About Conditioning And Communication...
in Tips

About Conditioning And Communication...

So cool to see passionate riders from various equestrian disciplines arriving in the ST Mastery Program! And because of their background, they taught their horse, for example, the following:
  • To jump into the canter with the inside leg.
  • To respond with backing along the wall when they press slightly on the horse’s neck.
  • To bring the hind quarters towards the trainer from the whip in the air, while the horse slightly counter bends.
  • To swing the haunches back out, when they put pressure with the whip in the girth area.
But in Straightness Training we teach our horse the following:
  • To jump into canter from the outside leg.
  • To respond with haunches-in with slight pressure on the horse’s neck.
  • To bring the hindquarters in from the whip in the air and bend around the trainer.
  • To bend around the whip, when we put gentle pressure on the girth area.
Now to be clear: There is no RIGHT way ✅, and there’s no WRONG way ⛔️...

It’s just a matter of CONDITIONING!

So it doesn't matter what cues you present to your horse… You can even decide to teach your horse to canter by touching his left ear 👈🏻... If you taught him that cue, he will canter 🏇... So you can teach your horse all kinds of aids and sets of cues, it doesn’t matter! What DO matters is: ✔️ That you stay CONSISTENT in your 'language'... ✔️ To avoid miscommunication... ✔️ So you have to think about what aids cues you want to use... (Because having to touch a horse's left ear 👈🏻 is not the most comfy way to start cantering 🏇... 😉) ✔️ So think first, condition later... ✔️ And the third key is consistency. Because problems may arise when you start to change your alphabet of aids and cues… Then one day you taught your horse that an A is an A and B means a B… But on some other day, you decide that A means B…

Here's an example:

  • In Natural horsemanship (NH) the stick in the air means: “coming towards the trainer in a sideways manner”. And pressing the neck along the wall means: “backing”.
  • In ST we use pressure on the neck to teach our horse to do haunches-in, with the message “make yourself concave on the inside”. And the whip in the air means, “come away from the wall in haunches-in, while not losing the bend to the inside".
So when you switch from NH to ST, or start to use ST as an 'add-on' to NH, you might start to change your meaning when it comes to your cues... And your horse might get confused about that... And this might lead to some miscommunication... But no worries... There are STrategies to avoid that, and I'lll show you those in a minute.. But first, let’s dive a bit deeper into the topic of..,


When we look at conditioning, it’s a fact that to ‘learn’ something is much easier than to ‘unlearn’ something. That's because of the ‘habits’ that are established, and all the neurological pathways that have been formed in the nervous systems of the horse. So if you want to re-train and re-condition your horse, you are ‘fighting’ these old habits: you are dealing with neurological pathways that are formed in the horse’s system. And those will be ‘highways', if you have done something for years… Or over 10000 times! So that’s something to realize! Therefore, if you’d like to teach your horse that A means B from now on… Here are four STrategies to consider:

1. Don't Change A Winning Team

When cues and aids are deeply ingrained, and your horse responds promptly – for example on the whip up for sideways and press on the neck for backing – then don’t change this winning team! Then it’s best to not use the exact cues to teach a horse something new, such as the haunches-in. Instead, use a set of completely new aids and cues, one the horse doesn’t have a strong or solid association with.

2. Counter-conditioning

You could consider the process of ‘counter-conditioning’. In that approach, your horse learns ‘Ahhhhh, an A means C from now on… gotcha’. But remember, this process takes time.

3. Differentiation

You can also teach differentiations on existing cues: So when doing your NH ‘sideways towards you’, you could use for example: ✌🏻stick up + voice cue ‘SIDE'. And for the ST ‘haunches-in’ you could use: 🤘🏻whip up + voice cue ‘IN’. This way you make a slight differentiation on the whip cue… Like you can use differentation with two fingers ✌🏻🤘🏻🤞🏻, it's still two fingers in the air, but with a slight difference and all three variants mean something else. So the language between you and your horse become even more refined! With differentiation, you take the 'language' with your horse to a higher, broader, wider, deeper level!

4. Communication

Now if your horse is a ‘puzzle solver’ or in a ‘figuring out’ frame of mind, you can go beyond conditioning. Then you can step into the zone where the horse resonates on your thoughts (inner picture) and follows your energy (inner feeling). So then your inner picture and inner feeling is the most important guidance to your horse. This way an NH horse very easily will give you the proper ST shape in haunches-in along the wall or across the diagonal, I have experienced this more than once. So that's the difference between 'conditioning' and ‘communication’. To make this more clear, let's have a look at the following examples:

Example: Learning a language

Let's have a look at learning a new language yourself. In the beginning, you can say only short words as “obrigado” and “bom dia”. But after a while you can speak standard sentences such as ”Meu nome é Marijke” And after a while, you can mix these standard sentences into more unique sentences. That’s the moment that we really start to communicate - we go beyond conditioning. Here’s another example:

Example: Painting

A ‘conditioned’ painter can paint a copy of the Mona Lisa - as beautiful as the original. But he can’t make a painting of his own. Of course with hard work, he will also be able to paint the Night Watch too… But then again, he can only paint the standard Mona Lisa and the standard Night Watch and nothing else… Because that's the only conditioned thing that’s in his nervous system. But a painter who is using his inner picture and inner feeling on top of what he learned (in which he is conditioned)… Then, with the exact same colours and the exact same pencils, this painter will be able to make a completely new, authentic painting! And here’s one more example:

Example: Experience

Do you have 10 years of experience... Or 10 times one year of the same experience... Hmmm… something to think about 🤔... And hope this post gave you some ideas, suggestions and alternatives routes for training, conditioning and communicating with your horse!

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