Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling Together

Its been very interesting to think about this. A few weeks ago Kip and I spend our 15th wedding anniversary vacation auditing Buck Brannaman for 7 days. Buck is definitely special. I found myself studying why. What makes him different?

I watched him artfully communicate with his horses. Of course he wasn't using a mechanical marker like a clicker and he for sure wasn't using food as a reward. Yet he was moving his horse towards the feel in a way that was beyond just pressure and release.

At one point Buck was talking about how extraordinary it was to be with a horse that was hunting the feel. He talked about giving the horse what it wants most in the world: PEACE. No wonder this guy doesn't need to use treats.

I could feel the lines in my forehead getting deeper as I strained to see how he was utilizing the laws of science and behavior modification with an accuracy I have rarely seen. And sure enough, he was using a marker and a reward. His marker was the release and his reward was the Peace of Feeling Together.

I think that it is very important to note that this is not a "peacefulness" that comes from robbing the horse of his sense of security or taking away the little peace he, as a flight animal, is born with. Its about adding a peace the horse didn't have before. That's when horse and human become more than what we were separately. So in fact, the release is a marker and not a reward.

A marker is a secondary reinforcer. It tells the horse "Yes! that was what I wanted!" A reward is something additional that you give the horse. Something that they want. Something that they didn't have before. The marker and the reward need to be linked together so the horse understands that the reward follows the marker.

This seems to be the critical difference between using avoidance behavior via pressure and release (Do X and I'll leave you alone.) vs using pressure (as little as necessary)to give the horse information about where to start hunting the feel. The thing about leaving him alone is...that is what he had before I got there. I frankly just took away his comfort in order to have something to exchange back. 

When I think about it, that's pretty pitiful. I don't want to have so little to offer my horse that I have to take away from him first. I want to Give to my horse. I want to bring something to the relationship. I think if we try to use the release of pressure as a marker and a reward simultaneously and don't add anything, we are missing that magical nugget all the special horsemen have been trying to describe throughout history.

Its a razor thin line... and I think its what makes a master. An artist. A true horseman sets things up for the horse to move TOWARDS instead of away. Moving towards the puzzle, towards the answer, towards the contact, towards empowerment, towards balance, towards peace. I want some more of that. I want to Feel those things Together with my horse so that we can be in  True Unity


  1. Very nice. I hope that you enjoy every single moment with your horse.

  2. Emma, you always give me something to reflect upon. I feel as though I'm *slowly* moving through utilizing treats to motivate Guinness, but I don't have a clear concept of what the next phase looks like. Clicker training, especially the way that I use it, is a place-holder to use while *I* seek to understand him better and to be less clunky in my communication with him. I feel like a foreign visitor bearing gifts.. Thank you for the inspiration!