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The Project:

Mustangs directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train.

The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

A Sense of Belonging

 

A question came up recently that strikes right to the core of what I do and why I teach.

 

“How do you reward behavior you like in your horse?”

 

My answer in true therapeutic form is to turn it around and ask you the same question with a twist: “How do you reward any behavior that you like from any of your friends?”

 

I would bet you can think about that for a little while and consider the ramifications of how differently we treat animals than we do humans. You might even think to ask why that is?

 

With our human friends we don’t have a bridle to release the pressure on as a reward (at least not in the social circles I travel in), and it’s generally thought a little strange if we hand out candy every time someone makes us smile.

 

So what do we do?

 

Maya Angelou suggests there are four things that we are asking each other all the time:

  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I am special to you by the way you look at me?

When the answer is Yes, we have a sense of belonging that makes us feel safe in the world.

 

This need for safety in our community, and the feeling of belonging where we stand in time and space I believe runs true for humans and horses and dogs… and most likely many other species as well.

 

This need I believe is the driving force for developing intrinsic motivation to do any of the things that get done in life.

 

Now let’s talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for a moment. If we strip away the obvious and familiar EXTRINSIC motivators of pressure and metered reward, what we are left with is our body movements and personal choices in time and space.

 

When I find some way to express to my horse that:

  1. I see them.
  2. I care about them being there.
  3. They are enough as they are, or there is something within their capability they can do for me that makes them enough.
  4. They are obviously important to me by the way I act.

 

My expression of those four points would be EXTRINSIC motivators for a horse to choose to be with me. I have filled their needs and satisfied them with a sense of belonging with me.

 

Now, in Freedom Based Training we do our best to take all that a step further – INTRINSIC motivation.

INTRINSIC motivators are feelings that come from inside one’s self that seem to have no obvious source. INTRINSIC motivators are triggered feelings that come from the habitual patterning of the brain.

 

In other words, when EXTRINSIC motivators consistently cause good feelings, the brain patterns in such a way that all similar circumstances will tend to evoke the same good feelings for seemingly little or no reason.

 

I believe to the degree behaviors are INTRINSICALLY motivated they are stronger than behaviors that are EXTRINSICALLY motivated.

 

These are the theories that drive Freedom Based Training.

 

In the beginning of a relationship and periodically throughout a relationship with a horse I find it is very important to give them what I call Free Flow.

 

What this means is, they do not have to do anything to deserve my being in harmony with them. When they step, I step; when they look at something, I do also. While I offer this Free Flow to my horse, the four ideas are in play.

 

  1. I see them, and they know this because I respond – everything they do is important to me and responded to or anticipated!
  2. I care about them being there, and they know that because I watch their body language and I see where I should stand next and when I should move so their comfort levels perpetually increase.
  3. They are enough as they are, that is what Free Flow is. The horse does not need to do or change anything to earn my harmony and partnership.
  4. They are important to me, and they know that by the way I scan the environment and watch carefully for danger when that is what they need, or, if we agree there is nothing stressful, I fully match or complement where their focus is. What is important to my horse is also important to me.

 

This list is obviously a list of things we can do to Extrinsically motivate horses to enjoy our company. How do we turn that EXTRINSIC motivation into INTRINSIC motivation? The answer: We repeat it often enough and, most importantly, we end every interaction on the best feeling possible.

You see, the brain is constantly recognizing and interpreting experience, and the last perception to occur in any sequence is what the brain grabs hold of and remembers best about that situation.

 

In Freedom Based Training that is an important concept we use perpetually. If I can CAUSE a good feeling (EXTRINSIC motivation) in any interaction and have the lasting memory of that interaction be good. then next time a similar interaction occurs, the horse’s brain will automatically fire off a good feeling through the body and they have instantly rewarded themselves (INTRINSIC) for participating in that interaction.

 

That brings us around to the original question.

 

“How do you reward behavior you like in your horse?”

 

Regardless of how we choose to live, life has to have the yin and the yang, the black and the white, the pleasant and the unpleasant because it is contrast that shows us the richness of life. Reward has to have a counterbalance of “lack of reward”.

 

When I spend time in Free Flow with a horse I am giving the horse exactly what they need in every moment (to the best of my ability), and during that time I am making a catalogue in my mind of everything that appears challenging for that horse – the things they would rather not do for very long. The better I know my horse, the better job I can do to shape our relationship into one where we both enjoy our time together to the utmost degree possible.

Then slowly and gently I can start using my personal choices as EXTRINSIC motivators. When I see a behavior I like, I reinforce it with Flow (harmony between the horse and me) doing something that is well within the comfort zone. This is no longer “Free” as it was earlier because the horse earned it by doing something I liked. Then, when the horse does something I don’t like, I am going to step into doing something challenging for my horse all the while looking for that moment when the challenging thing feels a little better than it did, at which moment I will go back to Flow with my horse. (Remember, building good feelings about challenging things is how we build INTRINSIC motivation for the horse to try challenges with you.)

 

You see it is all about the timing of when we take action that is different or challenging in some way, or when we take action to step back into Flow.

 

Using Flow and harmony as a motivator with your horse only works if you have done enough of it for free and they know they like it and want it.

 

If you are going to offer something as a reward, make sure it is something that has some degree of INTRINSIC good feeling attached to it. And if you offer something as a reward, there has to be a counterbalancing lack of reward somewhere in the experience. This is how motivation works.

Now that you know how this works, your choice is simply the degree of intensity you choose to use in any of your relationships. How much pressure is felt and how much reward is offered in contrast is up to you!

 

Freedom Based Training is all about subtlety and awareness. We are all training each other all the time whether we understand it or not.

 

Think about it next time you are with your human friends. How are they answering your four questions, and how are you answering theirs?

 

  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I am special to you by the way you look at me?

 

How is your brain patterned for expectation? And does that patterning and expectation of good feeling affect how much you want to be with those friends?

 

Can you see the balance between reward and lack of reward that gives us motivation to make certain behavioral choices?

 

If there is enough of a sense of belonging, we will do almost anything for our friends; and when we have the understanding that some small behavioral change will earn us more of a sense of belonging, we will do even more for our friends.

 

Horses are like this also.

 

The ways we express ourselves with horses will of course be different than we do with people, but I find the core values are very much the same. They might be prey animals while we are more predator like, but we are both herd creatures!

 

If you enjoyed this blog, please stop by the Kickstarter for Taming Wild’s second movie and take a moment to support it during November 2017!

 

I can’t wait to take all the theory that has been developed so far through Freedom Based Training and take it into action down the trail as we cross Costa Rica. The two horses who take that journey with us will teach us even more I am sure, and I can’t wait to share it in the movie “Taming Wild: Pura Vida”.

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

8 Comments

    • Diane fitzgerald
    • Posted November 19, 2017 at 4:50 pm
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    • Reply

    Hi Elsa,
    Thank you for your sharing in this blog! I wonder if you would mind answering a few questions. What does a human look for to know when harmony and flow can start to be offered to motivate behavior and not just be given for “free”? In your experience, what is the minimum and maximum number of hours you have spent doing harmony and flow for free before attempting using it as a motivator?

    • Diane! Such good questions! First, we look at the stress levels of the horse when we are in a state of Free Flow with them. The higher their stress levels the more Free Flow they are going to need before we can use Flow and Harmony as a motivator. As we watch them we ask, are the levels of Flight, Fight and Freeze at functional or dysfunctional levels and the answer to that is by asking ourselves to what degree are they easy or difficult to flow with. The easier the horse is to flow with the more it points to their flight and fight being reasonably low. Then we are left paying attention to the Freeze by noticing how often and easily the ears and eyes and body shift, the more steady and rhythmic and regular the shifting of focus, the lower their stress is. After we have taken all that into account in Free Flow we can assess the likely worth of Flow as a reward or a motivator. Simply put, the lower the horse’s stress level is when they experience Flow and harmony with a partner, the greater the worth that Flow begins to have and the more valuable it becomes as a motivator or a reward. There is no minimum or maximum number of hours we put into Free Flow because we will find that stress levels are always fluctuating and there will always be times we need to put a little more time in for free to help that stress come down again to functional levels. It all depends on the particular horse, their particular environment and the ease and skill of the person stepping in to be their partner. I hope that helps, even though it is not as specific in hours I would have liked to been able to predict. It all depends 😉

        • Diane fitzgerald
        • Posted November 19, 2017 at 7:45 pm
        • Permalink

        Thank you, Elsa, for your thorough response! It helps me a lot:-) I have great news. I may have a Clydesdale/paint cross to play with soon and only 15 minutes from home. His mom needs someone to love on him. I am very excited for an opportunity to build a relationship again with a horse. I can’t wait to use what I have learned and continue to learn about FBT.

      • That is wonderful Diane!!!! I am so excited for you and the new Clyd/Paint Cross!

  1. Elsa…THANKYOU. This blog was so informative and I learned a lot from it. I feel I learn so much from you just by reading your blogs. Your Taming wild movie was amazing and I have already pre-ordered my copy of your new adventure. Your experiences are so inspiring and I am so grateful I found your blog. I am also following your daughters blog and enjoy reading and learning from you both. What a true inspiration you are and your unique ways with horses is one of a kind. ✌🏼️❤️🐴

    • Thank you Michelle! There is so much fun stuff ahead and I am excited to share it all with you!

  2. Thank you for this. This is the second time that those Maya Angelou questions have come to me in a week through two totally different sources…


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