Wednesday, December 7, 2011

If you don’t beat or spank or yell at your horse, why would you do it to your kid?

For many of us animal trainers, the idea of hitting a horse or a dog went out with the dark ages. We know the benefits of positive but firm discipline. Discipline should be about teaching how to do better in the future. Hitting, belting, whipping and screaming will generally shut down the ability to learn. Physical punishment does not promote respect, but encourages anger and aggression. In the short term, the undesired behavior may stop but in the long term, the animal is likely to exhibit post-traumatic stress and behavioral issues.

I watched the documentary “Buck” last night, which is about a horse trainer that specializes in positive training. Tears came to my eyes when he and his family spoke of the beatings he received as a child and how he was removed from his father's home at age twelve. Now, this is an extreme example of corporal punishment but I think many of us can relate to what the effects of physical punishment can do to a child and how those effects can last a lifetime. There are plenty of scienfitic studies that show that adults who received corporal punishment suffer from depression, suicide and mental illness at significantly higher rates than those who didn’t receive corporal punishment.

Children do not need to be hit, slapped or spanked or even yelled at to learn, to respect and to model responsible behavior. My own children were never spanked, they weren’t yelled at and in turn, they never hit others, never yelled and but instead respected other people. I know that I did right when I chose not to model my own parent’s tough parenting techniques. Because, yes I was hit often and yes, it took me years to overcome my emotional wounds. And yes, I did have post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Whenever I read one about how someone was hit as a child and that person is now better adult for getting hit (belted, spanked, whipped, call it what you will), and that kids don’t respect others because they aren’t hit by adults. I cringe and I feel sad for them. To go through life with that attitude towards children and to continue violence towards other humans must make a person very dark inside. To then promote such violence by encouraging others to abuse their children, in order to make them “good” people is truly ignorant.

Now, I know that the people who need to hear this message, will snicker and make rude comments but I write this because if just one person really thinks about and changes how they are raising their child or will raise their child, the world will be a better place.

If you don’t beat or spank or yell at your horse, why would you do it to your kid?

A few references:

Corporal punishment of children and adult depression and suicidal ideation NY: Cambridge University Press.

Also Chapter 5 in Murray A. Straus, Beating the Devil out of them: Corporal Punishment in American Families And its Effects on Children. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publications. 2000.

Long-Term Effects of Child Corporal Punishment on Depressive Symptoms in Young Adults Potential Moderators and Mediators Journal of Family Issues

Bulletin of the World Health OrganizationSevere physical punishment: risk of mental health problems for poor urban children in Brazil

Friday, April 1, 2011

Black Prong, Spring 2011

"Camping" at Black Prong was an amazing experience. If you have never been there and you drive, one day you should treat yourself and go. Black Prong is set up for the driver; it has a number of hazards -including water hazards, cones courses, dressage courses, miles of driving trails and has cabin rentals, (with attached stalls and paddocks) as well as camping options. It is truly Disneyland for driving horses and their human partners. The grounds are meticulously maintained and cared for, the landscaping is exquisite and North Florida in the early spring is heaven on earth.

Robert and I took Joanna and Eleanor to drive as pairs (full sisters but Eleonor is three and just started driving). We had a blast with them. The pair learned more about driving together in one week! By the time we left, they were going through the hazards, in and out of the water courses, through the cones and practicing in the dressage ring.

We went with a group of friends from Georgia, as well as Tennessee. Rod and Ana from GA came with us, and shared the cabin we rented. We had so much fun driving, talking and partying. Ana, who is a gourmet cook and I did a lot of cooking and even threw a dinner party on Saturday night! Jim and Judy Talton, as well as Chris -who all live in Florida, joined us for the party and we had a lively time. We set up tables in the horse aisle (did I mention the barn is nicer than my house?) and we all just had fun!

And of course, we did lots and lots of driving. Those mares must have done twenty miles a day! Robert and I both gave impromptu lessons. So, Jim, Judy, and Rod all got to take lessons to either begin to learn to drive or to practice their driving skills. Rod got to drive a pair for the first time -which he took to like a duck takes to water. He is a natural. Jim learned that driving with Robert is always an adventure!

Robert spent a lot of time in the hazards courses with the mares. They learned so much about taking direction, moving together, driving in water and being brave. They went over bridges, through a tunnel, on a maze course, on major roads, through forest trails and through so many hazards. They listened, were level headed and joy to work with! I just love those mares!

One of the things I am really enjoying about this pair is that they work in harmony and modulate their trot naturally. They can go from a lovely extension to a "big" trot and down to a jog trot effortlessly. At Black Prong, I spent hours in the dressage course -just practicing. Earlier in the year, I had been working with Joanna to passage while being driven and my goal is to teach her to piaffe in cart. As she offers many different trots, it makes it very fun to teach her. She is a very willing partner, which makes driving her very fun. She is also extremely forward and loves to go. While in the ring, I discovered the pairs still has a lot to learn about bending and making accurate circles. We will be spending a lot of time on this in the coming months.

Finally, it is worth noting that we also got to spend a lot of time with our friends in the Georgia Driving and Riding Society, as wells as friends from TN. Most people had RVs and camped. Our combined groups share meals, drinks, laughs and campfires everyday. Camping and being with these great people is truly a communal experience and one not to be missed. I feel very lucky to be part of such a great group! People are caring, considerate, intelligent and just "get along" with each other. It is truly a unique group of people!

Below is what the group camp site looks like. If you have never horse camped with 30 of your best driving friends and all their dogs (as well as horses), it is a experience not to be missed!
I can't wait for the next drive!

Friday, February 18, 2011

My One Month Challenge to Myself:

In exactly four weeks, we will be driving to Black Prong, Florida. A much anticipated "camping" (ok, we are renting a cabin) and driving trip with many other driving friends. We will be taking two horses: GTs Joanna and Cielo Azure's Eleanor. Joanna is a coming six year old, and has been driving and riding for two years. Her full sister, Eleanor is a coming three year old and has been ground driven but never hitched.

My goal is to have them driving together and hitched to a vehicle by Black Prong. That means we will be working them everyday possible. EVERY DAY!!!

Yesterday was day one of my goal. I made a brief video of Robert training the two mares together for the first time. As this pair has been almost four years in the making, we are both extremely pleased to see them moving together and seeing those small flashes of brilliance in their movements that teach us one that one day, these two will be an awesome driving pair!

As the week's progress, I will adding blog notes about our progress and our setbacks.

Stay tuned...

2/28/2011 Well...
We hitched them last week and used the marathon cart. It went very smoothly -Robert and I worked them in the ring, and took them for a drive around the farm.
On Saturday, we hitched again and took them out on our small public road. Again no issues! Whew -the scary bit (for me, anyway) is over!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Verbal Commands

I find that when drivers use specific words and know those words, it makes driving and training much easier to perform. These are the words that I use routinely when driving and are words that are often used by drivers. Having a "universal" language helps horses to understand what is being asked of them.

My List of Verbal Commands for the Driving Horse

"Walk" - Start walking or Come down into a walk

"Walk on" - Don't even THINK about it! Walk only!

"Gee" - Turn right

"Haw" - Turn left

"Whoa ... Gee" - Fan to the right

"Whoa ... Haw" - Fan to the left

“Gee (or) Haw Over" - To continue fanning

"Steady on" or "easy"- Ignore that distraction and keep doing what you're doing

(used to reassure)

"Trot" -Start trotting

"Trot on" - I see you thinking about slowing down... keep trotting!

"Back" - Go backward

"Step up" - Take one step forward

"Step up" - Step up in the traces (for the horse in a pair, that is being a slacker)

"Step back" - Take one step back

"Whoa" - Stop right there and don't move

"Stand" (often combined with whoa) - Stand still - but we'll be here a while, so relax

“Canter” – Start cantering (I always use a high voice with this word and pair this word with a specific flick of the whip to the shoulder -I want them to be very sure I mean to canter when I ask for it). I give them no excuses for breaking from a trot to a canter.

"Cluck, cluck" - Move a little faster without breaking gait. I will often combine this with the word of the gait they are in. For instance "cluck, cluck trot"

"Quit!" - "Stop messing around!"

Other thoughts about verbal commands:

Most of my horses know their names and their partner's names.

That means...if I am driving a pair -I use the command when I want both horses to do something. When I just want one horse to do a command, I pair it with their name (name first). I might say "Soleil step-up," and generally her partner will ignore the command.

Be consistent with your words and your commands. If you do this, they will learn very rapidly.

I use the same words for all my horses, if I get a trained horse -they have to learn my words (which they do very rapidly) because I am too stupid to learn different commands for the same driving commands for multiple horses. It confuses me too much.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

DNA evidence and the history of the Percheron

An 1881 photograph of a pair of Percherons

A 1743 engraving of an Iberian horse.

It is a "snow day" and I am busy thinking deep thoughts and doing some basic research - just thought I would share some of my musings and findings.

First, there have been a number of scientific papers of late on the evolution, history, origins, mDNA of the horse as well as breeds of horses. Being a Percheron History buff and following old documents has led me to the rather controversial conclusion that there was a fair amount of revisionist history regarding the origins of the Percheron horse. In particular, during the hey-day of the work horse, historic evidence of the Percheron light horse lineages, such as stud book documents at the Haras du Pin were downplayed and even questioned (1).

Now almost a hundred years after Sander's seminal (and revisionist) writings on the history of the Percheron horse in France in the early 1800s (1) and a 125 years after MC Weld and DuHays published their book "the Percheron Horse in America and in France" in 1886 (2), DNA evidence shows that yes...Percherons do have DNA matching them to "barbs, " (barb was a term loosely used to describe the ancient Iberian breeds of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 1800s), as well as Arabians. This DNA evidence is quite robust and shows that "the ancient and singular Iberian haplotype B is nowadays found in Percheron (France), Arabian and Wielkopolski (Poland) horses (3)." It has also been reported that blood typing studies done in 1990 by Dr. E. Gus Cothran demonstrated similar genetic markers in Percherons and "Andulusians." This is indisputable proof of the role of Iberian horse in the creation of the Percheron breed.

I found another good paper on French horses and their genetic linkage to each other. One of the interesting facts that I found was that the french draft horse breeds all share common genetic markers and are closely related to each other. By using microsatellite markers, the researchers evaluated genetic distances and characterized local breeds, as well as evaluated the genetic contribution of populations to within-breed and between-breed diversities. In relationships involving draft horses, the author's conclusions from this data was that the draft horse lineages in France are genetically closely related. The table showing distances of horse breeds clearly indicates that Percherons are a draft breed but that they also are "closer" genetically to many other horse breed types. The author's write: "The draught horses constitute a quite homogenous group, including the nine French draught horse breeds and three breeds presently classified as pony (HAF) or warm-blooded (MER and FRI in a lesser extent) breeds. These three breeds were historically used as draught horse breeds and could therefore have been subject to crossbreeding with other draught horse populations in their past history." Although they also found three other draft horse breeds to be very genetically close to each other and none of these breeds were Percherons.

The grand thing about techniques such as DNA linkage analysis, blood typing and mitochondrial DNA typing is that it isn't based on someone's interpretation of historic events, the data is based on hard science. Over the next decade, I can't wait for more details to be revealed on the modern Percheron horse as well as the ancient Iberian breeds.

1.) Sanders, A., A History of the Percheron Horse 1917

2.) Weld, MC and DuHays. The Percheron Horse. 1886

3.) Origin and History of Mitochondrial DNA Lineages in Domestic HorsesMichael Cieslak,1 Melanie Pruvost,1,2* Norbert Benecke,2 Michael Hofreiter,3,4 Arturo Morales,5 Monika Reissmann,6 and Arne Ludwig PLos One 5(12) e15311

4) Genetic diversity of a large set of horse breeds raised in France assessed by microsatellite polymorphism. Grégoire Leroy, Lucille Callède, Etienne Verrier, Jean-Claude Mériaux, Anne Ricard, Coralie Danchin-Burge and Xavier Rognon Genetics Selection Evolution 2009, 41:31