Romeo paints No. 19

Original art painted by a horse.

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DaVinci Sponging

Add a sponge to your lunge whip and you get a "spungewhip." DaVinci moves towards the sponge instead of away from a whip. This way, it becomes his choice (positive reinforcement), rather than being chased from behind by a whipping sound (negative reinforcement).

Read Installment 4 from the Diary of DaVinci

That was interesting, to watch DaVinci follow a sponge. When he turned into you to receive your treat, did you signal him to do so or was that solely on his own initiative? What is your opinion of horse-speak, such as what Parelli advocates? Learning the way horse's speak to each other through pressure and release and then using that to communicate with the horse? Thanks for sharing your invaluable lessons with DaVinci!

Hi Beth,
Thank you so much for watching DaVinciís latest video. Yes, I used a signal, a click of my tongue as a very quick sound to let him know as he began to target the sponge that I wanted him to follow it in the circle. He in turn then waits to get his tiny alfalfa pellet after the sound.

Why I like this video is it gives a whole new spin on pressure/release. With any pressure DaVinci melts down in his fragile state. So, positive reinforcement (no pressure to get a behavior) has been giving him much needed confidence.

I attended a Parelli demo and he certainly was able to get the horses to do what he wanted and quickly. Heís also extremely skilled at handling horses. I have also done a few clinics where there was a lot of rope work. I would have to send energy down the rope to pop the horse in the halter to get them to back up, turn, walk away etc. I was completely inept (tripping over the rope) and for me I felt like the horse was saying "What did I do to get popped in the face?" Poor Romeo actually looked very hurt when I would "send him away." Perhaps I wasn't clear enough, but I felt really bad having to use pressure in that manner. It just wasn't a good fit for me. I do know it works for many people and their horses. I found with positive reinforcement it's just really clear and both the horse and I are much more relaxed and we both have fun and it's more my style. I personally don't like to be told what to do. I'd much rather be given a choice, and I just try to do the same with the horses.

My gauge is always, Is the horse OK with what I've asked? "Itís not what your horse is doing, itís how heís doing it." With a lot of pressure/release situations I see the horses a bit tense and their brain has not been engaged.

My sponging experiment was to do rope work with just positive reinforcement, no pressure from a lunge whip from behind, just a question, "Do you want to touch the sponge?" DaVinci seemed to say "Yes, this is fun." And he moved toward the sponge. My goal is to do as much with him without pushing, pulling, prodding....and see what happens when the horse has the ability to choose. I feel much safer around a horse that honestly wants to stand still rather than is standing still out of pressure.

The concept of pressure/release is just that, adding pressure, getting the behavior, then the release is the reward. The questions I'm exploring are these: Is that technique any fun for the horse? Is there another way they could learn without me being the source of pressure? And can the reward be an actual reward, something they really get excited about?

I've really had so much fun watching the horses to see what motivates them. Romeo loves to manipulate things in his mouth. Juliet loves anything where she gets to use her hooves. DaVinci loves his pedestal. I think when we view horses as individuals with preferences, suddenly pressure and release seems a bit generic. <IMHO> 

Thanks so much,


© 2004-2007 Cheryl Ward & Sam Sharnik
Last updated January 10, 2009