Natural horsemanship, horse whisperers, horse gentlers, these are all words used to describe methods of horse training which an individual human being developed themselves, based on their own personal experiences working with horses.
And they are all blatantly, scientifically, factually, incorrect. Period.
One individual human who works with horses for many years and develops their own methods alone cannot compare to an entire team of dedicated, college educated, professional trainers working side by side with many other just as highly qualified trainers, to work together as a team every day to professionally train animals 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. Then not only do it, but also rigorously document all of their training methods, successes and failures. Then, allow it to be scrutinized by others in the field for merit, then published in journals if it’s deemed worthy, and then shared with colleagues all over the world. And finally, those colleagues all connect at least yearly to present their findings, learn more from each other, and every day strive to find ways to do it easier, better, and more lovingly for the animals they train.
And if you didn’t know, this is the world of Professional Animal Trainers, and they have been doing this over the past more than 100 years. They are so good at this, that although some of us can’t even get our dog to walk good on a leash, they can ask a 10,000 pound animal to come when called, stay perfectly still in one place, with it’s mouth open, while a veterinary dentist performs (even sometimes mildly painful) dental procedures, without flinching, fuss, or injuring themselves or others. And most importantly, the animal is happy to do it! So who are these super heroes of animal trainers? Most of these high level animal trainers are marine mammal trainers, like the kind you see at SeaWorld and other accredited marine mammal parks. But Professional Animal Trainers also train zoo animals to help make medical procedures less frightening and more safe for all involved especially when working with very large or dangerous animals, in sanctuaries like in the jungle for previously abused elephants to help them learn how to let us help them when they develop foot problems or other issues, in scientific laboratories by researchers and psychologists to understand more about learning and how animals think using animals like crows, rats, dogs, apes, and many others to better understand such things as ways to communicate to those who think differently such as children or those with disabilities and mapping learning pathways in the brain.
So who am I and why should you listen to me? Because not only am I a veterinarian, ultimately a scientist grounded in facts, I am the only certified aquatic vet in this part of the United States, and that affiliation along with my deep interest in animal behavior is what led me to becoming a certified Professional Animal Trainer. Something that is not true for many well known trainers, such as Cesar Milan for dogs or Clinton Anderson, Pat Parelli, and even my beloved John Lyons (who I have learned a lot for and deeply admire), among many others who I am deeply grateful for their work and nonetheless paving a better way for horses from what was done to them primarily in the century before.
So what do Professional Animal Trainers know that you don’t know? They know that science teaches us just as simply that eating more fruits and vegetables is good for your health, that positive reinforcement training is the best, fastest, simplest, safest method to train any animal to do anything, by anyone. Which is why that is the name of my Horse Training Masterclass.
But first, why does it matter? Who cares? You might have spent your whole life raised around horses, read many books, attended clinics, competed competitively (and won), had mostly all good experiences, and you are familiar with every famous horse trainer out there and their methods, and you pretty much know it all already. They all have their little gimmicks or cute names for different things, but ultimately no one out there has got much to tell you didn’t already know about horses or maybe even dog training for that matter. So why bother to understand the definition of Positive Reinforcement Training and how or why it’s different? You are doing just fine. Heck, you even win shows! You got this, you are an expert! You broke your own wild Mustang!
Except, if you don’t know what positive reinforcement is (and is not), and how to use it correctly, all your assumptions are, I am sorry to tell you, are incorrect. You may think you know, but you are wrong. I don’t care how many ribbons or trophies you have to try to say otherwise, or even how many gold medals you have won at the Olympics. I see people every day in the highest level of all disciplines with horses, from World Championship Reining to Olympic dressage, all using incorrect training methods. They are missing a critical piece of training information, the how’s and why’s and positive reinforcement, and not even realizing that the entire relationship they have with their animals could be so much smoother, better, faster, and with the animal much happier to do anything asked of it, if only the principles of positive reinforcement are used. You have no idea what you don’t know, until your eyes are opened.
And if there is one thing I would like to achieve in my time here on earth, besides raising two beautiful girls to live life better than me, it’s to see positive reinforcement horse training be the norm, in all disciplines, all around the world, and bring horse training up to the high level of what is the norm for Marine Mammal Trainers, and bring the entire humankind concept of horse training up into this century and no longer buried in the nostalgia of the (Wild West) past. We have the science to prove what I am saying is true. The vast majority of horse training in the world today, even at the highest levels, have very little if any understanding of positive reinforcement. When I share this with marine mammal trainers, they look at me as if I MUST be joking! They are honestly shocked, ashamed, and chuckle a bit at how backwards most ‘famous’ horse trainers are. It’s like saying that we are still driving cars without power steering because it hasn’t been discovered yet over here in our part of the world. Why would you drive a car today without power steering? You would if you never heard of it and it wasn’t an option, but wow how your driving experience improves once you drive a car with an automatic transmission, power steering and power brakes, for the first time after going without, what an improvement (well for most of us). The exception of course is the very old car you have for nostalgic purposes. Otherwise, for most folks life is hard every day, anyway, so anything we can do to effortlessly and for-free dramatically improve our daily quality of life and safety, sounds like a no-brainer to me! And that is the power of positive reinforcement!
But first, the most common question I get is, well isn’t natural horsemanship and horse whispering pretty much positive reinforcement anyway? As one of you who has spent my life reading every book, attending clinics, and has sat glued to the screen to absorb any bit of helpful information I could get from any horse expert out there for most of my life, I can tell you definitively and scientifically, absolutely not. No.
Well then comes the million dollar question (except my class is much less than a million dollars, for now!), well then what is positive reinforcement? The definition is adding something the animal likes, after they do something you like, to make it more likely the animal will do that something again. That’s it.
Most horse training today involves adding something the horse doesn’t really naturally like, such as a whip, spur, crop, or flag, to try to push, forcefully or even whispering ‘ask’, or spook the horse into running away or going forward and accidentally doing what you want, whether that’s from the ground in a round pen, or from their back over fences. This works, because the animal does try to do something, anything, to avoid your ‘ask’, and then we let them know when they have made the right choice because we stop applying discomfort (however mild, even a whisper). However, this is an inefficient two step process that leaves the animal out there to try to guess what you want. However, if we reward the behavior we want after it happens, in one step it’s crystal clear to the animal what we are looking for, the first time, which is why positive reinforcement is faster. Second, since there is no chasing them into trying to offer up a behavior to get us to stop doing whatever it is, there is much less chance the animal will make a dangerous choice like plow you over or jump out of the round pen when it can’t think of what you might want it to do, so it’s the safest method known to humankind (scientifically irrefutable). And because positive reinforcement is simple, and works much like how an entire computer system works on just a series of on and off’s, with animals it’s just a simple yes or no, so you don’t have to be an ‘expert’ in reading body language of the animal, or mystically be able to read it’s soul through the eyes. In fact, the system sometimes works better the less emotional you are towards the animal, because then you are more clear in your yes and no’s. So you only have to be able to communicate two things to the animal, either yes I like that, or no thank you I don’t really like that, which is why it’s actually the easiest method of training, and so simple a kid can do it (or someone with disabilities, deep seated fears, elderly, etc.).
But it sounds intimidating, I don’t have 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to train my horse? No problem! The beauty of it is, YOU won’t have to, because of all the science that has ALREADY been put into it, by other Professional Animal Trainers, so they can show all of us the quickest, easiest, consistent, reliable methods they have used to quickly teach anything. And as if that’s not all, remember, this is the science of ANIMAL TRAINING, not just horse training. These same methods are used around the world, successfully, on all kinds of animals, from whales to reptiles, horses and almost everything in between. You can put into it as much time as you have, knowing that any time you don’t spend training, you are still going to be able to just pick up where you left off, without in any way damaging the relationship with the animal, so that even a sporadic training schedule, done with positive reinforcement, is better than other training methods. How far, and how quickly you progress in what you ‘think’ you have to achieve is not as important as the bond between you and your horse at the end of the day.
So if you are intrigued and want to learn more, then become a monthly donor to the ResqRanch.org because we need your help to spread this message, offer more classes, and rescue the wild mustangs so desperately in need, now more than ever. Sign up for our newsletter to learn when the next 3 hour online Horse Training Masterclass will be offered, that you can attend from anywhere in the world from the comfort of your living room, where you can learn everything you need to know in a easy, 3 hour, information PACKED course that will give you ALL the tools you need, and the COMPLETE framework to work within, to train any horse, to do anything, by anyone. I condensed over 150 hours of college credit level course work on animal training and behavior into this easy to follow 3 hour course, because I am that passionate about changing the world one horse at a time. For folks with lot’s of horse experience, the course could be the only thing you need to dramatically alter the course of the relationship between you and your horse, today, for the rest of your lives. And if your just starting out, my course, along with weekly or monthly video coaching sessions, will do the same in less time than you think. If you are young, afraid, been hurt, or confused about how to create a magical bond with a horse, then this class is for you!
Until next time, I’m DrQ, and the rest is up to you, to revolutionize the world of horse training to help keep you safer, animals happier, and strengthen the bond between you to be more fulfilling than you ever dreamed possible!