As posted on Rational Riding discussion list, previously posted at Classical Dressage list:
Here is a copy of a post that I made a while back on another list in response to the question "is it possible to train a horse without resistance?" Perhaps it will help, if nothing else, to get the
It has always been my goal to avoid resistances. I don't think that you can always avoid the need for the horse to ask for clarification. That is, when asking something new for the first time, the horse may say "You want me to do what?" But that isnot necessarily resistance. If the horse is used to having his questions ignored then the horse will quickly learn to ask BY resisting, but a polite question is not, in itself, resistance. Some questions from the horse can even come out rather strongly, for example, I used to start a lot of young horses (and hopefully will be doing so again soon!) and by the time I got on we had a trusting relationship so there was no resistance to it, just questioning looks. One young mare, though, LEAPED sideways. I slid off, reassured her, and got back on and she was fine. Many would have called that resistance, and many would have said that by reassuring her I was reinforcing the resistance. The fact that I didn't have any additional problems from her though, supports my response. It was just a strongly "worded" question! Over time, the mare learned to phrase her questions more softly!
All horses have physical issues that can lead to resistance, if only that they haven't yet developed the strength for certain movements. In order to find these limitations, I think it is necessary for the trainer to push the horse to the point of resistance, BUT as soon as they find that the horse is not responding to the aids per usual, to recognize that they have reached the horse's limit and to back off and work further on strengthening or stretching or whatever the horse needs. In other words, don't push to where the horse is obviously "resistant."
Even horses that have learned resistance from previous poor handling can be taught to be soft without "working through" the resistance, but rather working over it or around it. Here I need examples.
I worked with a horse who had a fear of having anything pulled over her ears due to a painful procedure years before. Her owners left her halter on always. The alternative was to be dragged around the barn by the horse, smashed into walls, struck at with forelegs. I softly and quietly put the halter over just her nose and stood there. And waited. Until eventually she would get bored and forget she was supposed to resist, and she would relax her ears, and in that instant I put her halter on. I followed the same procedure in reverse to get the halter off: I would wait until something caught her attention and her ears went forward, so that I could slide the halter over them easily. Within a few days of practicing a few times each day, she realized that there was nothing scary or painful about it, and nothing to resist against. From then on anyone could halter her. When I introduced her to a bridle, I initially unbuckled it and put it around her ears, rather than over, but she soon accepted that in the normal fashion as well. I never actually encountered resistance from her throughout the whole procedure, because I knew where the resistances were, and I stopped just short of them.
I currently work with a woman and her young mare who had a tendency to resist everything! She was badly sucked back all of the time. If any of her rider's aids were too strong to ignore (her usual response) then she reared, or spun, or bolted, or bucked. To work THROUGH her resistance would probably have caused serious injury to the rider. We started with longeing, encouraging forwardness and keeping her brain occupied with lots of transitions. When she
changed direction on her own as a resistance, we ignored it, and pushed her forward. When she was sufficiently forward, she could no longer play. She soon got in the habit of being forward on the longe and her resistances were no longer possible. There was no need to punish, just keep pushing for the correct response. In fact, to punish would actually have been a reinforcer for this mare, as her resistances were largely a method of baiting her handler into a game.
Once under saddle, we continued to work on forward. Some days she just refused to do a forward trot. To reinforce with the whip would have triggered bucking. Instead we asked for a walk transition, then almost immediately sent her into trot again. As soon as she failed to respond to the leg, I had the rider ask for walk, and almost immediately to trot again, repeat as needed. The effect of the transitions was, of course, engagement, which soon resulted in a forward trot! Problem overcome without any confrontation. Some days with this very intelligent mare, we obtain forward through "box turns" (precursor to turn on haunches) or with leg yields, when she requires a "stealth method" and frequent changes in exercises as well. As time goes on, she becomes more and more willing, and though she has expressed willingness to rear, has never done so, or bolted, or anything else dramatic since this work began. In our last few rides she was, for the first time since I met her, truly soft with a swinging back, stretching into contact with the bit. It took several months of weekly lessons, but a lot of money saved, I'd bet, in medical bills, and the owner now rides her with confidence instead of trepidation.
So, to summarize, yes, I think it is possible to train without resistance. Even if the horse offers to resist, we can detour and take a different route, or wait until the resistance is gone. It requires more tact and sensitivity, more patience and less ego than most riders develop.
By the way, I don't want to create the impression that punishment is never an appropriate choice. I use it when a horse has acted aggressively against me. This can be with a young horse, or any horse who has never learned manners, threatening to bite or kick or rear. I also punish the rare horse who goes directly against my aids, for example, moving left in response to my left leg. Imagine if you were riding along a road or train track, and you asked your horse to step away from on oncoming vehicle and he moved towards it!
Punishments must be quick and to the point.
P.S. In re-reading this, it sounds like I'm citing a lot of examples of resistance, and then saying there is no resistance. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that with a little more skill and tact and patience, I should someday even be able to work around even these resistances, to stop sooner, to recognize limitations earlier, and avoid them altogether. Also, keep in mind that these examples cited are the two most "resistant" horses I've encountered. There have
been several others for whom I was their last chance before the meat man got them, successfully reformed, without confrontation. The horses I've trained from scratch, without prior problems, did proceed without resistance.
Posted by: "Cathy"
Date: Tue Oct 3, 2006 2:42 am (PDT)
Now see when I saw your post I looked at it and said now that women knows how to work a horse through a resistance. :-) [excerpt]
Posted by: "marjory kreda"
Date: Tue Oct 3, 2006 12:00 am (PDT)
Your post is so good because it defines the ideal relationship between horse and trainer/rider, I think. It so negates the horse as mechanical object owned and controlled by the "masterful human."
Obviously the trainer has an agenda and focus, but it presupposed the horses's attitudes and experience.
March 9, 2006
Re: [rationalriding] re: resistances
Again it becomes clear that a resistance (different from a polite question) is elicited by the rider -- not necessarily through the use of strength, but through not being sufficiently aware of what the horse is saying.
I think that many riders don't get the idea of having a conversation with their horse. This is a two-way activity -- ask, then listen. As you say, resistances arise because riders 'demand', without waiting for the response. It's like someone talking over the top of you -- eventually you stop trying to join in the 'conversation' because it has become a monologue or worse, a diatribe.
The term resistance means (to me) an action that tends to oppose, that no longer has thought behind it. Therefore it is something that arises over time and through repetition.
Author of Ride Smarter, published by HalfHalt Press, ISBN 0939481650
March 10, 2006
>>>>>>>> Excellent post thanks for sharing Amanda!
I really like your approach to 'resistance' in horses and the foresight and feeling you incorporate in your training. Good on you are an inspiration!
P.S.General Decarpentry, in his wonderful book "Academic Equitation", suggested that one should not ride through a resistance but instead "one should have recourse to skilful disassociation from them".