Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Little Help from Rick Lamb

I enjoy Rick Lamb's blog. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and he actually responds to people who comment on his blog. I recently posted a question in response to his request and got a very insightful answer that I thought I would share here.

Like many horse owners,I have one horse. Good, bad, this is my horse and I'm not the type who can change horses easily. Luckily, I think she is a good horse. You've seen a lot of clinicians. Do you think that a "lay" (for want of a better term) horseperson can follow a dvd training program and get good results? Can a person get experience by training just one horse? And, how much does our "personal relationship" with our horse get in the way of the "it's just business" part of our training? And, do you get confused (a better word might be inconsistent) by hearing the different clinicians?

Hi John,
All good questions. If you want to be the best horseman you can be, you need experience with many different horses. If you want to develop a relationship with a single horse, you need to spend lots of time with that one horse. So the answer to that one is, it depends on what you want. Training DVDs vary in quality. Some are disorganized, poorly produced, and even present bad information. But even the best give you only an intellectual understanding of the ideas. That only takes you so far. You also need lots of time in the presence of a horse, handling and riding him, putting the ideas into practice, developing some muscle memory, developing a sense of what the horse is saying through his body language, etc. By the same token, hands-on time alone isn't enough. It's the marriage of "classroom" and "field" work that really moves you forward.
Is it best to follow one trainer or look at multiple approaches? When you're just starting out, I recommend picking one system and following it. The major systems are most different in the beginning. When you get farther along in your journey, you understand that they are all saying the same thing in different ways, doing the same thing with different techniques and tools, and spinning it all to make it seem unique and special. At the core, all are using an understanding of the horse's nature to motivate him to do the things we want him to do, in other words natural horsemanship. If you're the type that just has to look at everything, that's fine, but be prepared to be sidetracked with lots of irrelevant concerns, e.g. why does Clinton use a stick and Chris just twirls the end of his rope? Dr. Miller and I wrote about this difficulty in The Revolution in Horsemanship. All the paths take you to the same place. Finally, yes, your personal relationship can interfere with training the horse. Usually this is the result of a distorted idea of what it means to love your horse. I love my horses and my kids, but I wouldn't hesitate to discipline any of them to get across an important point. It's not the easy route. It doesn't feel good to "punish" a horse any more than it feels good to punish a child, but as long as it's not done in anger, as long as it's done with a business-like attitude and your entire demeanor returns to normal immediately, the horse (and child) will not become frightened of you. In fact, it gives both a sense of security, knowing that there are boundaries and that you are there to keep them from drifting outside those boundaries. Final point: don't expect your horse to love you back, at least not in the usual sense of love. He cannot do it and it's unfair to ask that of him. He can become comfortable and relaxed in your presence. He can become "happy" to see you, especially if seeing you always means treats. But the equine species has a very different brain, preoccupied with safety, comfort, and the presence of other equines. This doesn't need to diminish the experience for you. Because having a horse that truly trusts and respects you is still immensely enjoyable.
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