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Good teachers protect their students from their own influence.
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Is it ok to say no?

For me as a simple trainer I try to use the principles for Cannons Law. Simply put this means not using a more complicated explanation for behaviour is a simpler one exists.


For many years I have been saying it is not if we say no but rather how we say it that is important. I have come to believe that horsemanship and perhaps life is a balance of yes and no and that without no, yes has very little meaning or value. Without one we cannot judge the other.


If we ignore a behaviour we don’t want at that moment or withhold a click in hope of getting a better response we are saying no. When a behaviour doesn’t get the horses desired response we are saying no that didn’t work. I as many of you know, use the training game to demonstrate learning and during that game many of you have “asked a question”, does this work by repeating a behaviour such as picking something up. When there was no click you knew I was saying no that’s not it.


We can and indeed must be ready when required to say no to the domesticated horse for safety. However, for me all we have to do is listen to the horses they are telling us what works and what doesn’t, they tell us how they feel about no. I as you know use as much +R as possible, but the truth I accept is that as hard as I try the horse will still perceive some of my behaviour as negative, mainly because I am often changing what works for them.


The tools of no are consistency, persistence and patience but above all lightness. Often I meet owners who worry about no because they themselves feel over controlled in their lives, they feel they are told no too much themselves or they punish their own mistakes with a mental no and this leads them to wanting to give their horse total freedom and only yes so they are loved and are not resented.


No is feed back it occurs in nature and in domestication and as always it is a matter of perception, for one person a slap on the nose, whip on the rump is an acceptable no and for others even saying no is too harsh, why is that?


Horses use both yes and no, but we are not horses and easily make mistakes in communication, just as we do with other humans. So the consistency of our individual no is what matters.


Listen to your horse as an individual it will tell you if you are ok or not, but never try to be a horse. It is not our intention that is important but the horses perception or our action that determines whether it is +R –R or P we have just used.

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