The horse world is a very interesting place. It’s full of people who love horses, like horses, have businesses centered on horses, make money on horses, lose money on horses, train them, raise them, ride them, drive them, groom them, and hand-graze them, compete on or with them, or do nothing but hang out with them.
But that’s about all you can say that “unites” horse people. Soon the horse world begins to splinter into smaller and smaller subgroups. Western – pleasure, reining or working cow horse? English – hunt seat, dressage or saddle seat? Driving – pleasure or combined driving? Trail – pleasure, competitive, mountain, extreme or endurance? Horse agility anyone?
It’s as if everyone is in their own little fiefdom and if you’re not in their activity-specific world (and competing at the top levels), they’re not interested in what you do or how you do it, much less how well you do it.
I have had or been involved with horse since forever. I’ve ridden western, hunt seat, and dressage. I’ve ridden a Tennessee Walking horse and a paso fino. I used to take lessons on a reining horse. I’ve competed in dressage and gymkhana (western). I learned to fox hunt, but never actually rode to hounds. I’ve ridden trails for my own pleasure and gone on a cross-county trail ride where it rained for two days. I learned to drive horses but never invested in a cart. But most of my experience has been in riding and studying dressage.
Once I wrote an article for a horse club I was in and, being a dressage-based person, I wrote about dressage. To me, dressage is the basis for every kind of horse riding or driving there is. The word “dressage” does mean “to prepare”. But I was told by one person that if she hadn’t known me, she wouldn’t have read the article because it had the “D” word in it. I was gobsmacked and truly couldn’t understand that frame of mind.
Now let’s add “clicker training” to the mix.
Bob Bailey is a living legend in the world of using operant conditioning to train behaviors humanely. He’s spent over 40 years training over 150 different species of animals, including horses. He has tens of thousands of hours under his belt training animals. But, as Bob Bailey said to me once, horse people don’t listen to him or anything he has to say about training because he doesn’t ride horses. And he doesn’t ride in their style or compete and win at the very top of that style. Therefore, his wisdom and experience are dismissed out of hand.
While I might ride dressage, but if I haven’t competed at the top of the sport, I’m no one and no one will listen to anything I have to say about clicker training and horses, dressage or otherwise.
Seeking to connect to other clicker trainers, I once posted on The Chronicle of the Horse forums calling all clicker trainers to just sign in and announce themselves. I got trolled by a guy who said, “When the FEI approves clicker training, I’ll look into it. But not before then.” Since when does the FEI approve of any training system? I don’t want to start a train wreck here, but the FEI doesn’t approve of rollkur either, but people still use it. A lot.
The point is, unless you’ve competed at the top level of that particular person’s specific horse sport AND WON, you won’t be listened to, whether you’re talking dressage or learning science.
Now I’ve learned from a reliable source that the same holds true for the dog world. Regardless of how far ahead of the horse world the dog world is regarding positive reinforcement training, “if the author (of a book) hasn’t titled a dog” that author (and books) are of no value to the person who only wants to know about titling a dog in competition. The authors that those of us in R+ training revere, such as Kathy Sdao, Ken Ramirez, Hannah Branigan, and others, are of no consequence to those in competition, let alone such luminaries as Bob Bailey, Keller and Marion Breland, B.F. Skinner, and Paul Chance. Those names aren’t even on the radar.
Keller Breland suffered such ignorance even though he trained several field dogs to championships using R+ training in the ’40s. No one wanted to know about the training. They only wanted to know who the breeder was. That must be the secret to championship behavior – genetics.
It’s like my dad said for years: “I might be the best buttonholer–coat, but I’m not wanted if I’m not also the top buttonholer–vest.”
Unfortunate for everyone involved, but true.
The horse world is about thirty years (or more) behind the dog world in utilizing the power of operant conditioning, but the times they are a changing. For the better. The time has come for all of us to learn everything we can about operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, and a better, more humane way to train any animal, whether that animal is a dog, cat, horse, giraffe, or marine mammal. Read, study, listen. Go and learn from the best in the field of positive reinforcement training of whatever species. The species doesn’t really matter; the science does.