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Can you train in a work ethic for the slacker horse?

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  • Can you train in a work ethic for the slacker horse?

    I like a horse who says "Yes sir, how high, sir?"

    I like to think I teach the horses I ride to say that.

    But the "I might have ruined my horse" thread in Hunter/Jumper (about a rearing baby) made me realize that I don't have a system for that that I can put into words. Do you?
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat

  • #2
    I think that would depend on the horse itself.

    Some horses are bred to be amenable, hot, go-getters, any combination of traits that the trainer/rider with the right skills can bring out on them, just as the right person can suppress the bad traits that make some horses want to hang back and be shown/told.

    I knew plenty of trainers that had to change themselves when the super sensitive Doc Bar offspring became popular, people that grew up with the ranker Hancocks and quick to sour Skipper W's out there.

    You have to take each horse as it is and if it doesn't fit with how you train and you rather not change what you do, let someone else try, it is the most fair to the human and horse.

    Hope this answers some of what your question asks.

    Comment


    • #3
      I have a horse that is an example of a horse that cannot be taught to work.

      He just burns out after a month to 6 weeks of consistent work. He has been vetted a billion times - his previous owner is a GP trainer with a long list of accomplishments, and gave up on him and gave him to me.

      He just hates to work - and isn't afraid to tell you in every way possible. He is a bit of a problem, because he is wonderful trail horse but he is very athletic and occasionally poorly behaved if he thinks he can get away with it so not ideal for a beginner or someone wanting a "bomb proof" kind of horse. And of course he is not suitable for a goal-oriented rider either. I have owned him for 6 years and he is mostly a pet (and unfortunately he is aggressive with other horses so not even a good companion). He makes a pretty pasture ornament and he is an easy keeper My husband rides occasionally and he is a good enough rider to handle his antics so has been an alright trail horse for him but my husband doesn't like this horse very much either.

      Anyone want a free, completely useless 13 year old horse?

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      • #4
        I have successfully, twice, installed a work ethic in a horse with clicker training. This is the only way I have found for the really difficult horse that does not want to work at all. It gives them a reason to work.

        Comment


        • #5
          I'm going to go out on a limb here...stop me if I start to ramble

          I would venture to say that, in this context, "work ethic" could also mean "heart".

          When I think of a horse with a great work ethic, I picture a horse that will try his hardest to please me. He will go above and beyond, do his job to the best of his abilities. Like you said, he will ask "Yes sir, how high? I'll go even higher, just in case". I think that all of these qualities are also found in a horse that could be described as "having a lot of heart".

          Yes, a good trainer can bring out these attributes, and hide the more negative qualities. But what about the horse that be obedient when asked, but will stop working the nanosecond he's able? There is a difference between good training that results in the horse complying to your request and good training, yes, but the horse wants to work and please his rider and is obviously happy about doing his job.

          JMO

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          • #6
            Mine outgrew it, thank goodness!

            Comment


            • #7
              I praise and reward for the right actions. I reward a horse for trying and reward a horse for being proud of himself. I also quickly and fairly smack down the (deliberately) wrong or dangerous answers.

              Or, in certain cases, I just let the horse do what it wants. Example- show mare, lots of heart, loves her job, rarely does anything wrong. I ask her to flat walk into warm-up ring where another horse is trotting. Horse is thinking "We're at a show, we always TROT into the ring." She starts fussing at my request, kinda threatening to act silly. I think- she's doing what she thinks is correct, it's not going to hurt anything, and it's certainly not worth an argument, so I laugh at her and ask for a strong trot. Once around the ring and she's perfectly happy to flat walk. Nobody loses.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by shakeytails View Post
                I praise and reward for the right actions. I reward a horse for trying and reward a horse for being proud of himself. I also quickly and fairly smack down the (deliberately) wrong or dangerous answers.

                Or, in certain cases, I just let the horse do what it wants. Example- show mare, lots of heart, loves her job, rarely does anything wrong. I ask her to flat walk into warm-up ring where another horse is trotting. Horse is thinking "We're at a show, we always TROT into the ring." She starts fussing at my request, kinda threatening to act silly. I think- she's doing what she thinks is correct, it's not going to hurt anything, and it's certainly not worth an argument, so I laugh at her and ask for a strong trot. Once around the ring and she's perfectly happy to flat walk. Nobody loses.
                This. I reward for all effort towards what I want. If we got two steps of back without any resistance, that is praised just as highly as it will/would be if they backed a long ways. I do not let them choose when we stop but I ask for small increments and let off before we hit that point. I think this builds the work ethic, I try to make every ride a positive one and quickly they want to please me.

                I did have a horse that had no work ethic, and he could be very stubborn and snarky about it. He did well with me for years, out of the ring and things were always new and exciting. He didn't do well when I leased him to a lesson program, came back body sore, underweight and burned out. He was worse than when I first got him as a project horse.

                What it took was getting him out and when he was going forward happily, I stopped and turned around. I would take him out, we'd have this beautiful forward walk, he would want to trot. We would trot just a small circle or two, turn around pat and put back. I increased the work load but left him wanting more. He eventually became a very nice light ride, better than before because this time I fixed the issue instead of adapting to it. But you can bet that if he went into the same situation where he was drilled, up down lessons, etc etc he'd do the same. I had leased him for intermediate lessons and explained he would probably not be a total beginner horse but he was extremely quiet... Just easily burned out so I understood why he had seemed suitable.

                I think it's important with all horses, but especially this type, to keep a positive atmosphere but immediately discipline bad/unwanted behavior as well. While you need to be open the last thing you want is to let the horse always determine his workload either.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Figuring out if there is a job the horse might like better than its current job sometimes also helps. Not every horse likes every job, and I think it is difficult to create a sustainable work ethic for a job the horse truly hates.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Some are born with it, some are ambivalent and will learn with the right training, and others will never learn.

                    The middle crew that that are capable of improving will best do so under a system that is 100% consistent. I believe that the confusion/resentment that results when x is ok sometimes but not ok other times, or when y aid sometimes means a and sometimes means b is what keeps the middle group from developing a good enough work ethic.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      The two main ingredients are

                      1. If you ask for something, GET AN ANSWER.

                      2. Don't punish or correct mistakes. Just try again.


                      So, if your aids land in silence, escalate promptly and enough to get a reaction. The horse learns that he has to offer up SOMETHING. Really the only time I escalate with a horse is if I am not getting an answer. I don't care if I get the wrong answer, but I want the horse to be trying out SOMETHING when I put an aid on. So if I put leg on and nothing happens I might back it up with a tap. If that tap results in a buck, that's fine though. I got an answer.

                      But alternatively, don't punish mistakes. To a horse it is completely arbitrary whether "leg/rein aid on the diagonal" means "buck up with your back legs" or "cross canter" or "do a lead change." He hasn't read the book, he just knows that when your aids go on it means you want SOMETHING. So if he bucks, don't punish him, just sit it out and try again. If he cross canters, walk and promptly pick up the correct lead. Eventually he will guess right and do a lead change, and then you can reward him.

                      I hate it when riders add training pressure and then punish the horse the second it crow hops or does whatever. After several repetitions the horse learns it had better not crow hop -or do anything else. Those aids are supposed to get NO REACTION, according to horse. Then the rider gets mad that they are doing the hula trying to get whatever it is done and the horse won't answer them with anything.

                      If you correct mistakes too much the horse will not take the risk to try a new thing. If you want a "go getter" you have to make them feel comfortable offering stuff to you.

                      In general, setting very clear rules, getting AN ANSWER to the aids you do apply, and setting up your progress moments carefully so that your horse can be successful will make a horse happy to try for you.
                      The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                      Jinxyhttp://tiny.cc/PIC798&http://tiny.cc/jinx364
                      Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                      The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY

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                      • #12
                        Meup is right. There's plenty of time later to fix the crow hop/cross canter/whatever later. Forward is good.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          This is one reason I have liked TBs that have had somewhat decent careers on the track. They don't have to be Grade 1 stakes winners. Just horses that have run a fair amount, and stay relatively sound of mind and body.

                          Some horses don't have a work ethic at all. But I think those are far and few between.

                          Some horses have had a work ethic drilled out of them, by owners who don't ask them to work, on the ground or under saddle, ask incorrectly, or respond adversely to what the horse offers. Example horses that end up backwards, because owners are so afraid of it actually going forward. Pretty soon the thing is so behind the leg/hand that it becomes spooky and evasive. Is that poor work ethic or poor training?!

                          It is a tough thing to quantify, but something I've thankfully learned to feel and/or sense to some degree, pretty quickly.

                          ETA: I think the #1 thing a horse needs is a GO BUTTON and there are a LOT out there, even at "upper levels" of sports, that don't have reliable go buttons. It is like a magic button and seems so much follows it....
                          We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.

                          Comment

                          • Original Poster

                            #14
                            Originally posted by talkofthetown View Post
                            I would venture to say that, in this context, "work ethic" could also mean "heart".

                            When I think of a horse with a great work ethic, I picture a horse that will try his hardest to please me. He will go above and beyond, do his job to the best of his abilities. Like you said, he will ask "Yes sir, how high? I'll go even higher, just in case". I think that all of these qualities are also found in a horse that could be described as "having a lot of heart".
                            Yeah, but there's an intellectual- or "mental toughness" component to it, too. This is the horse who doesn't understand (and maybe getting tired) but keeps looking for the right answer that will get a reward from his rider.

                            I give every horse this kind of ride. Some old western-type guru said it: "From the minute I get on a horse, I'm looking for a reason to get off." For me, that means I'm looking to reward something and to find something the horse did that was so good, or repeated or sustained that I can tell him he *earned* the end of the ride.

                            If you do this long enough, the horse comes out looking for the right answer because he knows there's one to be found. And he'll keep looking for it for a long duration because "that miracle move"-- the one that gets you to get off has also always been there somewhere.
                            The armchair saddler
                            Politically Pro-Cat

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Love meup's response-- I think she nailed it.
                              I do think some horses are very people-oriented, and conversely i've known a few who just could not give a crap about people. Obedient but never look/feel "bright" while at work, and praise doesn't seem to be a reward the way it is for other horses. They're just not that into you. I'm sure early socialization and the quality of the early training are a big part of this.

                              Not sure there's much we can do about changing that core attitude, but certainly we can work on its outward expression, which is being dull to, or ignoring your aids.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by mvp View Post
                                Yeah, but there's an intellectual- or "mental toughness" component to it, too. This is the horse who doesn't understand (and maybe getting tired) but keeps looking for the right answer that will get a reward from his rider.

                                I give every horse this kind of ride. Some old western-type guru said it: "From the minute I get on a horse, I'm looking for a reason to get off." For me, that means I'm looking to reward something and to find something the horse did that was so good, or repeated or sustained that I can tell him he *earned* the end of the ride.

                                If you do this long enough, the horse comes out looking for the right answer because he knows there's one to be found. And he'll keep looking for it for a long duration because "that miracle move"-- the one that gets you to get off has also always been there somewhere.
                                I have said this before, I like the kind of horse that wants to keep working when I get off, that is sad the ride is over, as I am, when all went so well and we had fun, even if at times it was hard and now the fun is over.

                                Those horses wait for you at the gate, are sad if you don't take them but another horse that time or that day, are more than happy to come along to be saddled and when coming back to the house or trailer are draggy, they are wishing we had more of that fun stuff to do, going back to their pasture with their friends is bah-humbug, compared with all we just did.

                                There are some horses that just never really like working, but most, once they see that working is interesting, they like it and can't hardly wait for their turn.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  It depends, as usual. I'd say that breeding has something to do with it, some breeds are more sluggish than others, whether the horse is interested in its work and given a varied regime. If something is not working, change tactics. If the aids are not 'on' enough, the horse does not have to obey immediately...
                                  and will not show its work ethic. Mostly it is up to the rider to do the asking - as they prefer not to do more than they have to. I'm not a workaholic, but my horses always go the same way for me - the kind of ride I give them is not too demanding, but I do like to get where I'm going with no hanging around.
                                  They are light to the aids, willing and obedient. I don't know if I could get that with - say - a draft cross since they have never been my rides.
                                  Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    If the horse has learned not to work, you might gain compliance through good training, but it's not something I'd want to deal with. There is nothing that, once learned, can be unlearned. And those horses tend to be opportunistic.

                                    Now there's a big difference between the horse that is lazy because it's simply confused and copes by tuning out as opposed to the horse that is actually saying "no". A dull horse can be brightened up like a new penny with some patience and encouragement. Work is fun when is makes sense. Applied to the "no" horse, however, you may find you simply get a more adamant "f--- off!"

                                    I had a horse here recently with zero work ethic. A bully. He wasn't so bad that he couldn't be ridden through his threats, and luckily he was one who would make a threat before flying off the handle. With a less skilled rider, however, he followed through in nasty fashion. BTDT rodeo broncs don't pull some of the stunts he did. Calmly. Deliberately. Learned. I gave him away to a young pro who believed she could install work ethic. She promptly flipped him for a profit to a beginner. And unfortunately, his brand of lazy is dangerous.
                                    "I did know once, only I've sort of forgotten." - Winnie the Pooh

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by FineAlready View Post
                                      Figuring out if there is a job the horse might like better than its current job sometimes also helps. Not every horse likes every job, and I think it is difficult to create a sustainable work ethic for a job the horse truly hates.
                                      This. Pulling back from serious dressage training has done wonders for my mare, and for me. She is still a bit ring sour, but get her out on the trails or in a field, and GO is her favorite word. Of course, much of this may be me -- I don't enjoy dressage that much, because it's so picky and perfectionistic. I can do it casually, with a good trainer, but I have to be careful.

                                      The other thing that really helped was getting a good handle on where my mare was experiencing pain. She's now on Previcox, and had injections to her SI and LS, so it doesn't *hurt* to move -- and her attitude is 100% better.
                                      You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                                      1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        A fellow boarder at my barn bought a 9 year old gelding that was a pushy, spoiled pasture pet until he was 8. Buyer was told that he is green, only about 30 rides on him by a trainer. He is said to be a nice horse but "he has zero work ethic". His MO is to be good until he's had enough then he resumes spoiled brat mentality and acts like a jerk. Only time will tell if his work ethic can be developed...I'm not so sure. A pro *maybe* could get him working but I'm not sure an ammie with limited time and abilities will be able to do the same... Anyone with experience with similar case have any ideas...?

                                        We (other boarders) have been encouraging 1) SEND HIM TO A PRO, and/or 2) lots of groundwork to establish a working relationship. New owner wants this guy to be her perfect trail horse *now* and calls his bad behavior "playful". Bad behavior includes spooking into road, spinning, rearing, bucking until she dismounts for safety, then running around her and cow-kicking so she can't get back on. It is not every ride so owner thinks they are doing great and loves new horse dearly.

                                        It makes me appreciate my boy who seems to really enjoy our rides...he's not perfect but he is safe and I know I can count on him to take care of us.

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