When I first contacted Max, it was out of sheer desperation. I had almost given up on positive reinforcement and clicker training, because the training I had done with my horse on my own had made her into a frustrated, biting «monster».
I hadn’t paid any attention to her emotions, and I lacked structure.
I was in a situation where I had to give my horse cues every couple of seconds, or else she would snap at me. She also often lashed out after being given a treat. I hadn’t established an end of session signal, so she constantly threw behaviours at me, getting upset and frustrated when that didn’t get her a reward.
I was SO close to going back to what I knew; negative reinforcement, punishment, and all that other crap. I made up all sorts of arguments that would justify that. At least then I would feel like I had control.
I did feel however that I wouldn’t be happy going back, and I am very glad that I sought out help instead.
Help in the form of Maxine Easey.
I felt in the beginning that it was strange that she told me to start at the beginning with our training again. We had to start in protected contact, and all I was supposed to do was to reward my horse for standing relaxed facing forward. In my naive, little brain, I was convinced that we already were past this stage in our training. But boy, did we need it.
Thinking back, I can see that this was the biggest and most important step towards being able to train using positive reinforcement. It was also the step that I skipped when I tried doing it on my own.
I saw improvement session to session, and I soon had a horse that was very relaxed around food. No biting, no frustration, no ear pinning.
We have had several lessons from Max since then, most of them related to target training. I feel however that with Max, what matters isn’t WHAT behaviours are taught – but HOW they are taught. It is easy to teach a horse that touching a pink fly swatter results in a reward. It is a lot harder to do it while also taking the horses emotions into consideration.
That is the key thing I learned from Max. Never do any training if the horse isn’t happy and relaxed. I never even thought about the fact that when doing +R training we are reinforcing not only behaviour but also eliciting emotions.
What I have already achieved, with Max’s help, is having a horse who is happy training with food, who is not pushing me, biting me, or begging me for food. She enjoys the sessions as much as I do, and is capable of thinking about the task rather than stressing about the food. She can make a mistake without throwing a fit when she isn’t rewarded. The biggest change has to do with my way of thinking. I daresay that in our case, Max has done a LOT more people training than I have done horse training.
We are now doing a lesson on how to produce movement in the horse without the use of pressure (of course). I have many goals for us, for example to be able to work my horse on the lunge, and that way help her build muscle. I also hope to teach her cues that can be used when I start riding her.
The biggest goal however isn’t an end goal, it is an ever-ongoing goal to always have a horse who is a willing participant, and who isn’t afraid to say no to me.
Thank you, Max, for all encouragement, tips, and feedback. I am so excited to see what comes next.