Are We Different and Herd Dynamics
A question posed to the ClickRyder list:
I have been having some discussions off-list with others about herd
dynamics. I will quote a little here:
>>>Herd dynamics are interesting, but not necessarily the way I want to
to my horse or have my horse relate to me.<<<
>>Isn't that interesting. I know from your website etc that you are into
clicker training and for myself I have chosen not to pursue clicker training
as I think study of the herd dynamic is the way I want to go at this stage.
do you think that is generally the way it goes? Those that go for clicker
tend to leave the herd dynamics and those that go for herd dynamics tend to
leave the clicker? Or is it just us?<<
I would like to know what clicker trainers think of herd dynamics and how
they do or do not incorporate this into their horse relationships.
Additionally, this brought me to another thought:
This list has a certain "flavor" different from other lists. Members seem
to have a "special" outlook on their horses and training. Even our
professional trainers are right in there with us, discussing things, making
suggestions, also asking for hints. Everyone is on the same level and there
is respect of others opinions.
Are we different?
I work mostly with donkeys and for those of you that don't know much about
these lovely creatures, it's almost impossible to get them to work in a round
pen. Sending them away. They just won't do it. Mine won't anyway and I
have heard the same from many others. It's almost impossible to get a donkey
to lunge also. They just can't see the point in going in circle I guess.
I've been working with the clicker for about 2 months now and have come so
much further with the donkey training than anything I have ever tried before.
I also work with 3 mules and they are a bit different from the donkeys.
More prone to the flight instinct than the donks. It seems to me that I come
away from our training sessions as calm and collected as the longears do.
I tend to relax around the donks more than the mules. It's just their
disposition that makes it this way. They are like big dogs and always want
to be near you. The mules, on the other hand, have been somewhat
intimidating to me. Since working with the mules with the clicker, I find
myself more self assured and they have picked up on this. You can see it in
their eyes and actions. They are looking at me with new respect.
Not sure if this is what you are talking about with herd dynamics but gave me
a good excuse to let you know how I feel about clicker training. Everyone on
this list have the luckiest horses, donkeys, mules around because of your
training. I only wish people would be more open minded about what you can do
with the clicker.
To answer the question "are we different?" Absolutely!! CT opens the door
to a happy, relaxed and mutually trusting relationship between horse and
human. It allows us to communicate and bond in a way we both understand. It
also encourages our horse/s to want to participate ("play") with us and keeps
things interesting and fun (especially good for those horses with the VERY
active minds! LOL.) I cringe when I hear people say "my horse just LOVES
Dressage, or Hunters, or WP, or....whatever. I can watch many of these
people and the interaction they have with their horse and it looks anything
but positive and loving to me, and I wouldn't use the word LOVES anything to
describe the expression or posture of their horse. But just ask them and
they'll tell you "my horse LOVES.....", well, you get the picture. Keeping
things positive is my main goal in any relationship I have with horses and CT
always keeps things headed in that direction.
Regarding herd dynamics: I believe that people are always relating to
their horses from a herd dynamic standpoint whether they know it or not.
Just petting a horse through the fence is "herd" interaction. Whether the
horse snuffles your hand or takes a nip at you through the fence, thats just
the horse seeing where you and s/he stand in this "herd-of-two". Where I
think some people miss the boat on believing you can only do one or the other
(herd dynamics or CT, but not both) is that they don't see the value in
combining the two. They feel that CT is bribery, not realizing that there is
no treat (whether food or scratching the horse in their favorite spot) until
the desired behavior is produced. They choose to believe they are
interacting in the best and only way possible by using the herd dynamic, but
if the mind would open a little more, they would see that anything that makes
bonding and positive interaction with our horses possible, is a GOOD thing!
Once again, if people would keep their minds open to all the positive
options available (and this includes CT, herd interaction, NH, Dressage
fundamentals, etc) everyone would be having a much happier time with their
horses. Having fun and having a truly bonded realtionship with our horses,
isn't that what it's all about? :-)
I think so. To study clicker training is to study behavior modification in
the larger sense. You see how it applies to all living things. Who said
clicker training works with "anything with a brain stem.... most humans
apply!" ?? IOW these are principles that we have accepted work for ANY
individual doing ANYthing. Whether it is the horse doing the dressage or
the rider riding it! So from this perspective we are considerably empowered
over others with the same basic set of skills. Also, I think we see the
value of reinforcing the behavior we want. More so than others do. That
means in all interactions, including people. So, get a group of clicker
trainers together and instead of posturing you get a lot of, "you GO girl,
click YOU!" ;-) Which is of course completely contagious. (grin)
Re herd dynamics. One thing that comes to my mind is that there *is* a
dynamic at work and it behooves us to understand horses in their natural
state as much as possible. I don't happen to believe that horses view us as
other horses and don't particularly buy into the alpha mare thing. However,
understanding how my horse views herself (after all she IS a horse!) may
help me to tap a little further into her mind. By the same token,
understanding clicker training (or rather I should say the whole behavior
modification/operant conditioning thing) makes it possible to watch non
clicker trainers working and see how and what they are doing that is
successful, and WHY. *They* may have devised a way of explaining something
that uses, say, the language of herd dynamics which suits them. But the
fact of the matter is, if you watch closely you can see why (based on the
laws of behavior and learning) why it is working--or not as the case may be.
Same goes for dressage. There is a whole dressage specific set of rhetoric
which is pretty incomprehensible. Like, the horse must engage his
hindquarters, come over the topline, and step into the bridle.... oh
really? And, how does the horse know to do that?? ;-) Anyway, that is
what they SAY but if you watch a good trainer you can SEE what they are
doing that makes them so successful, and it can all be explained based on
the principles of clicker training. Equally importantly you can understand
what is going wrong in situation in which the training ISN'T going well.
I think understanding clicker training is a very powerful bit of knowledge.
People that don't know these principles are a big disadvantage. They have
been forced to conclude sometimes silly sounding, sometimes down right
erronous notions that are totally experiential. IOW they only have what
they have haphazardly have "figured out". Thing is, these hard won
conclusions which seeeeeeeeeem to work just fine, are pretty ingrained. The
nice thing about clicker trainers is that they see learning as a template.
If we get a bad outcome, or a good one!, we can map it into the bigger
picture without feeling like we have to unravel everything we thought we'd
learned so far. This happens a lot in the dressage world. There are so
many ways of saying the same incomprehensible rhetoric that people get
confused when they hear it a different way. But but but they say, so-and-so
said.... And if it doesn't fit, someone had to be "wrong." But the
person coming at it from a c/t view can easily see how anything can be right
or wrong at a given moment. Just depends on what criteria you are
reinforcing at the moment.
I would say you are!!! I don`t have any exact comment to your question, but I would like to add my opinion about this list!!!
I haven`t been on the list for long, but it sure is a great list to be a part of. Everyone is welcome, same what kind of horse, level, or for what reason you got your horse. Everyone is respected for their opinion, and you don`t feel foolish for asking "stupid questions". (That you accually really are wondering about) People try to help the best they can. The clicker it self is a wonderful tool to communicate with, and make you see the whole picture in a new way. Instead of geting angry and frustreted - you try something else. What all you people do, wich I also see in my self, is if there`s some trouble with the horse, look at your self - the complete situation. It`s no : He have to learn who`s the boss" in the hard way. It`s built on both way trust, and of the respond of the horse. Even though I`ve got some trouble using it, I wouldn`t change our "nowadays way of training". We get the results - in a gentle way.
I also love the way those of you who are trainers respond. There`s no "I know better than you"-attitude here. And you seem open for other solutions.
I`m very glad I found you all. You all are a big help, and you all seem to be lovely people!!!
Re: Herd Dynamics - I think all of us want to understand
and relate as closely as possible with our horses, so, yes,
I would say herd dynamics is important to us. I find
myself observing my horse a lot. I'm always interested
to watch him with other horses. It gives me an indication
of his feelings at the moment.
I want my horse to be in the habit of responding to me,
so when we are working together I'm constantly asking
him to do things. I don't do it with a feeling of needing
to prove my dominance to him, I do it so he's in the habit
of me being the "active" partner.
Are we different?
Yes. The posts are longer and have more valuable information
in them. Even a friendly little update or note of encouragement
to another list member often has a good idea for a new "game."
I feel like we're all exploring our own potentials with our
partner animals. It's intense, creative, personal, inter-species
growth that we do, then connect with each other to share. It is
pretty unique, I think.
I do incorporate herd dynamics into the training of my animals. I don't know that I completely believe my horses
see me as another horse, but I believe that when you learn herd dynamics you are learning to speak "horse". It
is a way to communicate and make yourself understood. Kind of like learning Spanish or French or....... I may
not communicate fluently in any language, but by learning a little of that language I can make myself
understood. Does that make sense? By incorporating the clicker, I think of it as throwing in hand gestures and
head nods. To restate it a little better, learning herd dynamics is like learning the language of horse, and
using the clicker reinforces the language the same way that hand gestures and head nods can reinforce the meaning
you are trying to get across..... Does that sound sensible? Or am I way off here?
Are we different?
I am on several different lists. There are only two that I have been on where everyone respects everyone else's
opinion. They may not agree with it, but they don't flame. They discuss. The people aren't interested in one-upmanship. They are truly interested in helping and spreading new
ideas. I really appreciate that. Not only have I learned things on this list, I have also changed my
perspectives on many things. Unless you have exposure to different methods, how can you round out your tool
chest of training tools?? Thanks to everyone out there......
I am aware that a herd of horses has a structural hierarchy just as a pack of
dogs or wolves does. I hear the word "Alpha" being tossed around and applied
to horses that dominate the herd. I have trained/handled hundreds of dogs,
and never had to act like one get respect. I believe the same is useful here
with horses. It is my own opinion that we can get into trouble when we try to
behave like a species we are not! I can give many examples with dogs... such
as the popular "alpha roll" that many trainers endorse to make the owner to
be part of the "pack." I have also seen the resulting aggression in ~some~
breeds that didn't take to well with this type of training. You really have
to know what you are doing to "go there" with a true alpha dog...and I think
the same could apply to horses.
My relationship with my horses is that "yes I am different, I am not a horse
and I don't care what your standing is with the herd, they aren't here now."
I have found herd position to be irrelevant with the horses I am training.
There has been no correlation between the rank and the ability for them to
learn and form a bond with me. I don't even think about it. I think it is
helpful to learn how herd structure, in general, operates so we can find ways
to more effectively communicate, but overall it is of not much value IMO as
we change all the rules they know as soon as we climb on their backs!
As for us being different? Yes. I think we are. All of us focus on the
relationship rather than the training of our horses. Maybe that's the
A human can't be a horse, but a human can be "alpha" or dominant in a herd
situation or in a one-on-one interaction, just as the horse can be dominant
with humans. I don't know how to be a horse, but I do know how to
communicate that I am the leader. I would do this with my calm demeanor, my
body language and posture, etc. You don't have to be of the same species in
order to have a pecking order. Different species are quite capable of
"sizing up" others and advancing, retreating or settling into a mutual
respect relationship. The latter is the kind I have with all my horses. As
always, just my opinions and experiences. :-)
In reading some of the posts regarding herd dynamics and others on
Mark Rashid, I thought I'd tell you about a lecture I went to by Mark at
Kah-Ne-Ta Indian Reservation in Oregon.
Mark spoke about how some people consider assuming the alpha role to
be essential in training horses. In other words, become like the dominant
horse. When an alpha says, "Move!" the others say, "How far?"
Mark said that he's spent plenty of time watching horses in the
wild. He said that he learned many things, one of which was that horses
can be pretty boring as they generally just eat, drink, poop and sleep.
When things did happen though, it was usually initiated by the alpha
horse. When the alpha horse walked into a group, everyone scattered. They
wanted to get as far away from the alpha as possible.
Sure, the alpha was the baddest horse around but nobody wanted to be
near him or her.
Mark realized that this herd scenario was telling him that if none
of these horses wanted to be close to the alpha, then why would he want
to present himself as an alpha to his horses? It was the horses that were
kind to each other that had the closest knit groups. Kindness proved to
make his horses actually choose to be with him.
Studies have been done which prove that animals, as well as humans
stop learning when placed under stress. In fact if the stress is great
enough, they can actually forget some things that they've previously learned.
I guess what all this tells me is to teach and associate with horses
with kindness-above all: kindness.
To me kindness brings with it a feeling of calm. When an animal is
calm, he is in the best possible mode for learning.
The clicker is always kind. It doesn't lack for respect, but sets up
rules in a way that horses can easily understand and follow. It helps the
horse achieve and at the same time gives him credit for being an individual.
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