“Optimists have a habit of seeing positive. Pessimists have a habit of seeing negative. All that is required to change a habit is practice.”
Simon Sinek

……All that is required to change a habit is practice.

Sounds simple, right?

I am working with a horse just now who has been challenging for his owners. They were not new to horse ownership when he arrived, but they were new to horses like him. They really listen to him and respond well, but in doing so were becoming more and more restricted with their interactions with him. That was leading to frustration all round.

They would ask a question; can we do X. The answer was No. And then they were stuck. They had no other way of asking for X, no way of knowing how to break it down, or alternative ways to ask. With each No answer their ways of interacting were being reduced and the conversation was very one sided.

My point; if you are going to remove or change a habit, you need to have something in the old habits’ place. You need to be clear on what that is. In this case, that was the behaviour from the handlers. We needed to find other ways for them to ask for daily care behaviours.

And when it’s about changing the horses behaviour…..

Often people will ask me how to stop their horse doing behaviour Y. Step 1; what do you want in its place? If they are relatively new to my approach to training, the answer is often; I don’t know, I just want them to do nothing.

So we run through a little exercise of human horses. I ask for behaviour F and ask them what I was asking for; behaviour F. Great. Now I ask them for behaviour J and ask them what they thought I was asking for; behaviour J. Great. Then I ask them to do nothing and enquire as to what they think I asked them for; I don’t know. So I ask, how do you feel; confused.

When we ‘switch our learners on’ through teaching them, we also need to teach them the opposite, and the opposite is not ‘do nothing’ or ‘switch off’. Teaching them to just chill out with us, for most learners, is not a passive process, its an active teaching process; when I give you this cue, that means I am not going to be asking for anything and you can chill out next to me.

For some learners that is easy, for others that is so challenging. The eager beavers find it very challenging to learn a ‘chill out’ cue and it can take time.

The key here is that we can’t teach our learners to do nothing, but we can teach them to chill out, and it is an active process.


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