Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Training vs Development

This morning I read an interesting piece on standing outside the box, away from the crowd, out from under umbrellas, being different, taking a different approach etc. It's a good piece and worth the read.

I was nodding in agreement, quite merrily, being proselytised to with great delight in self-congratulatory recognition, feeling good about myself until I came upon this: "Using such words as break, train and desensitize can be improved upon..It's easier and more comfortable to resort to those words since they are normal..It is not as comfortable to replace them with start, develop and build confidence."

I agree that breaking horses as a term has agendas where I choose not to go. And I am in two minds about how politically incorrect desensitising is, which I think is embedded in the methods and processes taken, and if bound up with the intent to build confidence in the horse is not so offensive. I found the rejection of the word "train" difficult. I can develop my horse in a number of ways and not train her. And what do we really mean by "develop"? What is the objective? And to, and by, whose criteria is the horse developed? By the horse's? I am pretty sure a horse considers itself already developed, as a horse-entity. So develop makes as much sense as train, and to me, a little less sense.

In order to achieve having our horses do things by cue or request, they need some kind of training. Sure, if you wanna develop them, you can call it that, but frankly, it's training. Training develops a horse to be the kind of animal we want to have around. Developing a horse does (should, otherwise what is being developed and why?) the same thing. So it actually benefits the human directly, and the horse indirectly, because a well trained horse is more pleasurable to have around, and is less likely to be neglected (that's a big assumption I know) and end up prematurely dead in a can of dog food.

It makes me wonder what the issue is for the author of that blog post around the word "train". Since when is train a dirty word? We train our children to go to the toilet, we train ourselves to get up in time to make it to the office at work o'clock. When we train our horses, we are also training ourselves, whether we like it or not; to watch ourselves, how we behave, react, respond, reassess, control ourselves as well as doing the same for our horses. In this regard, training is a two-way street, of dialogue and negotiation.  Developing our horses to me, doesn't contain this dialogue and the capacity for negotiation. Develop is something we do to our horses, a bit like developing a photo in a chemical bath.

So while we "develop" our horses through "games" on the ground, or in-hand sessions between two long reins, or under saddle during school manoeuvres, cattle work, jumping etc, we are also training them, and ourselves, hopefully building trust, and confidence in both horse and human in themselves and each other. Yes, good quality work, that is negotiated and created around the needs and readiness of both horse and human,  in this regard develops the human-horse relationship to one that is more harmonious and safer for both entities. It does so through training the horse to do what we want, when we want, in a manner that is (hopefully) acceptable to both parties. If you want to make what you do sound softer, more acceptable, by calling it developing the horse, then go ahead, but it is what it is: getting the horse to respond in a way that we want, when we want, to a particular cue through a series of discussions we have with horses. I call that training.

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