Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Difference Between Knowing and Understanding

With so much information available these days through trainers, clinicians, books and the internet, it doesn't surprise me that many, many people have picked up terminology and theories that they banter around with authority.

Knowing these things is not a bad thing. But there is a big difference between knowing something and understanding it. And then there is the application. If working with living animals was easy, we would be able to learn something, understand it and then apply it with every horse we work with and it would turn out like textbook...every single time.

Yeaaa...that doesn't even work when it comes to mechanical projects. Ain't going to work with living animals.

So let's talk about one of the things that pretty much every horse person has had drilled into their head for about the last 20-25 years...

Horses are prey animals, they have a built in Flight Or Fight Response mechanism.


I could be mistaken, but I think Ray Hunt was the first to actually verbalize that particular phrase. But it could be even older than Ray Hunt.

Irregardless, that phrase is only a single piece of information in regards to the whole puzzle that people have to put together to learn to work around and with horses. It only works as an individual piece of information when someone does something really walk up behind a horse without warning him and they get kicked for their lack of knowledge or Duh! moment. Can't get pissed at the horse...they are a prey animal and they were simply defending themselves.

Under more ordinary circumbstances...say when you are actually working with a horse...just how relevant is that single phrase in the general scheme of what you are trying to do. Really it's a morsal of information and doesn't take into account the many other factors that may be going on.

For the most part, ordinary horses that have been raised around people and handled regularly have a weak Flight or Fight Response. We(People) have spent a significant amount of time reducing the prey animal survival instinct in our horses. I've got some that I'm pretty darn sure wouldn't survive 24 hours in the wilderness with real predators.

But let's be completely honest with ourselves here...the Flight Or Fight Response can almost always be overcome in ALL horses. If it wasn't, people would have almost no success taking mature, unhandled horses and turning them into respectable, serviceable citizens. Particularly with mustangs or range-run horses, who, of any of the "unhandled" horses out there would be the ones most likely to have a real Flight Or Fight Response.

So my question to people is...Just how much to you acknowledge or contribute actions/reactions to the Flight Or Fight Response when you are working with your horses?

Oh and yes I know...most times it is called the Fight Or Flight Response. But if you really think about it, a horse's first instinct is to get away(flight), for the most part a horse will only fight if they can' shouldn't it be called the Flight Or Fight Response?


Breathe said...

This is the crux of so much for me. I have so much information, but I only understand a tiny fraction.

Then there's all the contradictory information. Force your horse to face the scary thing. Do an approach and retreat with your horse. Your horse wouldn't be scared at all if you were a better leader and weren't scared (so then why do they spook at stuff we don't even see? It's not like we're cueing that).


BTW I've only heard it called a flight response, any fight I've seen in a horse is all about enabling flight.

EveryoneThinksThey'reGoodDrivers said...

I do not worry about the flight instinct too much. I try not to focus on anything I don't want the horse to foucs on.

Of course there are times when you plain out have to do some kind of a session with a horse because their reactions are not pass-by-able.

Good post - btw I read of a trainer in a vintage book by the name of Jesse Beery. He was a trainer that traveled and put on clinics back around the beginning of the 20th century. His were teaching clinics much them same we see at expos.

He did the lie the horse down method for starting colts and also created the running W.

Those are a little harsh for my tastes but he was working/teaching in a different world than we are in now. He was considered very humane in his time.

Anonymous said...

I have a serials of Jesse Beery's books at home.When I first read his books (a long long time ago), I thought he was the most arrogant person, but after actually going to some of the well-known trainer's clinics he doesn't come across half as arrogant now. Fun reading.

Callie said...

IMO, at least for mine, it is a matter of reminding one in particular of her boundries, which is done with consistancy when necessary. I will say that once, when the old dog was wearing a bright yellow cone around his neck and had wandered into the horses area to snack at the "buffet", the Misty mare went right up to him and started an attack (rear with both front legs coming down on the old dog until Stephen caught it and screamed & got between them, she then retreated), of which I have never seen her do to anything before, but she is also herd leader of their 2 horse herd. That horse, stopped at Stephen, because she knows not to her him or me or anyone that has dealt with her.Ver interesting. Kola, on the other spooks at most unusual things, but both have impecable manners and if anything happens that is stupid, I can put it on my own stupid self, that is what I have learned over the years.........Misty might survive out in the wild, however, no way would Kola.........

SunnySD said...

Good post. Must mull it over for a while, but off the cuff, the more I worry about the flight response, the more flight response I tend to get. Focusing on something (anything) else tends to reduce the spook potential, because if I'm not worried, then Sunny's usually pretty copacetic.

On a completely different note - have you seen this? Mich. Rocker Kid Rock shows some good horse sense" Thought you might get a kick out of it. :)

Mrs Mom said...

The biggest thing I see? Most folks are too busy reading their books/ watching training DVDs/ or reading online, and not watching their horse.

Every horse is different.
Every situation is different, even with the same horse.

If you anticipate a disaster (ie: Flight), you get a disaster. Anticipate a fight, you'll get a fight.

Pay attention to your horse. And stop over thinking everything!

City girl turned Country Girl said...

Great post!! I love when you whip out your horse knowledge!!

Reluctant Cowboy said...

Flight Fight ok but there is a third choice that hardly ever gets mentioned and that would be giving up when the other two don't work. Flight Fight are survival modes where giving up is a resignation of survival. I would hope that us being a sometimes brighter species don't put our horses into resignation and call it acceptance.

Other than that I never really think about it.

just my half peso

Michelle said...

Interesting and thought provoking post. I guess I tend to not focus too much energy on anticipating a flight response, but I do keep in mind the nature of a horse when I'm working with one (just as I do a dog, cat, or anything else). I find that respecting and understanding the nature of an animal helps me in dealing with them successfully.

Vaquerogirl said...

I agree with Mrs Mom! But though the Flight or fight is right up there with things-you-should-remember about-horses- I'd say an even more important one is the pecking order. Everything the horse does is in response to the pecking order, and too many riders are not at the apex of that triangle. Horses need leaders,if you are not a leader then they will be. Of course that means you have to be smarter than the horse- sounds easy but it's really hard for most people.
And I'd rather lead than run or fight anyday!