrong with that).
After I published the "Horse Training 911" newsletter, I had quite a few people inquire about "CLICKER" training. Wondering if it's something they should know about.
Well, just like I said earlier, I tell people to simply judge it the same way they would any other horse training technique.
If it works for you, use it… If not, don't.
It's my OPINION "clicker training" is just as mis-understood by the average horse owner as natural horsemanship.
People's PERCEPTION of it, not being what it actually is.
Same as any other training technique, clicker training requires understanding, skill and excellent timing to get good results.
There is a lot more to it than most people think. It is NOT the same as mindlessly bribing a horse with treats. (like many horse owners do)
In the hands of a competent trainer…
The treat is merely a TOOL used in association with the clicker. And the clicker is a tool used in association with the correct response.
Only a correct response (or an honest try) is rewarded.
Timing the click/treat to the correct response or "try" is what tells the horse if he's on the right track.
A good trainer will get the horse to "SEARCH" for the right answer and through trial and error, figure out what the trainer is trying to get him to do.
The end result (ideally)… the horse willingly executes the desired response. And he does so because he associates POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT with the act of doing it.
I'm over simplifying here but you get the general idea.
You'll hear some folks say, "clicker training is GREAT for training circus animals and dolphins/seals for the military service". That it's outstanding for those applications.
They also say it's a good way to teach a horse "tricks" or for creating and reinforcing a particular "behavior" you'd like a horse to do.
From what I've seen, I believe those folks are mostly right.
However, for training a PERFORMANCE HORSE, as in reining, cutting, barrel racing etc… I'm not convinced it's applicable.
A performance horse is trained to respond to the rider's hands, legs and body… those are our tools. That's how we COMMUNICATE with the horse.
And it's this type of communication that is effective and understood by the horse, no matter how many VARIABLES are present in the immediate situation.
The "application" of pressure and the "release" of pressure is how that communication is initially established.
The horse learns to "search" for the desired response to get the "release".
Once the correct response is learned, "pressure" is seldom needed… only a light "SUGGESTION" of pressure.
The end result (ideally)… a horse that understands and willingly responds to its rider's slightest suggestion (in all situations).
Other than personal preference, why would a competent trainer need a clicker or a treat to teach that?
Plus, even if you tried…
I sincerely doubt you would be able to teach a horse the FORM and STYLE necessary to compete and WIN at the shows.
Let's use the kind of stop required of a REINING horse as an example.
Do I believe you can teach a horse to come to a sudden STOP by using clicker training?
Yes, most definitely.
Do I believe you can you use clicker training to teach a horse to STOP…
AND at the SAME TIME…
flex at poll… relax his lower jaw… give to the rider's hands… bend his back and push… lock his hind legs while elevating his shoulders and keeping his front legs loose… gauge the "length" and "depth" of the stop wanted by the rider, adjust and vary the type of stop needed because of the variables of different arenas and footing?
I seriously doubt it.
Can it be used to teach a horse to do a CORRECT spin with the kind of FORM, STYLE and CONTROL necessary to WIN?
I've never seen it.
Go to YouTube.com and you'll see all kinds of "attempts".
If you feel I'm wrong about this… simply show me the PROOF. Send me the link to the video.
If I'm wrong, I'll be more than happy to eat CROW.
And no, the video of that palomino colt swapping ends and twirling around like a possessed maniac, does NOT qualify.
That colt is merely a caricature of a circus horse, frantically performing his "trick" hoping somebody will reward him for it and give him a treat.
Pretty tough for a horseman to watch something like that.
Nor does that poor old, grey stallion qualify… plopping around, trying to do something that kind of resembles a spin.
In the video, the trainer (she markets her own training dvds) says she's been working on the maneuver for ONLY FIVE YEARS.
A REVEALING QUESTION:
As a professional or a would-be professional trainer, I'd like to ask you a few direct and simple questions. They're pretty easy to answer.
And answering them honestly can really help you find the path you might want to emulate.
Okay, let's get started. Here's the first question.
If you made your living by training and showing horses in competition, would you be interested in knowing training techniques that enabled you to win?
I believe its a safe bet that most people would say, "yes, most definitely".
After all, it's pretty tough to have a successful horse training business unless you do well at the shows. That's how you get customers, right?
Okay, now let's up the ante…
What if MILLIONS OF DOLLARS in prize money and future business was available to you if all you had to do was consistently WIN or PLACE at the major shows?
No matter how difficult, would you be willing to seek out the BEST training techniques in order to give your horses a winning edge?
If millions of dollars were at stake, would you be willing to try absolutely ANY and ALL training techniques under the sun to get that edge?
Again, it's a pretty sure bet and I think you'd agree, most people would say, "yes, absolutely".
Now, after answering those questions… I'd like to share with you some FACTS.
There are hundreds of professional horsemen (both Western and English) who actually ARE in the exact position I described above.
You will see them at the biggest, the toughest to win… and the highest paying horse competitions in the WORLD.
Their professional career and financial security directly tied to how well their horses are trained.
Considering the questions you answered above, now answer this…
Have you seen ANY of these premiere professionals prescribe to natural horsemanship or clicker training?
Just a simple yet revealing question.
HORSE TRAINING PHILOSOPHY:
I'm aware what I wrote above will upset some NH and Clicker fans.
They will accuse me of being prejudice, unfair, stupid etc, etc, etc.
They will argue about how their chosen training discipline is the best. It's the ONLY one that's truly natural or it's the only one that's humane.
In reality, those folks suffer from tunnel vision.
Fortunately, high-level competition has the effect of eliminating tunnel vision and opening a person's eyes to reality.
If you feel your training style is the best, all you have to do to prove it is… go enter a big show and see how you do.
A true HORSEMEN understands there is no ONE training technique that is going to be appropriate for ALL situations under ALL circumstances.
That's just common sense.
My area of expertise is training performance horses… cutters, reiners etc. The methods I use to train them produce outstanding results… FOR THAT TYPE OF HORSE.
Now lets say I wanted to train a "Liberty" horse or an exhibition "Trick" horse?
Do you think my "performance horse" training methods would achieve good results?
I sincerely doubt it.
My methods simply aren't a good fit for that application.
And unlike many NH and clicker "fanatics", I wouldn't bother trying to convince anybody otherwise?
The point being…
There are a jillion different ways to train a horse. Each "way" having a particular situation (or riding discipline) where it fits best.
Doesn't matter if we are talking about performance horse training methods, natural horsemanship or clicker training.
None of them are going to be RIGHT for ALL situations.
The person who believes otherwise, hasn't trained very many horses.
Horsemen who possess a WIDE RANGE of knowledge are the ones who can train a horse to do just about anything.
Legends like, Jimmy Williams, Clyde Kennedy and Greg Ward are good examples.
These men were capable of training winners in just about any riding discipline.
The reason they could was because they were VERSATILE.
They didn't limit themselves by practicing only ONE way of doing things.
I'm amazed by the people who pass over great horse training information simply because they believe it isn't for them.
A good example is the "SPOOKING" video clip on my home page.
In that clip, I show how to solve many problems related to other things besides spooking.
Yet, the average horse owner feels he'd be wasting his time by watching it.
WHAT A LIMITING BELIEF!
If you want to get good at training horses… you need to expose yourself to a WIDE RANGE of training concepts.
You never know… something you learn in relation to training pleasure horses might really help you train reining horses.
You gotta keep an open mind.
You gotta be willing to let your prejudices go.
Okay, that's all for now.
Tell me what you think about this issue by posting your comment (good or bad) below.
Larry Trocha Training Stable