How Many of These Training Principles Do You Follow?

These eight principles of training are from the International Society for Equitation Science.

How many of these do you follow?

1. Understand and use learning theory appropriately
Learning theory explains positive and negative reinforcement and how they work in establishing habitual responses to light, clear signals. (Note that “positive” and “negative” when applied to reinforcement are not value judgements, as in “good” or “bad”, but arithmetical descriptions of whether the behaviour is reinforced by having something added or something taken away, e.g., pressure. For example, when the horse responds to a turn signal and the rein pressure is immediately released, negative reinforcement has been applied.)
It is critical in the training context that the horse’s responses are correctly reinforced and that the animal is not subjected to continuous or relentless pressure. Prompt and correct reinforcement makes it more likely that the horse will respond in the same way in future. Learning theory explains how classical conditioning and habituation can be correctly used in horse-training.


2. To avoid confusion, train signals that are easy to discriminate
There are many responses required in horse-training systems but only a limited number of areas on the horse’s body to which unique signals can be delivered.
From the horse’s viewpoint, overlapping signal sites can be very confusing, so it is essential that signals are applied consistently in areas that are as isolated and separate from one another as possible.


3. Train and shape responses one-at-a-time (again, to avoid confusion)
It is a prerequisite for effective learning that responses are trained one-at-a-time.
To do this, each response must be broken down into its smallest possible components and then put together in a process called “shaping”.


4. Train only one response per signal
To avoid confusing the horse, it is essential that each signal elicits just one response. (However, there is no problem with a particular response being elicited by more than one signal.)
Sometimes a response may be complex and consist of several trained elements. These should be shaped (or built up) progressively. For example, the “go forward” response is expected to include an immediate reaction to a light signal, a consistent rhythm as the animal moves in a straight line and with a particular head carriage. Each of these components should be added progressively within the whole learned response to a “go forward” signal.


5. For a habit to form effectively, a learned response must be an exact copy of the ones before
For clarity, a complete sequence of responses must be offered by the horse within a consistent structure (e.g., transitions should be made within a defined number of footfalls).
Habit formation applies to transitions in which the number of footfalls must be the same for each transition and this must be learned.


6. Train persistence of responses (self-carriage)
It is a fundamental characteristic of ethical training systems that, once each response is elicited, the animal should maintain the behaviour.
The horse should not be subjected to continuing signals from leg (spur) or rein pressure.


7. Avoid and dissociate flight responses (because they resist extinction and trigger fear problems)
When animals experience fear, all characteristics of the environment at the time (including any humans present) may become associated with the fear. It is well-known that fear responses do not fade as other responses do and that fearful animals tend not to trial new learned responses.
It is essential to avoid causing fear during training.


8. Benchmark relaxation (to ensure the absence of conflict)
Relaxation during training must be a top priority, so when conflict behaviours are observed in the horse, we must carefully examine and modify our training methods so that these behaviours are minimised and ultimately avoided.
To recognise the importance of calmness in enabling effective learning and ethical training, any restraining equipment, such as nosebands, should be loose enough to allow conflict behaviours to be recognised and dealt with as they emerge.

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Comment by Judi Daly on February 2, 2012 at 11:57am

I just clicked on the link--and sure enough, Andrew McCean is involved! 

Comment by Judi Daly on February 2, 2012 at 11:55am

I definitely use #1 and try with all the rest.  Andrew McClean has greatly influenced me.  This sounds much like his teaching. 

 

I also use clicker training, and that has made things seem much simpler.    I like simple!  I can spend a lot of time on positive reinforcement and shape the responses.  It eliminates most of the confusion when I am trying to teach something new, because if he does something wrong, i just ignore it and try again.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on January 31, 2012 at 4:52pm

#s 6, 7 & 8 are the basis of Forward Seat riding and schooling.  My only quibble is with #6, some horses do need reminders though the ideal is to give the signal and let the horse do it.

I do have problems with the following:

#2--To avoid confusion train signals that are easy to discriminate.  No overlapping signal sites.

#4--Train only one response per signal.

#6--Train persistence of responses.

When I give a leg aid at the girth it means different things according to where the horse's legs are, what my other leg is doing, what hands are signaling, and my posture in the saddle.  One leg at the girth may mean--lengthen the stride of the advancing hind leg, or move the opposite foreleg outward to the side, or bring the inside hind leg closer to the outside hind leg in a curved line, or for a hind leg to carry the weight a little longer (braking) before pushing, asking to horse to move on two-tracks, or to ask the horse to canter.  I use the same leg aid for each of these requests, the difference is when I use my leg (according to the movements of the horse's legs), rein aids, changes in my posture and weight distribution, and the strength of my leg aid.  There is no way that I can give easily understood aids if each seperate command demands that I use my leg in a different place on the horse.  For one thing with my MS I am lucky if I hit exactly the same place twice in a row.

I am not sure what #6 is saying, is it talking about stabilization when the horse is given the command and then left alone, or is it saying that say for a leg aid that you should not just dig your heel into the horse's side and never let go?  I always apply my aids and then release the aid immediately, I do not wait until the horse obeys, I assume (often wrongly) that the horse will obey.  Due to my physical problems I often have to convince the horse that yes, I do want that second and third step, etc. and I repeat my aids, always with an immediate release.  Of course my ideal is stabilization, it is just with my MS my body often will not stay as still as I would want it to.

#5--the identical response from the horse, well it depends.  If my horse is going over bad ground or sees a danger I do not see I do NOT want an identical response to an aid as I would in a riding ring with good footing and no obstacles.  I want my horse to use his brains.  They do have knowledge of the safest way to negotiate bad ground if they are pasture or trail horses.  THAT IS THEIR JOB.  If I tell a horse to turn of the edge of a cliff I rather think I would prefer the horse to first ask me if I was really sure I wanted to go over the edge. 

Like one day, for some reason I was riding without my glasses (I'm VERY near-sighted) and my horse did not see the big coils of fencing wire when we were walking on a trail in the deep woods and he walked into it, all four legs CAUGHT.  Being a GOOD horse he disobeyed my aids to go forward until I thought to look down at his lower legs, and he stood perfectly still with the reins on his neck while I picked up each foot and dragged the coils of wire out from under him, that took me several minutes.  I never rode without glasses again.  I told him he was a GOOD BOY and since no one was hurt we continued our ride.  If he had obeyed my leg aids automatically we could both have been severely hurt.

I will put up with less than immediate, crisp response to my aids if it means I can trust my horse to use his brain to get us out of difficulties.  There are no guarantees of course, but if I keep my horses calm they can usually think.  If they think NO it is up to me to persuade them otherwise, either that I can ride it, or that I can ride them humanely through it, or that it is safe to proceed. 

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