That rider guiding her horse in a curving path while approaching a new and unfamiliar object in the arena isn't as crazy as she might seem. If her horse has signaled that he's worried about that new thing: a jump, a freshly painted judge's box, whatever – she's smart to make him approach it in a curving, indirect line. Why? It all has to do with how horses' vision works.
I will address that subject in detail in the next column in this periodic series for California Riding Magazine. I welcome the chance to share science-based information that you can use in your everyday work with your horses to improve performance and, more importantly, create a productive and enjoyable bond between you and your horse.
In this introductory column, I want to familiarize you with what my Andrea Kutsch Academy is
In cooperation with universities all over the world, AKA focuses on detecting and analyzing the natural behavior of the horse and their ways of education and communication. Our mission is to make training of horses easier and more successful for both – horse and rider.
We develop rules for nonverbal communication and consequences for negative and positive reinforcement so the horse has a better chance to understand what you ask him to do. We believe that what the horse is and what the horse could be lies in your hands.
The horse has survived for thousands or maybe millions of years in the natural surroundings of the world. Any changes you make away from that natural setting need to be trained – conditioned by using classical and operant conditioning. Our teaching stays as close as possible to nature so the horse learns that he doesn't have to fear things we ask him to do that are against his nature. That means you need to be able to differentiate between an instinctive behavior of the horse (which is innate and cannot be changed) and
the learned behavior (which can be changed
The negative consequences you apply for bad behavior (negative reinforcement) and the positive consequences which you apply for positive behavior (positive reinforcement) should not produce fear or uncertainty. It should be on the spot, clear, understandable and be fun.
As with a human, learning should be fun and not produce adrenaline. That means we should avoid a hit with a whip or a kick with a spur or other tools. These produce pain, and therefore adrenaline, impairing the horse's ability to understand and, thus, learn and change the behavior. Learning means that you change a behavior of a horse: Jump a jump even when he doesn't trust, pass by objects he doesn't understand (judges in a dressage competition), give his feet for a farrier even when it hurts, accept being washed with a hose while standing still, stop bucking or accepting the bit on little signals instead of lots of pressure so that you can create a harmonious team instead of a team which is fighting one another.
The AKA system helps your horse understand so that you win his trust in your interaction instead of losing his trust by fighting him with spurs and whips. Fighting will make the horse more nervous every time and you can expect his behavior to get worse and worse.
Your horse has only one possibility to talk to you: with gestures. He needs to do something with his body to send you the information about what he is thinking. He will send you the information: "What is this over there? Is it a lion, can it hurt us?" Understanding how his eyesight works is one of many ways to become a great teammate with your horse. You respect his signals, fears and address them with communication that makes use of the horse's nature and instincts.
Everything you want to teach the horse and change from the natural base will indeed impact the horse on a physiological and psychological level. If you stay with their natural way of communication and social rules as a baseline, your horse will understand faster, create fewer problems and perform much better for you in every discipline you want.
In our next column we will explain the difference between a horse's monocular and binocular vision and how you can put that knowledge to use in your training.
Andrea Kutsch founded the Andrea Kutsch Academy in her native Germany in 2003 and is now introducing her teaching and training techniques to the United States. Her next Southern California appearance will be a Nov. 18 seminar at the Del Mar Horsepark. For more information and complete local appearance dates, visit www.andreakutschacademy.com.