Kerry, I have always found interesting the concept of triggers, habits, bad behavior, even the consideration of variable degrees/forms of addiction in horses, so-to-speak. I was wondering then, what your point of view might be in regards to these things? Also, are there any analogous parts of the whole from the horse, than can be related to people, in training athletes? I have heard that you do work with human athletes on all levels, which is why I ask. Thanks!
Thank you Carter for the interesting questions, I appreciate that you wanted to ask me. Something to always keep in mind when triggers are in play is that triggers come in two forms. The first form is that of a direct trigger. A behavioral response, good or bad, that stems from a direct influence or stimulus either environmental or otherwise. Example: the smell of Roses is pleasing to me like the smell of grain or fresh grass is to the horse. These kinds of trigger, Direct Triggers are themselves the influence of a reaction. The more powerful form of trigger, is the Associated Trigger, this is when a reaction comes not from a direct act or stimulus, but from some form of stimuli that has been associated with an act. This leads to a potentially unstable platform but if handled correctly based upon the individual, can be used to train the horse or indeed any athlete forward, and is often thought of as anticipation, or expectance.
The problem; you in affect create a middle-man so to speak, where ones dependence on a given reaction is dictated by a source of assimilation. The fine-line between successful training and horrific behavioral outbursts often lay in the grey area where third-party source indicates expected outcome. Horses can become so conditioned to associated triggers that if the associated condition is removed, yet the same outcome is desired but by a direct trigger, you can never be truly certain of the outcome. This is why I personally feel that to assume a horse is totally bomb-proof is inherently dangerous. (Keep in mind for safety reasons that no matter what, your horse in certain situations and quite out of nowhere may revert back to the default position, which is the basic instinct). Once anticipation is in place, the horse can become in a way addicted to it and quite dependant upon it because he or she cannot move into the next place or moment in time until this assimilated dependency is satisfied. This makes it quite important to continually advance the horse's mental training, training forward through variable stimulus and associations to get the desired outcome. To help the athlete from being too conditioned and assuage bad behavioral issues down the road because they are not in affect institutionalized, it is important to introduce variable training stimulus because the horse is incapable of knowing the difference between what is a habit and what is an addiction.
The difference between habit and addiction is that with habit we know we can choose where with addiction we no longer accept that we have choices. Too often training is habitual in usage, thus allowing the process of dependency of trigger, addiction. The addiction is to a singular trigger, the horse is not aware that the same safe and acceptable result can be attained even when various stimuli is presented in a like situation, unless you show him/her by breaking your habits. This is an important training protocol to keep in mind if you are planning on taking your horse away at any time in the future, from the environment he or she is living in.
When associated triggers are comprehended collectively by two or more of the senses, it is not in danger of being an emergent addiction, making the use of various stimuli of great value for creating choices. Dependencies or addiction takes over when one sense is depended upon, for the comprehension of the whole. This creates tunnel-vision, and is extremely powerful and hard to break, like being stuck forever in the spin of a black-hole. The instructions for getting out are being given you by written word, even by example, however you have become so dependent on being told what to do you are unable to read what's before you and so you spin out of control, only feeling complete and able to accept the next step forward, after you have been told how to get out. We often times see these issues in former athletes finding themselves in new environments and new homes, adoptions are hindered a great deal and horses can be quite dangerous to many un-expecting good new owners, from out of nowhere it seems, because of these associated dependencies and trigger addictions.
To treat such cases, it takes time and patience and an investigation to find out what is really influencing the situation, real or imaginary. It is important to remember that in my own opinion, addiction is not itself tangible; instead it is manifested from out of anticipation. When anticipation occurs it begins to take over control of reaction more and more, these are the roots of addiction and bad behavior. (Your habits here will re-affirm the horses' anticipation, which is not to be confused with real stimulus based, decision making reaction that is facilitated by mental agility) This is why you can remove the so-called trigger and not assuage an addictive reaction. You cannot simply treat bad behavior by the removal of one thing, without filling it with another; open voids in life are missing pieces of the puzzle and both humans and horses will fill them. If they are not, you've created the foundation for mental illness. Proper treatment of bad behavior requires the exact same nurturing philosophy as does properly training the athlete.
I would like to quickly point out that there is a difference between consistency and addictive repetition. You do want to be consistent with your desired result, but you also want to have a well balanced and adjusted horse and be able to get the result consistently even when there are variable degrees to the overall approach you are using. An emotionally sound horse is a horse with good mental agility, making adjustments on the hoof without being be-fuddled in the process. If you are overly consistent and too firm in your approach, you may create a perfect performer, but confined to a perfect situation; throw in a loop, something a little amiss, unexpected, your ship is sunk. These are weaknesses and in competition weakness of character is a weaker opponent. The mental capacity of the equine controls the physical output of the athlete; one of my core mantras. I also feel that this mantra can be applied to us, as human athletic, even life success also dances along a fine line between great achievement and sad failures.
I believe too that there is a great deal of learning that can be got by the study of many aspects in the horse that can be applied to the human to help gain a better understanding of what can be the monster within us. It is my opinion that addiction is the act of filling in the pieces of the puzzle with arbitrary things that are temporary, mentally controlling the sense of sustainability. From human to horse, to be successful we must all learn to win, from within.
Thank you for writing in,
Kerry M. Thomas