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About Mr. Pavlov and some ways of breaking in
Author: Jorge Lisandro Montiel- 13/08/2004
 

Ivan Pavlov, a russian scientist, once carried a famous experiment: Whenever a dog was confronted to a piece of food, he would naturally start salivating. This is the Unconditioned Stimulus (US) or natural réflex. If that meal was to be presented together with the sound of a bell ringing, after several repetitions, the dog would start salivating at the mere sound of the bell. That was the Conditioned Stimulus (CS).

Conditioned Stimulus is a réflex acquired through learning, for the animal learns responding not to an natural stimulus, but to an stimulus which didn´t have a meaning before, but it has now .

 

This concept, which could seem harmless at the beginning, offers many monstrous possibilities to manipulate the behaviour of both animals and humans (i.e brain washing), and which was extensively put in practice during Second World War and the Cold war years.

Lets consider the following scenario; we´re teaching a dog to look for food in its shelter at the same time as hearing a bell; once acquired the piece of meal we teach it to evade the shelter whenever the light bulb is on, otherwise he´ll get some sort of punishment. We´ll find that the dog will soon be eager to go for its piece of food, but will be scared at the same time. Consequence: the animal will experience two oppositte instincts at once, which will créate a conflict within itself, which will be expressed as a form if stress. The dog won´t know how to deal with this situation. In this kind of context, it´s very easy to teach or train the animal to accomplish what we want, as he´ll be very pleased to scape this unpleasant state of confussion.

Some methods of horse breaking in follow these rules, being the one used in the USA the most popular and easy to learn -also in Mexico- which is called "western breaking in". It could come under other types of names, all of them conveying the same meaning. It´s already practiced in Spain and other countries.

 
This method basically consists of coercion and submission, using a kind of halter, called "jaquimore o jáquima", made up of a nylon string of 8 mm widht, with two nodes tied up to the poll side and two more to the mouth side, in order to inflict more pain. It goes tied up to a rope from which the "horsemanship" exerts strong pressure in the animal´s head whenever he tries to follow his "fleeing instint".
This violent action where the whole horse´s body weight in motion (400-500kg) is stopped in just a few square cm. of surface -called "fleeing control"- and which causes fear and pain in the animal, is the first step to void or repress a natural instinct in the horse, in a completely UNNATURAL AND VIOLENT way. Horses will son relate PAIN- to RUNNING AWAY, so they´ll stop trying. With this, it has been created the substituion of a natural réflex for a Condition Reflex.

The second step in this FALSE natural breaking in,is termed "space control", which is basically to take the horse far from the breaker, twisting the end of their rope and creating a state of deep fear in the animal, which goes naturally away from the threat. so there you go, a deep conflict within the animal has been created. From now onwards, it will just be a matter of coming across with any situation which we might find consider, that the animal will do whatever he can to escape from this stressful situation; to go away from the fear caused by the twirling rope, but experiencing a strong sort of blasting pressure in their heads.

Many people are adopting these ways of breaking in, which are becoming "trending topic", mainly due to the ignorance of magazines and the general lack of knowledge about horses yet.



I know some of those breakers, who, even if they deserve the innermost respect at the personal level, cannot be told the same at their methods. Their philosophy in theory cannot be actually put in practice. Their arguments are not consistent with reality.

 

I´m writing this because of loyalty to horses. If I didnt do this, I would be an accomplice of wrong methods.

Many will think otherwise, but a pressure in the horses heads is VIOLENCE, and no relation can be good if it´s based on a violent act ,which will be imprinted in the horses head for ever.

These methods could be good for shows and demonstrations etc. in order to surprise the ignorant public, but you cannot break in a horse properly this way.

They´re not so different from those traditional "breaking in" methods, whatever people would say about their toughness and coerción level. Both methods strive for submission, not for a proper relationship.

A good relationship is that one where the horse keeps being a horse, and is humans who have to learn how TO BE A HORSE. This sentence might seem easy to comprehend, but facts show it´s not the case.

I´d like to finish the article with an e-mail I got lately,
which made me writing these lines.

Dear Jorge

I´m increasingly getting to realise how all these american "natural" methods are only based in coerción and blackmailing. It´s horses themselves the ones who are showing it to me.

Before I start, let me apologize for telling you this all this, but the thing is that I have a bunch of ideas in my head that I cannot be telling here and there without being dubbed as a looney. So I´ll tell them to you, because I know you won´t call me crazy (even if you think that I am ha ha.

It´s been a while since I´m trying to teach my horses here in the base of those fashionable "horsemanship" that are so populare nowadays. Despite my first results could seem incredible and spectacular to the unaverted eye, with time, flaws with the system have started to show.

I promised myself to teach a somehow authoritarian 6 year old horse. He used to bite people and refused to be mounted, starting to jump whenever you insisted a little bit. Right now he is the clearest example of docilty and obeyance, my friends can set their own kids on the horse and I can stop him and drive him at ease without bridle. But he´s lost his spirit, today he is an extraordinary obedient horse, but a sad one, without energy, inexpressive, just like a robot that executes boringly its command. People congratulate me for the transformation, but I reproach myself for having spoilt his old hot spirit, and have turned him into a machine with the copyright of "natural horsemanship".

Right now I´m teaching a young colt, and I´m scared. The animal executes all the set of exercises proposed for "Natural Western" with a perfection of manners, and if I say so is because I can show it. He knows to walk by my side, go backwards at the merest gesture of my hand, steps on car wheel on all fours without the aid of a rope, can drive him and stop just getting him by the hair, even when trotting. brief, he does all what I say to him. The question is.. am I creating an authomat?

He doesn´t want to be with me. Someone has to clean his hoofs , and he doesn´t like that. He doesn´t like to be washed either. Nor he enjoyes being tied up. In summary, someone must teach him to obey, and that someone is always me. I get told over and over again that young colts must exercise frequently with the rope, in order to get strong and athletic, but as soon as he sees me with the rope he tries to hide. I´ve sometimes tried to break this vicious circle trying to have a stroll with him just taking him by the lead rope, but next day it will be again the ropes, brushes, hoses, hunt cap ointments , exercises and lessons; tiredness.

This is an equation I´m trying to solve. I´m so scared that people might think from the outside that this colt has been so well taught, while me, in my inner side, blame myself for having built up a zombie, for not having let a horse be what he would have just only aspired to be, and not the empiric confirmation of Dr. Miller´s theories.

I´m telling you all this Jorge, because I have the feeling that you´ll understand what I mean.

I´m not sure if there´s any solution to this equation, but I don´t give up the search. I know I´m exigent, many people would be happy with much less than this, but I cannot do otherwise; if there´s something that keeps telling me to continue searching, I will do it and find the solution.

I need to manage to get to that point where the horse will cry out of joy when he sees me, and also starts galloping to be with me.

Is that imposible Jorge? I´m not sure, but I´ll keep searching, asking, Reading and experimenting, as long as humour and energy keep with me.

Kind regards.

 
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