• Adele Shaw

Word Choice Is Important

natalie lynn photography

Do you say "make" or "ask"? And do you actually MEAN what you say?

You can say you "ask" your horse to trot, but do you really mean you MAKE them trot? If you ask and they don't do it... what happens then? The answer to that question is important. Do you MAKE horses do what you want? Or do they actually have a choice in the matter? Do you ASK or do you FORCE. Personally I ask, but I have a long history of forcing horses to do what I've wanted, so I've found myself still using phrases like "Make him trot!" Or "Make him bend", even when I had stopped wanting to force horses to do anything; it was a habit. One day I realized that these words didn't fit my goals and desires, and were perpetuating old habits of insisting the horse MUST do it my way. I may have stopped wanting to MAKE horses do this or that through force, but my inner speech and when I talked to others wasn't matching up, and it was subconsciously feeding old practices. So I stopped. I stopped using words like "make", "should", "must", "has to", "has no choice", "insist", "demand", "force", "tell" and more. Any words that implied it was my way or the highway, and with that.. the practice of training in such a way that the horse's only option was my way.

There are clearly times when "making" is in the best interest of the horse, in emergency situations (more on this later), but what about in daily training? What about when you just want your horse to stop moving about on the cross ties or to go over a jump or just pick up a trot? Do you prescribe to that old saying "Ask, Tell, Demand"? Why is that even something we say? Don't we mean "Tell, Tell Louder, Punish"? If an "ask" is automatically a threat if they don't say yes, are we really "asking"?

When you ask someone to do something for you, what happens when they politely decline? Do you say "well okay, that's not what I was expecting but that's fine" or do you say "too bad you have to do it anyways and if you don't, things will get bad until you change your mind."? In both situations, the question was phrased the same, but the second response to the answer tells us that the original statement was never a request but an order. You can say you are "asking" your horse to do something all you want, but if the horse doesn't have a choice it's not an ask, but a tell; and your horse knows it.

Regardless of how patient, kind, caring you are... if you're going to make the horse do whatever it is that you want at the end of the day then you aren't actually asking them. Asking implies the "asked" has a choice. They don't HAVE to say yes, they can indeed say no. If however they do not have a choice it's a whole different story. Telling, making, insisting, forcing, requiring, demanding.... These are all possible words for what makes up the bulk of common horse training, and even some liberty and "natural" training approaches. In fact, from the moment we go to catch our horse from the pasture or the stall until we put them back at the end of the day.... It's a long series of instructions and commands for the horse. They have no choice in anything that happens; from being tied for grooming to being ridden to when they can graze and and not graze. They don't get to pick when they trot, rest, drink, sleep, eat, get in the trailer, pick up a foot... Nothing. It's all human directed.. (unless you do indeed truly give your horse a choice.. more on that later) and yet.. I hear people saying they are "asking" their horse to get in the trailer. Are they? I mean... Are you REALLY asking? If your horse doesn't want to get on the trailer, or even take a step forward, do you pull harder? Do you get out a whip? What about a chain? What about "move it's feet"? Your horse politely declined and you said no, he HAD to. That initial approach to the trailer with a cue for the horse to get in was never an ask, it was a subtle tell with the threat of more if the horse refused.

- Adele

#horse #horsestraining #traininghorses #horsemanship #positivereinforcement #clickertraining #words #wordchoice #animaltraining #thoughts


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