We have all heard this saying in relation to many areas of our lives. It could not be more true for animal training. Many days I am greeted with letters sharing progress that people have had with their horses, using positive reinforcement (R+). These reports remind me that the decades of demos and lectures are taking hold. R+ is a whole new way of thinking for most horse people. They are embracing the science and then the evidence takes over and does the rest. The result is powerful and typically begins a whole new approach to horse training and a new chapter of their lives.
A common thread throughout these inspiring letters is the apology about the writer’s bumbling clumsiness. I want to offer a word of encouragement. I am amazed and deeply respectful of accomplished equestrians and their willingness to put themselves out there; to be brand new at something. It takes a lot of courage. A really important element of R+ training is that it should be fun for you and your learner, whether it is a horse, dog or dolphin. Making it fun ensures that we are making it about the game and turning our horses into good problem solvers who look forward to the enrichment that the training brings into their lives. This is where the art meets the science.
Of course, R+ training, like any type of training, can be done poorly and run you into problems. Understanding the science IS important in order to change your thinking which means it will change your decisions and resulting actions. But try not to get “analysis paralysis” which prevents you from even trying to move forward lest it not be perfect. There are a lot of resources out there to help you sort through the rough patches. Myself, I have made an instructional podcast (Equine Clicker 101), my YouTube Channel (shawnakarrasch), online coaching and of course clinics which are a fabulous way to get hands-on guidance. But I am not alone, there are lots of great resources out there these days.
The training is all backed by scientific evidence, but do not let that turn it into a dogmatic process. THAT is one of the ways to break down the efficacy of R+ training. When done correctly it is not all about the food. I will share more about that in my next blog post. For now, I want to remind you to have fun and forgive some of your newness, your horse doesn’t care as long as you are bringing some clarity to the training equation. Refing the behavior and your criteria happens but it is a shaping process.
Until next time, enjoy getting your horse On Target!