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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Rant Research

So yeah, that last post was ranty. It happens. I try to stay positive and all warm and fuzzy, but sometimes things p*** me off and my thoughts go pear-shaped. There are worse things to be than human, I suppose. Before I get much further, first let me apologize for any grammar/spelling/typos. I'm having a carpal tunnel episode from hell, and my wrist is all bound up and in pain. Truthfully, there will probably be my usual amount of grammar/spelling/typos, but at least now I can blame my wrist ;-)

So I did some research on the things I was ripping on so I don't have the excuse of pleading ignorance. Ignorance makes me angry, especially when it's willful and there's no real excuse for it. So, let's start with rope halters since I've ripped on them on more than one occasion. I found this quote: "Rope halters convey a "message" to the horse. A typical flat halter is very difficult to train with because a horse can lean on it - making training difficult. Rope halters work because the relatively thin rope causes the horse to yield to their own pressure -- teaching them not to lean." (Site here).

Ah HA! I get it now. They are essentially prong collars for horses. No more, no less. As such, leaving them on during turnout, trailering, etc. is not the norm, but abuse of the tool. In fact, they can be much easier on the horse than a nose-chain (which any of us who has worked with large or hot horses are very familiar with). It would appear that the whole "Natural Horsemanship" thing is loosely based on Vaquero traditions, or at least that seems to be where it finds its origins. Vaquero horsemanship is actually pretty interesting, and a system that seems to turn out very capable working horses suitable for all ranch-related duties. That's pretty darned respectable. As far as it relates to the classical system that I'm accustomed to, it's a completely different goal, but approached slowly and systematically in a way that sounds very familiar. Okay, cool.  I guess my problems with "Natural Horsemanship" is that I've encountered so many horses trained in this method that were behavioral nightmares, owners who were afraid to ride, techniques that I don't get at all (the whole "shaking the rope" thing makes me crazy. If an experienced horse person doesn't know what the horse is supposed to do, how is the horse supposed to guess? I'm still not sure it's a real 'thing' in NH, but I've seen so much of it) and the crazy notion that buying a few expensive CDs and special equipment is the key to understanding and working with your horse. That's not just wrong, it's dangerous. I also do NOT dig how every fellow with a system has a bunch of glib sayings and sounds suspiciously like a snake-oil salesman, selling the idea that their system is all you'll ever need. If you dig past all the nonsense (and cult-like following), use your common sense and work with an experienced horse-person who is in line with your goals, NH can be a nice enhancement and provide some direction. On it's own? not so much. If a person is into "Natural Horsemanship", they may want to go all the way and check out the real Vaquero system. Update 6/5/14: In my research, I found a cowboy that I really like. Seriously. You can find out more about him here: What you won't get: Slick patter, catch-phrases and a flashy website selling lots of outrageously-priced goods. What you will get: Compassion and common sense from a hard-working person who seems way too focused on "doing" to be spending a lot of energy on "selling". Respect.

I look forward to looking deeper into that system myself, as one of my personal equestrian goals is to trail ride like it's my job, see the country and maybe write about it (and make my sister go with me and take LOTS of pictures). Contrary to popular belief, a trail horse isn't simply a horse that isn't suited to a sport (and they can totally BE a sport horse, for that matter), but a fit, specialized animal trained to cope with all manner of shenanigans. Yeah, new, non-job-related research!

My opinion of a strictly behavioral approach to dog training hasn't changed though. I recently watched the documentary Blackfish, which did ZERO to change my mind on that score. I won't spoil (okay, a bit of a spoiler) for you, and in fact I think everyone should watch the movie. It's a commentary on what the twisted lifestyle of a wild animal in captivity can do to the psychology of that animal, and it's really tragic for all involved. Add to that a training system that focuses on training behaviors without any understanding of the animal they're actually working with (who needs to know anything about orcas when you know all about behavior modification, right? *Headdesk*), no management (precautions taken) because of the HUBRIS of thinking behavioral training is all you'll ever need (even though it's a system that relies entirely on the cooperation of the animal. But hey, animals are programmable robots who react the same to the same things all the time. Especially large, predatory wild animals. Everybody knows THAT). Add to that a lot of withholding info, complete denial, and the blaming OF TRAINERS for accident and deaths, and you pretty much have yourself a recipe for disaster. The trainer-blaming (even though filmed footage doesn't support trainer-error as a cause of ANYTHING) and complete denial are, unfortunately, familiar themes. In Blackfish, it was deadly to the trainers. In the world of dog training when things go wrong, it becomes deadly to the dogs. Okay, so strict adherence to a sliver of scientific theory as the end-all be-all is always going to be a rant for me. It's like "Hey, train these killer whales blind-folded and with one hand tied behind your back", and if you fail, OF COURSE it is your fault. Fortunately, OSHA stepped in and imposed some barriers and safety standards, but it took a court battle. Of course it did. In an ideal world, there would be no wild animals held captive and trained for our amusement. Hopefully, we evolve and develop a compassion-bone sooner rather than later on that score.

Re: my electronic issues? My computer updated itself again. I think it did it just to spite me. It was all "Neener neener" while it wasted my time, taking forever to make changes to itself that I didn't need or want. Uncle! In revenge, my font size has gone wacky for no apparent reason, and I can't fix it.See...I'm not imagining things!!

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