Anyone who has spoken at length with me about Applied Behavior Analysis and training horses knows very well that I believe the principles used in both areas are synonymous. And I would not believe this were true, if I were not having the results in both areas to back up my conclusion. Very often when working in one discipline, I find myself pulling an idea, method, or technique from the other and using it successfully to help accomplish an objective. Like many other days, today, while working with a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, I was able to pull from my bag of horse training tools to make some progress.
“Destination Addiction: a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job, and with the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.” Have you ever had a horse: rush home to the barn, gravitate towards the arena gate, stomp around not wanting to leave the trailer, etc… Your horse is experiencing destination addiction. Your horse is under the impression that if they can just get back to the barn, get over to the gate, or stay at the trailer they will find happiness. You may be asking, “Well, what exactly do horses find happiness in?” It’s simple. Observe them in the pasture at their leisure with no demands being placed on them and you will find the answer. Typically, for the majority of their leisure time, they partake in activities they enjoy, including resting and grazing with their herd mates. It is not hard to imagine, that when they are rushing home, gravitating to the gate, or refusing to leave the trailer, it is because they are associating their favorite leisure activities with these destinations of choice. Which leads to the next question, “How do you solve destination addiction?”
That’s an easy answer. Make the wrong thing hard, and the right thing easy. Let’s use the trailer example to illustrate this principle. If you were to make an observation at a horse show, rodeo, organized trail ride, or the like… you would notice that horses are tied to their trailers while waiting for their class or event. Most riders will untie them and move to the practice arena for some warm up before their class or event, then return them until their class or event. When it is their time to show, riders will again, retrieve them from the trailer, show them in their class or event, and return them back to the trailer. It’s not hard to see, how the horse can start to picture his time at the trailer to be the best part of these days. While at the trailer, he is allowed to stand around and relax, if he’s lucky, his rider has packed him a nice full hay bag he is allowed to munch on at his leisure while standing there. To the contrary, every time he is untied and moved away from the trailer, he is put to work. Whether that work is warming up, showing, or eventing does not matter. It is all work to a horse. And so the destination addiction sinks in, the horse becomes reluctant to leave the trailer as the horse has developed a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is at the trailer. Take a minute now to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy and visualize how things begin to change. Make the trailer the work spot. Work the horse in some groundwork or ridden work exercises at the trailer, but allow him to rest in various other places, including the warm up arena (if allowed), or right outside the show ring. You will start to see your horse transform into one that easily and happily leaves the trailer as he starts to assume that away from the trailer is where he will get to rest.
This very same principle of making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy came up while I was working with a client this morning. This two-and-a-half-year-old boy had some destination addiction about his play room. My goals are to work on catching up some developmental milestone delays. For convenience of organizing our materials, a lot of our tasks are centered around a table in the room adjacent to his play room. It was very clear to me that before our work time could be done effectively, I needed to solve his destination addiction. It would do no good for me to attempt to present tasks to him while he squirmed around trying to get to his play room. So for the first part of our session I followed him around his play room presenting him with a variety of simple tasks. When he wandered into the adjacent room, near our work area, I pulled some toys out to play with him, sing to him, blow bubbles, etc… We repeated this process for several minutes until our table became the place he was happiest to be. It then became fairly easy to hold his attention and keep his materials organized as we were now able to work effectively at the table. I love seeing the overlaps between horse training principles and ABA.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), who has taken my knowledge in Applied Behavior Analysis, and the methodology of expert horse trainers, to create an Equine training program that is anything but average. Working with my own horses has led me to discover my passion for not just training horses, but practicing quality horsemanship. For the best interest of the horses, I hope to spread this interest in quality horsemanship.