Hi Mattie, Can I Request a Blot Topic from you? The topic would be Clarity and in particular with voice cues and phases. I'm looking to get more consistent and refined for Star and my observations are many people see cues (mainly voice) and treats as the way to clarity and that increasing phases amounts to 'whacking'. I'm not convinced and think we maybe all missing something with either timing, effectiveness or other? Thanks! Sandra!
No problem! This comes up a lot. Here is an article by one of our best 4-Star Instructors, Jesse Peters, discussing the different methods of training (positive reinforcement/negative reinforcement, etc.). He works with Zoo Animals as well as horses, so has a vast amount of experience with all kinds of predators/prey animals using Parelli methods:
As for the question about progressing phases verses cues/voice - it sounds like the concept that has not been grasped is the fact that voice/energy are always part of the first phase. If the horse does not understand, or if the human has not been CLEAR, EFFECTIVE, and UNDERSTOOD the person has had to resort to stronger/harder phases to get the horse to do something. Unfortunately, when this happens, the horse often times reacts to the threat, rather than consciously stopping to recognize what is happening and then answering the question presented. This confusion also can happen in the Positive Reinforcement camp, by the human becoming a cookie dispenser or by the horse suddenly exhibiting unusual behaviors (such as aggressive ears, over exuberant responses, demands for treats, becoming mouthy, dangerously invading a person’s space, or in the extreme perverted or monotonous behaviors, even ones that may seem okay if they were in moderation).
I find that many horses need a TOUCH (i.e. contact of some sort - from a hand, the rope, the end of the carrot stick and/or string) to understand what is being asked. So often, we just need to clarify what part of the horse we are focused on or to help them understand that we are needing a RESPONSE. High phases, rather than justified phases, result in a REACTION or ROBOTIC behavior. Release – in either positive or negative reinforcement – is really what teaches. Good timing, a good release, and appropriate rewarding of behavior encourages that behavior again.
If you are seeing high phases or horses that don't understand, the communication is not being clear and concise. I see the same thing happen with food/voice/cues --- they end up being bribes or manipulations rather than true communication. You also often see tricks, too, come out of methods developed by "positive" ideas or by ANYONE trying to create a desired response without the horse thinking the request through. A trick is something that you "cue" for (voice or body movements) to get a result but you couldn't stop or request in a different order because it is a practiced (monotonous) response that often becomes robotic in the horse's mind.
The higher levels are about refinement and engagement (mind/body/spirit) so that you and your horse can work in harmony. So many times, we need to add better balance, biomechanics, and focus (mind, emotions, and spirit) in our bodies to achieve this.
I just recently spent an entire weekend focusing people on CALM - CONNECTED - RESPONSIVE so they could build on exactly what you are asking about!
If a horse has ANY adrenaline, they are not calm --- and if they react rather than respond, they are not calm...
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a horse that is not thinking about your communication and also connecting that communication to what you are asking is not responsive. If the horse does know what you are asking but does not respond, that is also not being responsive. I liken this second part to someone texting on a phone. Have you ever had someone do that while you were trying to talk to them! It may be accepted today in society, but that is not a respectful or happy relationship!
Miss either element, your horse will not be truly connected.
As for voice commands, they will eventually be phase 1.5 --- as energy/intention is always phase 1 --- voice should be the follow up to reinforce the suggestion. Then you need to "go up the phases" to explain what you mean if the horse is confused OR "up the phases" to explain to the horse that the phase 1 should be their priority. I always repeat the question again at phase 1 to make sure that I was understood. If I am not, I will repeat the question and phases (effectively, not firmly) until the horse understands. Often times, when humans are first re-learning their body language, voice cues can actually distract them from focusing on their body, their timing, and their release. Humans use their voice and often block out many other necessary and important cues.
Once you are ready, and have clear communication, voice cues enhance your relationship with your horse. It should feel easy and natural. And you definitely should not sound like a chicken, clucking so much that the voice is meaningless. It should be a brief, distinct cue, as are all other body cues.
I hope that helps you on your journey!
Mattie Cowherd loves sharing her passion for horses, nature, and learning. Join her for some fun thoughts and adventures. Mattie loves writing, teaching, horse care, and --- well --- horses!