April 2012

Mars 2011

Nyttår 2011

Desember 2010

Sjette utgave av Nevzorov Haute Ecole Magazine "Equine Anthology vol. 6" er klar!

13. juli 2010

28. april 2010

Fjerde utgave av Nevzorov Haute Ecole Magazine "Equine Anthology vol. 4" er endelig klar!

20. februar 2010

Tredje utgave av Nevzorov Haute Ecole Magazine "Equine Anthology vol. 3" er no tilgjengelig for nedlasting i pdf format. Løp og kjøp!

10. februar 2010

Harm og Maia går amok! :-)

10. februar 2010
Hestesport dreper!


NHE Against Equestrian Sport.
Me treng din stemme!

08. september 2009

Andre utgave av Nevzorov Haute Ecole Magazine "Equine Anthology vol. 2" er no tilgjengelig for nedlasting i pdf format. Løp og kjøp!

21. april 2009
Stormy May artiklar

Tre nye aktuelle artiklar av Stormy May lagt ut.

15. mars 2009

Første utgave av Nevzorov Haute Ecole Magazine "Equine Anthology vol. 1" er no tilgjengelig for nedlasting i pdf format. Løp og kjøp!

2. februar 2009

22. desember 2008

om skoing og barfothest, "Sko vs barfot del 1 og 2" publisert.
Artiklane tar for seg fordeler og ulemper med skoing, barfot trim og problem som kan oppstå i overgangsfasen fra sko til barfot. Artiklane er basert på moderne viten om hovens anatomi og egentlige funksjon.


Artikkel av Stormy May

Last month I began a series of articles with one entitled "Primum non nocere - Do no harm". The aim of this series is to re-evaluate what we're doing with horses. This way each person can have the information they need to decide whether or not they want to continue in a traditional way with horses, or to make the leap to a way which doesn't compromise the body or spirit of a horse.

This month's focus is on training systems. For whatever reason, for over 20 years, my horse-training livelihood had been based on starting young horses for competition and pleasure careers. In the beginning, I learned how to start horses from other trainers, books, and plenty of experimentation.

Even though it seems that there are hundreds of trainers and training "systems" out there, their fundamentals are the same in nearly all cases. Each might employ different exercises and tools to achieve the goals, but in order to truly know a system we must first strip it down and ask, "What is the horse's motivation?"

To proceed, it will help to know what "operant conditioning" is. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, if you’ve trained anything in your life including a horse, child, dog, or dolphin, you probably used a form of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is defined as, "the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behavior". In operant conditioning, there are only 3 terms to consider, these are: reinforcement, punishment, and extinction.

Reinforcement is a consequence to an action that results in the action being performed with greater frequency, punishment is a consequence to an action that results in the action being performed with less frequency, and extinction refers to when there is no response to a behavior, which will ultimately lead to the behavior occurring with less frequency. The terms "positive" and "negative" are added clarify the procedures. In this context "positive" only refers to something being added, while "negative" refers to something being taken away.

So, the four main possibilities in operant conditioning are:

Positive reinforcement (abbreviated as R+) adding something desirable to make the behavior more likely to happen again
Negative reinforcement (abbreviated as R-) taking away something undesirable in order to make the behavior more likely to happen again
Positive punishment (abbreviated as P+) adding something undesirable in order to make the behavior less likely to happen again
Negative punishment (abbreviated as P-) taking away something desirable in order to make the behavior less likely to happen again

Now to simplify it, I need only to give examples.

Positive reinforcement: giving a child a treat after he has cleaned his room
Negative reinforcement: "grounding" a child without privileges until he has cleaned his room
Positive punishment: hitting a child when he has spilled his milk
Negative punishment: taking away a child’s toy if he’s not sharing it nicely with others

In the horse world, these examples might look like this:
R+: giving a horse a carrot after she has come to the gate
R-: pulling on the right rein until the horse turns her head right
P+: whipping a horse when she refuses a jump
P-: not giving a horse grain after she was naughty during a ride

Now that we’re familiar with operant conditioning we can return to the question, "What is the horse’s motivation?" If we extrapolate from these examples, we can see that, stripped to their essentials, the horse’s motivation in most equine training systems is the avoidance or minimization of pain. These systems rely heavily on negative reinforcement and positive punishment to motivate a horse to perform the behaviors we desire. The one exception I can think of is "clicker training" which focuses on positive reinforcement to create the desired behaviors.

Think of your favorite trainer. If you want your horse to go forward, what’s the first thing you’re taught to do? Probably squeeze with your legs. If that doesn’t work? Kick. If that doesn’t work? Kick harder. If that doesn’t work? Whip or spur the horse. And what are these examples of? Negative reinforcement. The horse’s "reward" is that the discomfort or pain caused by the rider will (hopefully) stop when she goes forward. And what have you been taught to do when your horse refuses to go in a stall, in a trailer, or across a stream? Probably some combination of pulling on the halter or bridle, kicking, hitting, whipping, or spurring. All of these are examples of"? Positive punishment.

Now, if you’re a rider who has never trained your own horse and you have been blessed with a horse who seems to "get with the program" and to cheerfully do what you request, then with all likelihood you haven’t gone into any deep questioning of your methods. You found something that works and you stick with it. The difference between a horse who is considered "trained" and one who is "green" or "difficult" is that the first horse, is at a stage where the rider’s cues can be refined and very subtle, perhaps a simple nudge or shift of weight is all it takes to make the horse stop, go, or turn. The "green" or "difficult" horses are ones who are either still unsure of what response will bring the least amount of pain, or they are in a greater physical pain or state of fear that makes it easier to deal with the blows from a whip or bit than with the pain of their own movements or the fear of what they’re being asked to do.

Over the years I was sent many horses who needed to be "tuned up". These were horses that were typically great for the new owner for the first month or so, and then they started to have "problems". In the past I would explain it to the owner using gentle phrases like, "the horse has learned that he can get away with that" or "yes, you can’t expect the horse to maintain his level of training without some professional help". Sounds logical right? What did that mean in plain English? "Either your timing is off or your cues have become too soft and the horse needs to be reminded about what the painful consequences are if he doesn’t respond to a light signal". Some trainers are better than others at telling it like it is and they have no qualms about drawing blood with their corrections if the horse isn’t "getting it". Others, like me, would half-heartedly make corrections, constantly questioning themselves as to if it had to be this way, particularly with the horses who seemed to need a heavy hand. It’s hard to be successful in the business with this type of questioning always going on, always stopping the whip or tug on the rein before it reaches its full force. This is what got me the reputation of being a "gentle" horse trainer.

During my most intensive period of questioning over the past year and a half I had to question my own motivation. Why did I want to be with horses? The most fundamental answer always has been that I want to experience a true partnership with horses. Looking back from my current perspective, it seems distorted that I could consider that I would have a true partnership if I could only control a horse through pain or threats of pain. To be honest, that was all I knew how to do with them. True, I was good enough that the cues could be refined down to mere nudges and shifts of weight, and even bitless and bridleless riding, but the consequences of the horse disobeying would always be to escalate the pain again until they decided it was better to respond to a light cue.

Secondary and tertiary motivations crept in over the years. I wanted to make a living with horses; I wanted to win at competitions. Somehow I figured these would all fit together nicely with my primary motivation of experiencing a true partnership with horses. That assumption couldn’t have been farther from the truth. During the time I spent working on the Path of the Horse documentary, I gave up all of my motivations except the most fundamental one, which is what initially drew me to horses. I could no longer fool myself; I didn’t have the partnership I wanted so I set out to find people who did and to learn from them.

The person I found who seemed to have it all was Alexander Nevzorov. But it wasn’t good enough for me to simply see his videos and read his articles, I needed to meet him, to watch his students in Russia and to find out for myself if this was just a more subtle form of physical control, or if he did indeed have a true connection with his horses without it being a result of pain-inducing methods.

It felt like an initiation rite to be asked to give up bits, competitions, and ultimately all forms of controlling the horse’s head and the styles and pleasures of riding that I had known in order to work with Alexander. At the time I couldn’t conceive of why a horse would want to do anything with me if I was stripped of all my tricks of manipulation. But there he stood, Alexander Nevzorov, with his horses leaping around him like overjoyed puppies.

What sort of training system is this, where there is no common spoken language and yet there is also no force, pain, or threats of pain? Where did it fit in the operant conditioning model? It seemed to go beyond even positive reinforcement and clicker training. It actually seemed like the horses had learned to do movements that made them bigger, more free, and proud of their own accord. What ways had this man found to bring all that out in a horse?

His method is deceptively simple. A person is never allowed to harm a horse, especially for their own pleasures, and a person must study the systems of a horse minutely so that she can be sure that she is never harming a horse. After that, it’s a matter of spending time together, first developing games and ultimately a communication system between horse and human that is much stronger than any pain-induced training.

As I started to study the horse’s anatomical, physiological, and myological systems, I was startled to find that commonly accepted practices such as the use of bits, shoes, and even the pressure of a rider all have negative effects on a horse’s well-being. The results of some of these studies will be detailed in future articles.

I had found the way to develop a true partnership with a horse, and it wasn’t a training system at all, it’s a way to develop two-way communication. The human steps into the role of educator; it is the human who learns how to develop and bring out the horse’s innate talents. What is the horse’s motivation? To play, run, leap, rear, have fun, as well as to work on more disciplined elements to build strength and flexibility, and to do it all with a human who understands her and will protect her, having only her best interests in mind. Truly this is the future of horse-human relationships for those of us who can recognize the spirit of a horse.