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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
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How Horses Learn
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Transfer groundwork to saddle

It is amazing that some people DO NOT consider Foundation of Ground Training as the most important training a horse will receive in order to prepare it for work in the saddle!  It is also amazing that people feel that a horse is safe and prepared Emotionally, Mentally and physically for work in the saddle after 30 days training?  

 


The more similar your horse’s groundwork and riding experiences are, the more easily the training will generalize across contexts. Differences in equipment, routine, location, and performance demands create barriers to the transfer of knowledge from one training context to the other. You can make the groundwork and riding experiences more comparable by regularly tacking up for groundwork, leading your horse through riding patterns, practicing groundwork exercises while mounted and working in the same locations.  


Ground Work 90% related to mounted schooling

Foundation of Ground training prepares the equine; emotionally, mentally, physically and provides us with a method should you experience a concerning situation in the saddle in order to communicate with your horse.  The better our horse’s foundation is on the ground the better our communication will be while riding and/or during driving sessions.  The Foundation of Ground Training uses a triad of exercises that are 90% related to mounted schooling.

 

Theory-Based Horse Training Principles

Using proper ground and mounted training plans and horse specific strategies along with the learning theory can help keep horses and rider’s safe and performing at their best.  Horse training should involve the correct use of what is known as learning theory. Its main learning processes are habituation (desensitizing and sensitizing; becoming accustomed to things & exercises), shaping, operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement) and conditioning (using predictable signals). “When we get these wrong,” it’s one of the biggest causes of training-related stress in horses.”


1)     Train according to the horse’s natural survival instincts

Do an evaluation on the ground to document and understanding Horses’ behavior (e.g., their social organization, attachment, fear responses, separation anxiety, arousal, need for space and companions, etc.) as well as their thought processes, we can better comprehend what causes them fear, makes them feel secure, and so forth and incorporate those things into training. “It’s normal for us to project a very human interpretation of how horses think,” but in doing so we’re expecting far too much and this can create negative welfare situations.

2)     Train easy-to-discriminate signals

Make sure your aids are clear and significantly different from one another when asking a horse to perform maneuvers such as gait transitions, going faster or slower, shortening or lengthening the stride, turning, and head and neck flexion. “Blurred and ambivalent signals can lead to confusion, distress, and responses that compromise performance and rider safety.

3)     Shape horses’ responses

When training, start by shaping the basics, forward, backwards, speed and directional control, then gradually move on to things such as; head, neck, front shoulders, ribcage and hind quarters position. You need to control what the horse’s legs are doing if you are to be successful shaping, so that everything is easy and one thing moves on to the next. Otherwise, poor shaping can confuse your horse.

4)     Elicit responses one at a times

Make sure your cues, like words, are clearly separated from each other. Clashing cues (for instance, asking for acceleration and deceleration simultaneously) create a confused and, eventually, dull horse

5)     Train only one response per signal

Each of your riding cues should have just one response associated with it. Ambiguous rein and leg aids, for example, cause confusion.

6)     Form consistent habits

Horses thrive on predictability and habit. Ensure gait transitions, for instance, are of the same structure and duration each time you ask for them.

7)     Train self-carriage 

Teach your horse to “keep going” in rhythm and straightness without constant signaling on your part. “Is the horse really trained to rate itself if you’re holding if you are confusing it be holding it back with the reins?

8)     Avoid flight responses  

A horse’s flight instinct is in response to fear. “If we did not address fear in our ground training, it can cause learning deficiencies, stress, and problem behaviors in the saddle. Horses trained with the desensitization and sensitization methods show fewer flight responses need fewer training sessions to learn to react calmly.

9)     Demonstrate minimal levels of arousal sufficient for training  

Basically, your horse should be relaxed (not to be confused with dull) when performing. High levels of arousal can cause hyper reactive behaviors that riders then think they need to punish, leading to a welfare issue.

10)  Prepare the horse

Use ground exercise to prepare the horse for the lesson and slightly raising their arousal levels normally improve learning outcomes.

11)  Punishment

The many problems associated with the application of punishment in practice lead to confusion by both horse and handler and possibly, abuse of the former. 

12)  Negative Reinforcement

A negatively reinforced approach to novel objects increases stress responses during the initial exposure but facilitates habituation in young horses.  Although a negatively reinforced approach appears beneficial for habituation, the procedure should be carefully managed due to increased stress responses in the horse, which may constitute a safety risk. 

 

Use the training pyramidon the ground & in the saddle
The foundation of ground training connects our minds and the horses mind to a triad of exercises that contain the elements of the training pyramid! They are such that for the horse and rider to advance to the next level, they must demonstrate proficiency of the previous level.  The Training Pyramid’s six building blocks parallel similarities necessary to efficiently; understand. Learn and perform during the foundation of mounted training. The building blocks of the pyramid identify the order in which these abilities are developed, from the bottom up.  Most horses often have missed training in the first four levels. Utilizing the pyramid is a way to improve the horse’s performance, reduce performance anxiety and increase the potential for success in the sport.  The elements of the pyramid are such that for the horse and rider to advance to the next level, they must have a clear understanding and have proficiency within the previous level. Below is a description of each level.

1.     Connection

Human connection, desensitizing, sensitizing, emotional/mental/physical control, respect, trust, leadership, patience and manners

2.     Rhythm and Forward

Horse must; go, stop, directional control, learn to rate self with regular footfalls.

3.     Suppleness – Soft on the inside & light on the outside

Accept and move away from pressure; the horse must have the ability to flex and which allows us to control of the body “parts” (head, neck, shoulder, ribcage & hip).  Vertically, laterally and longitudinally flexion in a relaxed and controlled manner.

4.     Contact

The horse’s acceptance of the rider’s hands first on the ground on lead and then in the saddle bitless or using a bit. This includes the horse’s willingness to move forward enabling the rider to connect the haunches to the forehand and the forehand to the haunches.

5.     Impulsion & Balance

Propulsion from the hindquarters to enable forward, lateral work and reverse movement.

6.     Straightness

The ability to align the horse’s body on straight and curved lines for efficient, effective movement. Straightness requires attention by the rider, the application of the rider’s aids, seat, legs and hands, and the skills provided by the prior levels of the pyramid.

7.     Collection

Refinement; the horse learns to carry his body in an athletic manner with little reminder or support from the rider. Collection allows the rider to lengthen and shorten the horse’s stride, add and control speed, and provides the ability to consistently place the horse’s body in a balanced, athletic position for efficient movement.


Last but not least; “Lightness is the Foundation of Willingness, the hallmark of collection…..Bill Dorrence”!