Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Poisoned cues and Natural horsemanship Part 2
Now that I have explained what a poisoned cue is (or at least had a crack at it!) I am going to attempt to explain what in the heck it has to do with the natural horsemanship movement.
Human error leads to habituation, which leads to more force, louder aids and poisoned cues. Right? That gives me a big bout of learned helplessness just thinking about it! Luckily for us though -- horses are very forgiving.
What I mean by forgiving is not that they are consciously forgiving. They do not understand mistakes or good intentions. They are not forgetful either. Horses have been found to still respond to cues learned 10 years prior with little practice with those cues in between. We all know how amazing the equine memory is! What I mean is that horses are highly specific in what they do remember, or associate, so with training mistakes there is usually a way out. Poisoned cues can be replaced with a new one in it's stead! This-I-believe is why Pat Parelli and the rest of the "Natural"gang came to be so popular ( and rich too you guys want what for a halter!)
I know from personal experience as well with by personal observation that a large percentage of people that are drawn to Parelli are people that already have a horse but problems have come up using the "traditional" method and they are looking for a new way to approach riding and training their horse. Sure they have some clients that have had no prior horse experience but they do market themselves as a solution for the "problem horse". Here is a familiar but hypothetical story to better explain what I mean:
Owner/rider has a horse that bucks under saddle and is UN controllable on the ground. Most likely she has tried many of the traditional methods for fixing the issues by changing the bit, escalating the "aides" using a chain over the nose etc etc, but the horse now just bucks almost every time they ride together and is impossible to catch.
I think that this is because by now most of her aides she uses to communicate with her horse are poisoned cues.The rider when using the reins and her leg now is eliciting a fear response at least some of time-- same with the halter and lead.
Rider finds Parelli program and gives it a try. She buys the new rope halter with the savvy string, and the carrot stick, and starts playing the "7 games". Her horse starts to respond to the porcupine game and seems to be learning. Her horse also seems to be more relaxed and happier in her work. She buys a Parelli hackamore and maybe even a Parelli saddle (gee gads!). Horse seems cured!
The Parelli method says that the training issues were solved by " love, language and leadership " They say this is about communicating to the horse in a language they can understand. They say that playing their seven games and using their method builds respect and makes you your horses leader. The Parelli program is brilliant because it works but not for those reasons above. I think the Parelli system works not because you are talking with your horse or your horse now sees you as a dominant heard member but because they take away your poisoned cues and the negative associations of the equipment that you had and give you NEW equipment and NEW cues. It is a fresh start. The horse is highly specific in his bad associations. Actually just changing minor things in the way you ask and how you ask may actually be a completely new experience for your horse. How brilliant Parelli!
What I do not like is the way the sell it though. Natural horsemanship is not natural. No more natural then other ways. Natural horsemanship professionals are not speaking horse. What they are masters of is negative reinforcement. They know when to release. Just like all really amazing horse trainers out their. All the 7 games are is practicing negative reinforcement. It is just a new package for the same old message. I am glad they are getting rid of some of the mentalities and attitudes of older traditional regimes, however I think people would be better off and their would be a lower percentage of horses redeveloping behavioral issues in the "Natural" world if people actually understood the science behind why all of this stuff works. It is not magic guys! It is behavioral theory plain and simple! :)