"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Ghandi
Ethically training animals can be a rewarding experience for both the animal and the owner/trainer involved. There is a natural connection that is created, without forcing it, but building nonetheless, just because the one doing the training has understood that this process is not about speed but about understanding the intricate system of intuition and biological responses that animals have built in them – and that we will never pull out of them. We can only work with them to avoid unpleasant surprises.
I am still amazed at how circuses, for example, still use animals in an incredibly unnatural way, even after the alarming large percentage of these beasts that snap and harm their trainer or at times – and this is where it gets scary – the audience. Most still owning large and dangerous animals such as elephants and bears are actually putting all the children that happen to be in the way at risk, should the animal become too stressed to stay in the arena and run through the crowd to escape.
Although horses don’t have a history of snapping and charging away, they are still sensitive, intuitive and have kept a part of their wild side. The result is minimal stress, which creates harmony that is greatly needed, appreciated and enjoyed. Getting to know the horse is the first step: what makes it tick, what scares it, what does it like and above all, what does it hate to do.
After, a close look at how the horse learns best is the way to ensure maximum absorption of information. Cookie-cutter methods – those that guarantee that all horses will learn by using just one technique – do not work best for most horses since, just like humans, each one is different and unique and has its own personality. From reading the blogs here, I noticed that several of you understand this point!
Treats are good, but not right from the beginning. Compare this to a room full of children learning math with a large plate of cookies nearby. Will they focus? It’s the same thing with most horses. Don’t treat immediately; try to get the horse to understand what you want, then congratulate them for performing it well afterwards.
Also, it is crucial to learn to listen to the horse as it will let you know when something is wrong with it. Pain, fatigue, hunger and thirst will be indicated clearly; try to watch for signs. It’s like learning to listen for a baby’s cry to know what it wants. You will adapt.
And lastly, don’t rush. Try to follow the horse’s pace. After all, you can’t force the information into its brain. Let them learn at the speed that is most comfortable for it.
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