Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gimmick or Tool?

In horse training, one person’s gimmick is another person’s tool. So before I dismiss a particular technique or device, I want to take a long hard look at it. What problem is being addressed? What principle of behavior modification is being used? How much expertise does it require to be effective? Does it elevate or diminish my relationship with my horse? What does my gut tell me about this approach? As you might guess, I seldom find reason to pronounce something a gimmick. It seems like there is always some redeeming value.
Look at this drawing from the 1896 book, Jesse Beery’s Practical System of Colt Training and Horse Breaking. To cure a horse of pawing, a small block of wood is suspended from the horse’s upper leg. If the horse paws, the block bangs his leg, so the horse punishes himself. Gimmick or tool? Personally, I find this an ingenious tool for helping horses learn to stand quietly. Is it foolproof? Of course not! It would be most effective in a confined space with a quiet horse and it would be inappropriate for an overly reactive or timid horse that might panic. And I would never use this device on a horse that wasn’t being monitored regularly.

This week on radio, Mike Kevil weighs in the subject of gimmicks and tools. Listen.


Unknown said...

That sound like a good device, if as stated, used correctly. I've had several horses arrive at my barn with the annoying habit of pawing at the feed bucket and dunking all on the ground. I've tried shouting, flinging a rope at them, etc. But found that the horse perceive this as aggression from me toward him, scaring the timid ones. Besides that, as soon as I leave the pawing continues. So I came up with something that work for me. I take a syringe filled with water. Sit quietly nets to the horse and as soon as he lift his foot to paw, I squirt him with the water. They don't seem to realize where the water comes from and just a couple of days watching them like that and the pawing stop.

Rick said...

I like the squirting idea. Tom Dorrance did something similar with tossing a pebble at a horse each time it thought about pawing. Timing of the adversive is critical, of course. The dangling block method is a bit more automatic. Discipline can be applied without scaring a horse, but it's always better if he thinks he did it to himself. Good post.

Kimberly said...

I have had several young horses paw when tied. I tie them up after working with them and if they paw, they stayed tied till they stop the behavior. In my experence they always give it up after they are tired or bored with it. (I do stay around to monitor their behavior)