Saturday, July 29, 2006

How "Join Up" Works

Lucy Rees, who many consider to have been practising 'natural' horsemanship techniques before the marketers invented the term and created all the special equipments, books, dvds, courses, etc, has some interesting things to say in the March/April 2004 newsletter of the Animal Behaviour Consultants of South Africa.

"Natural" training methods can produce results so spectacular as to be an exhibitionist’s delight. It is not difficult to render the horse completely passive and, in order to impress, work him to the point where he is no longer actively cooperating and learning but passively allowing himself to be pushed about. This satisfies some, but increasingly those with a critical eye see a dullness, a lack of interest, in horses whose imprint, Parelli or round pen training has been overdone. In any kind of training, one of the most difficult sensibilities to acquire is that of knowing when to stop. [...] Although it has been shown that in horses a) under natural conditions dominance hierarchies are so poorly developed as to be invisible, needing artificially created competition to develop, and b) in partially managed groups, the leader and the dominant are not necessarily the same animal, there is a reluctance on the parts of both trainers and some scientists to aabandon human attitudes about dominance. We live in a highly competitive society, where power hierarchies, status struggles and so on are heavily emphasized. A truly cooperative, non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian social structure is inconceivable to many, although we see it on a smaller scale every day. Thus many round pen trainers believe that the technique is a psychological way of demonstrating dominance over the horse, who is driven away every time he does not comply with what is wanted, but then comes to us for leadership and submits to our control. In the light of the above this is muddled thinking, which results, as my friend Amy Coffman (a thoughtful and experienced watcher of American ‘natural’ trainers) has pointed out, in a punitive way of using the round pen: the horse is made to gallop about until he submits. I, too, have seen this aggressive attitude in some pupils who have learned from others. The only round pen trainer I know of who differentiates between the roles played by dominant and leader is Mark Rashid, who probably (I am guessing) has not read the scientific literature but is an acute and dispassionate observer. It is a curious state of affairs when those who know that dominant attitudes repel horses fail to grasp its true significance: that horses do not obey dominants. They avoid them.

EoR notes that Monty and his revivalist roadshow have returned to Perth this weekend ("Be amazed as Monty puts Equus to the ultimate test" - tickets are limited but were still available yesterday at $A113.65). He expects the true devotees to flock along to receive their annual dose of preaching and buying.

1 comment:

  1. Have just read your post and thought it was very nicely written. When working with my own horse I've taken bits from each trainer but have never been comfortable with Join-Up.

    It might interest you to know that many people who have trained with Monty Roberts do not use it either. We have a lovely man over here (not very well known, which is a real shame) who is one of Monty Roberts Recommended Associates in the UK but has his feet very firmly in the Mark Rashid camp. (


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