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Sticktraining and ‘Natural’ Philosophies

‘Fred, the Almighty Sniffing Pony’

Almighty Sniffing Pony

‘Hoof Extension’

Extension of My Hoof

Many claim the whip is just an extension of the arm for communication.. Well, in a fair relationship, the communication should be going both ways, right?

“The thing is an aversive is an aversive – it works by dint of being something the horse will work to avoid by it’s definition. It may be used very lightly and so only be very, very mildly annoying. It may be used harshly enough to be torture. It may also be used with very precise skill so that it’s clear or so clumsily as to be meaningless, confusing and terrifying. Either way it’s an aversive. It also requires the aversive to *at least* be annoying enough the horse is willing to work to avoid it in some way, which is well past the point they’re first aware of the stimulus. (How many of us have seen horses aware of each leg of a tiny fly on it’s skin or seem to ‘work off a thought’ or ‘work off intent’ after all?) It also is not something WE as humans get to dictate how it is experienced – that is defined solely by the learner and moreover by the learner in the moment.

If you want to use a whip (or crop, carrot stick, any traditional ‘pressure and release’ implement) in a way that is horse friendly and also promotes great LIGHTNESS and enthusiasm from the start simply teach the concept as an anti-target wand with clicker. Many dog and other species trainers are familiar with target training – where the animal learns to go to, touch or otherwise engage with a target by moving closer to get marked and reinforced… this is just the opposite, instead of moving closer, the aim of the game is to move away or off it. That way it’s simply a cue, taught to be a ‘go/move away from it’ opportunity signal and there is no threat as there is no aversive, however mild, with it. ‘Pressure’ never escalates and certainly never punishes or harms as if the cue doesn’t result in a good response you have to actually look at WHY and fix your training error – did the horse not understand, are they not capable, were you not clear, was the concept not well broken down enough in some way, do you have issues with your distance/duration/distractions/latency etc? It is and remains simply an opportunity to engage in a game that’s fun and rewarding.” – thanks to Amanda, topcommenter on this post on Facebook.

‘All that glitters is not gold.’

Flying Douchebag

One of the best examples of how tackless does not necessarily mean liberty. Even before I started doing positive reinforcement training, I always thought this just looked wrong. These aren’t horses ‘just being horses’. These are horses knowing the consequences for not cooperating.

‘Join Up’

Join Up

The word ‘natural’ is just as misused as the word ‘liberty’.

‘No Brain Idiot’

No Brain Idiot

There are more than four types of horses. There no science to back up these horse personalities. If you really want to understand how your horse thinks and learns, read up on basic psychology and learning theory. ‘Don’t Shoot the Dog’ is a good book to get a basic understanding about operant conditioning (B. F. Skinner). If you really want to science it up, read ‘Affective Neuroscience’ by Jaak Panksepp.



Again, Liberty is being terribly misused. The horse is conditioned to stay away from the sticks.¬†Sticks are just as controlling as ropes and reins, if you work hard enough to get your horse responsive to the aids. Even if you’ve faded out your sticks/bridle/ropes, your horse will still be conditioned to believe you can pull them back out at any time.