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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 relate 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 difference.

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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