A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I Hate Cookie Cutter Training

Today, we dealt with mud.  Yeah, that silly little rain storm, left me a mud pit.  Even my farrier said "wow, you must have had one big storm!".   So, we did shoes today.  Everyone was very well behaved, and well, I always enjoy farrier day!

Sorry, I tried to get pictures, but all in all it was very uneventful.  Jae did put up siding while Black Boy was getting shod, but was done before it was Beaudreaux's turn.  The boys were great.  A few of mine were in the line up as well.

So, naturally, we talked about my work training horses.  The Walkers got a lot of compliments on their nice manners for the farrier.  Jon (the farrier) was shocked that I actually bought that psycho crazy gelding of Leah's (ok, that's not what he really said, it was more like "Oh!  You know, I bet he's a ton of fun!").  Now, Poko and his little behavioral issues got us talking about how I addressed his problems - by challenging his mind.

So, when I came in, I started thinking about Kris, Voodoo's owner asking my about my opinion of NH trainers.  Hmm.  I'm not sure I ever answered her completely.

Now, just so you know, I don't hate any of the popular trainers out there.  I've watched Parelli and Clinton Anderson in person.  I actually do things very similar to how they DO them (not necessarily how they tell others to do them though).  My problem is not in how they train horses, but in the lack of communication available in any form of DVD training series.  ANY!

Oh sure, there are always basics.  Don't let the horse do anything aggressive or harmful to you.  Do praise the horse in some manner for doing the right thing.  You know, things like that.  But when you try to write a book or publish a DVD on how to completely and totally train a horse (which is often how both Parelli and Anderson, as well as many other trainer's work is advertised) then you're setting yourself up for failure.  Why?  Because there isn't a person around that could lift the book that contains all the possible information YOU need to know about YOUR horse.  Trying to phrase things so that a horsey novice can understand them, in many cases, results in a concept that is vague or incomplete. 

As an example, I watched Anderson correct a horse's bad behavior simply by altering his body language to say "Hey, I'm the alpha horse here, do not push me around".  The horse, being a submissive type personality, naturally stopped trying to be pushy, and became respectful of personal space.  This is a horsey instinct after all (because more dominant horses KICK HARD!).  Anderson never explained that body language, nor how to be in control of your body language.  Why?  Maybe because he didn't know he did it?  Maybe because he didn't want people to think he was a "big meanie"?  Maybe because he had no idea how to put the entire idea of how horses relate to body language into a 5 minute segment?  I honestly don't know.

Another example; I watched Parelli guide his horse through an obstacle course using seat and leg aids only.  The ordeal was presented as one of those "how much the horse loves working with me" thing.  The idea that the rider needed to learn to control his/her own body, and that there are ways to communicate with touch only, were never discussed.  It looked "amazing" and "miraculous" to so many people.  To me, it looked rough, and unbalanced, but then again, I watched the Stacy Westfall video.

I have to mention here, that I doubt I could sit a horse in any type of reining moves.... and bareback!  OMG!

My problem with cookie cutter trainers, is that in most cases it's all about selling an idea to a lazy person.  Yes, I'm calling fans of most "fashionable" trainers lazy.  I mean, if you're not lazy, then you'd be out asking people questions, either on forums, in person, or calling tons of trainers to get personalized help.  Instead, the mentality is that the horse is somehow to blame.  As an example "my horse is mean" or "My horse won't go".  Well sure, any horse can be mean if allowed to think it's in charge.  I mean, have you WATCHED a herd of horses?  Those alphas aren't always the kindest ones out there!  And if your horse is not obeying your commands, it's most likely because your aren't giving the commands properly.  Now, ok, those were blanket statements.  I have to admit here, that the only "rule" I believe in with horses, is that there will always be a horse that breaks the rules!

But really, how many of us looked forward to spending YEARS trying to perfect our skills, knowing that we would never master them?  (Ok, I have to admit that I've always thought this was one of the neatest things about horses, but I'm weird).  And how many people are excited to know that solving their problems will often take months?  We all want a quick fix, so who can really blame any one for hoping that there really IS a pill that will make you skinny, or a trainer who can make a perfect horse with only a $150 dollar book/DVD/training tool?

But then there is the reality.  In every partnership, there is a horse, and the human handling it.  If you change one of those, the entire partnership changes.  We easily accept this with people, but for some reason we expect horses to be carbon copies of their species.  No horse should ever be an individual!  That's just crazy talk!

A few examples:

Your old boss, and your new boss.  You never think it's "weird" that the new boss acts differently.  Maybe the old boss liked to give you words of encouragement, and the new boss doesn't?  Maybe the new boss has an open door policy, while your old boss wanted a printed memo of anything you needed to talk about?

That waitress at your favourite coffee shop?  The girl who worked there before knew that you wanted 2 creams and raw sugar, but the new girl tried to bring you milk and equal!  Why can't she just get it right?

And horses.  My last horse would walk down the street with out a problem, but my new horse spooks at everything when I take him away from his herd!  My Chestnut horse is always so calm and mellow, but needs strong aids to perform the moves I ask for, while my Grey is so light and responsive, but tends to never stand still when tied up!

See the similarities?  They are all unique "people".  Some just have 4 legs.  We need to have training systems designed to treat them as unique individuals.  Who would want their kid to be taught in school exactly the same way as every one else's kids?  Why would you expect your horse (as most animals have a similar level of intelligence to a young child) to be treated that way?  And really, what is "natural" about anything we do with horses?

The concepts that Cookie Cutter Trainers (CCTs) use are not bad ones.  They just aren't enough to properly train a horse.  Oh sure, you can do somethings, and you can probably do them well.  But what do you do when the problem isn't in the book?  I honestly believe that most people can train a horse.  I also believe that most novice horse owners are attracted to the exactly WRONG type of horse for themselves.  This is like playing the video game on hard mode, and then wondering why the guy playing on easy mode has a higher score, and gets further. 

So, I guess it's not really the CCTs I hate, so much as this idea that there's a way to solve all our problems for only $19.95 (+ shipping and handling).  Owning a horse is like a marriage - it takes WORK and YEARS of dedication.  Both parties have to be able to work together, and both sides have to learn new things, and learn to accept that their partner isn't perfect, and understand that time will change how things work on both sides.  But, with that said, if you put in the time and effort into doing it as well as you can, in the end, it's a rewarding experience.

9 comments:

  1. I think CCTs can get some people started down the road with some basic exercises to do, but that's about all. I think a lot of people then get stranded on the road, not knowing where to go next, because the nuances aren't there and they don't know how to find them. That's sort of where Drifter's current owner ended up by using Parelli methods - she got some good stuff done on the ground but really couldn't take it any further. The idea that one system, or one way of solving a problem, will work with every horse is just hooie (IMO).

    One of the things I really like about Mark Rashid is that there's nothing cookie cutter about him - every horse and rider are treated as there own thing and whatever that horse and rider's specific issues are get addressed. Is it a training system? Not really - there are some common principles but he's constantly changing what he does and adding new things, and every horse is treated as an individual.

    As you point out, the learning never stops - I think people cling to systems because it's all they've got and they need something. An alternative is to find a really good trainer (unfortunately the ratio of good to bad out there isn't that favorable) and work consistently with them - eyes on the ground is critical. Even very experienced horse people need this.

    It can be discouraging to realize how much we don't know, but it's also an opportunity and a challenge.

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  2. I learned so much from Poco. My plan had been to have that horse til death did us part. But you're right: it's a relationship. And sometimes, no matter how much you want it, or no matter how hard you try, you have to face the fact that for whatever reason, it's not working. Some relationships end badly, and I began to realize that eventually, the odds were this one would. Sometimes, you just have to move on. Now, just as in ending a human relationship, you can rant and rave and carry on and blame the other party. But, if you really want to learn and grow, you have to be honest with yourself. Admit your shortcomings, admit where you could have done better, so you hopefully can go forward and not make the same mistakes again. You might make different mistakes going forward, but if you're honest, you won't make the same ones.

    I agree, it certainly can be discouraging to realize just how much we don't know. In times like that, we have to remember how far we've come.

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  3. I see we have a lot of the same views on training :) I too have seen PP and CA in person, and employ many of their techniques, but can't stand their brainwashed followers.

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  4. One of the things I'm seeing lately is how many "new to horses" people have NO idea where to find help in our sub-culture. If it can't be found on Craig's List, then WHERE do you find it?

    As an example, I tried to find a riding instructor for a new sport a few years ago. I didn't have any friends doing dressage, I knew the basics from my past learning, but had no referrals. I could find a lot of instructors advertising with the local dressage shows, but too far away. I ended up emailing them, and asking if they new someone closer to me, and chasing emails (this one referred that one, who referred this other one) for about a month just to find one within an hour of me. How many novice horse owners would even think to do that? A few, sure, but not most.

    Finding "horsey friends" is the best way to improve your horsemanship I think. It's why so many people board when they start, so they have other horsey people around them. Thankfully, the internet has made it SO much easier, then back when I got into horses.

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  5. I think this is why my favorite horse person (notice I'm not saying trainer ;o) is Mark Rashid; I'm with Kate up there on that one. He tends to ask those thought provoking questions that let you do your own problem solving and is quick to point out that each horse is an individual.
    Working in an educational setting, I can also add that children (like horses) are their own little individuals, and all learn differently. Some are auditory learners, some visual and some tactile (hands on). It has been looking at horses from an educational perspective that has helped me more than any "trainer" out there (plus all those simple "quick fixes" do is scare me ;o)

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  6. It's scary to think some people think there are "quick fixes" - there isn't with anything in the world. I'm a CA fan, Parelli? Not so much - him and his wife aren't as gentle as they put off. Also, I typically can't stand Parelli people! I think their ideas are good, and love most of the CA methods, but when it isn't working with a horse, you have to re-evaluate what you're doing. I guess I never considered CA a "cookie cutter" trainer, I've heard him say each horse is an individual, and his methods work on most horses. The problem is people rarely turn around and can do any of it right. They *think* they're doing it right and complain it's not working... No matter what level you are, it's great to have someone else around to help - whether it's your body language, or coming up with a creative training solution. But agreed, every horse is an individual, and should be treated as such... I'll have to look up Mark Rashid, heard his name a lot lately, need to see what he's all about :)

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  7. Ali,

    I actually don't find CA to be a bad trainer at all, but rather the problem as I see it, lies in the fact that people get a training set (DVDs or what ever) and then believe that all the answers lie in there, hence the "cookie cutter" part of it.

    I think there's a lot to be said for trusting your "gut feelings" and even if what you are doing is supposedly "wrong" maybe it is right for you and that horse and that situation. Most parents learn how to raise their kids with out a book or DVD set, and training a horse is kind of the same idea on a larger scale, or so I think.

    Of course, the hardest part I have found, is just remembering to relax! Always amazes me how things fall into place when you're relaxed.

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  8. It's scary to think some people think there are "quick fixes" - there isn't with anything in the world. I'm a CA fan, Parelli? Not so much - him and his wife aren't as gentle as they put off. Also, I typically can't stand Parelli people! I think their ideas are good, and love most of the CA methods, but when it isn't working with a horse, you have to re-evaluate what you're doing. I guess I never considered CA a "cookie cutter" trainer, I've heard him say each horse is an individual, and his methods work on most horses. The problem is people rarely turn around and can do any of it right. They *think* they're doing it right and complain it's not working... No matter what level you are, it's great to have someone else around to help - whether it's your body language, or coming up with a creative training solution. But agreed, every horse is an individual, and should be treated as such... I'll have to look up Mark Rashid, heard his name a lot lately, need to see what he's all about :)

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think this is why my favorite horse person (notice I'm not saying trainer ;o) is Mark Rashid; I'm with Kate up there on that one. He tends to ask those thought provoking questions that let you do your own problem solving and is quick to point out that each horse is an individual.
    Working in an educational setting, I can also add that children (like horses) are their own little individuals, and all learn differently. Some are auditory learners, some visual and some tactile (hands on). It has been looking at horses from an educational perspective that has helped me more than any "trainer" out there (plus all those simple "quick fixes" do is scare me ;o)

    ReplyDelete