I was able to extend you a wonderful offer last Saturday and I have to thank Alex Brown for his generosity. I don’t have another offer that can compare but I’m still thinking about offers today…the kind of offers that horses make.
The most obvious example is horses offering us their hooves to pick. Personally, I like to pick all four hooves from the near side (racetrack style), and it’s what I ask of the horses whose feet I have to pick. I’ve found that, even if a horse is used to being on cross ties and having someone walk around him to pick up each hoof, a horse new to me will usually pick up my routine pretty quickly and start offering hooves in the order I want them.
It’s so much more pleasant to be able to accept the offer of a horse’s hoof in your hand than it is to demand it, don’t you think? I always find it surprising when I watch people grab a horse’s lower leg or try to yank a hoof off the ground or squeeze their fingers down the cannon bone, just to get a horse to lift its foot. Certainly, you have to do what you have do if a horse won’t help you out. The problem is when the horse is never given the chance to offer the behavior, so the offer can’t be appreciated by the person sharing his company.
That’s a truism that clicker trainers know very well, because clicker-trained horses offer up behaviors all the time.
I’d always been intrigued by clicker training, so last year I traveled to upstate New York to work with the founder of equine CT, Alexandra Kurland. On the last day of her multi-day clinic, I watched Alex visit a string of horses in their stalls, each of whom offered a string of different behaviors in order to get a click and a treat. I asked her if that was common. She looked surprised, laughed warmly and said it was. She loved seeing horses offering things to people.
My reaction was the opposite of Alex’s. I like my horses obedient. I ask and I expect them to perform. I don’t want them taking the initiative. I don’t like mugging, and to Alex’s credit, she doesn’t reward it, but horses busy offering behaviors is too close to mugging for me. Alex understands how I feel, and she shared with me that I’m not the first professional to cast a dubious eye on CT as a training paradigm. She told me that if I stuck with it and kept an open mind, there was a good chance I’d become a convert.
It hasn’t happened yet. I wish I felt the same way Alex does (or the other professionals she’s converted) but I don’t.
Or at least I think I don’t. Or I used to think I don’t. I’ve had to re-examine my assumptions in light of my experiences over the last couple of days.
Visit here tomorrow for part two of this two-part blog post…