Traditional horse training & SATS

Traditionally, horses are trained using “pressure and release”.  The rider or trainer applies pressure, gently, or not so gently, until the horse yields, and the pressure is instantly released.  In spite of many satisfactory results, some horses do not thrive with this system, and most horses can be taught more efficiently by giving them information without any pressure at all.  This is the first of a series of articles on SATS, a method of teaching horses, which is free of force or physical pressure during learning.  Information is given directly to the horse.  Behaviors are named and then asked for by name.  Perhaps because there is no pressure to cause resistance, learning is often very, very fast, and aggression is extremely rare.  This system of teaching is based on three signals (see below for details).  It generally takes only a few minutes to teach these three basic signals, and once they are in place, many other tasks become much, much easier.

Calling a horse from a pasture or paddock

393855_2931819012767_661395360_n-300x225For example, you can save yourself time and frustration by using the IB support signal to encourage your horse.  First, teach the bridges and target (below).  To call your horse, give a clear, crisp “Here!” while extending the two-finger target and starting the IB (Intermediate Bridge).  You can do this, even if the horse is initially out of view.  As the horse comes into view wiggle the Target, for the horse to approach, continuing to IB.  As the horse gets closer, make the IB faster and higher in pitch, to encourage the horse.

As the horse arrives before the trainer, the trainer offers a TB success signal (Terminal Bridge), and a treat, or a scratch.

No more rattling the food can, hiding the rope behind your back, or snaking your rope around the horse’s head; just a clear signal and enthusiastic support, bringing the horse right to the fence, where it is easy to halter him, and call him to the gate. Easy to do, once the signals are in place.  Continue to read below for step-by-step instructions on teaching the bridges and a target.

horseSATS on Bridges, and How to Teach Them:

What a bridge is:  The “bridge” is a signal that is paired with food, or something else a horse wants, which in turn becomes welcome to the horse in its own right.  It’s important to go through a training process to establish the meaning of the bridge signal.

There are two kinds of bridges:

The Intermediate Bridge (IB):  A signal, which tells an animal that he is progressing toward a Terminal Bridge, if he continues.

The Terminal Bridge (TB):  A signal, which tells an animal that he has successfully completed a request, or behavior.

Teaching the Bridges

Teaching the bridges first will speed up the rest of your training.  It tells the animal clearly that he has met your request, encouraging him on his way. Teaching the bridges can be done in 3 steps and a total of 7 trials. A good bridge is the ‘X,’ or the spoken sound of the letter x as a bridge signal.

Step 1: Terminal Bridge

Present food treat while saying a short, crisp “X.” Repeat the “X” as the animal actually takes the food.  Repeat this step two more times for a total of three trials. This is the terminal bridge, used to tell the animal he has successfully fulfilled the trainer’s request.

Step 2: Intermediate Bridge

Keep hand with food behind back and say “X.” At the slightest response to the bridge (X) start a stream of x’s, getting faster and louder as the animal approaches you to get food treat. You can also start to pull your hand from behind your back, finally presenting the food and a crisp, emphatic “X,” as the animal reaches the food. So you have two kinds of bridge – the crisp, emphatic bridge which becomes the signal that the animal has been successful and may get a treat, and the softer stream of ‘xxxxxxxxx’ culminating in the crisp emphatic ‘X.’ These are the intermediate bridge, used to tell the animal he is not done yet, but he is headed for success.

Step 3: Testing (optional)

Before you go on to the next step, you can make sure the animal understands the bridge. Wait till the animal is looking away (can get the help of a friend to provide a mild distraction). While the animal is facing away, say ‘X.’ If the animal turns immediately toward you in response to the sound of ‘X,’ continue as in step two. You have been successful.

If the animal does not respond to the ‘X’ in the test, go back to step one and repeat the process.

Choosing a Bridge

You can use whistles, clickers, flashing lights, visual gestures (a thumb-up for example), tactile signals, and verbal bridges. It does not matter which you prefer, as long as you use it appropriately and it has certain characteristics.

The Characteristics of a good bridge:  First, can the animal perceive it? A deaf animal would get tactile and visual bridges, because it cannot hear sounds. However, in general, trainers choose a sound bridge, because sound travels in all directions, whereas a visual target can be obscured by obstacles, and a tactile target  requires proximity to the animal. The sound should be short, sharp, one syllable, hard sound, not a word used a lot in conversation. It must be issued the instant the animal does what he has been asked to do. As long as these criteria are met, the bridge will be fine. If you do not meet these criteria, you are not being as effective or efficient as you could be.

Examples of Bridges: xxxxxX!, kikikikiKI, dudududuDu!, guguguguGU!  Avoid soft sounds like lalalalLA, yesyesyesYes, sisisisiSI, and mmmmmM.

Reason for conditioning bridges:  Consider how difficult it is to learn a language just by hearing it spoken around you. There are simply too many things drawing your attention for you to efficiently relate the foreign words to the objects to which they refer. It is much better if someone takes the time to point out what word relates to what object.  By conditioning the bridges, you are showing your animal exactly what these important signals mean.


SATS on Targets and How to Teach Them

3198What a target is: Targets are signals that tell the animal exactly where you want them, or some part of them, to be. They are taught by marking the instant of contact, with a desired target, using a bridge. (A bridge is a signal that tells an animal the exact instant he does something you desire).  Together, bridges and targets are the most basic elements of the Bridge and Target communication system, which is in turn, an important part of the Syn Alia Training System.  (See , bottom of page, for pictures of the Two Finger Target, and the Target Pole).

Here are three kinds of target:

The Two-Finger Target (T) is two-finger contact, presented in a crisp, dramatic way.  The animal is bridged immediately upon making contact with this target (until he is taught to target for longer periods).  The bridge is a signal that the animal has been successful and may get a treat.  We use the percussive sound, ‘X’.

The Target Pole (P) uses an extension of the fingers – a pole of some sort, to extend the reach of the two-finger target.  One can use the eraser end of a pencil, a chopstick, a wand, a riding crop, or any pole of any size desired.  The end is often padded to make contact soft and comfortable for the animal, and it is sometimes colored, to make it more visible.

The Target Station (S) or Mark (M) uses some object, usually a flat plate or mat, which can be suspended or placed on a vertical surface, or placed on the floor or ground, which shows the animal where to contact.  This target can be used far from the trainer, as a place to send a horse during feeding, moving animals or cleaning areas. Hanging Station Targets can be made from plastic, paper, or rubber plates, disks, or lids, with a hole punched at the top so that they can be suspended from a fence or wall, using a string or clip.

Teaching the targets: It is important to go through a training process to establish the target. Here, we will teach the horse about the two-finger target, in three steps.

Step 1: Saying “Here!” and using a crisp, emphatic motion, present the Two-finger Target right before the animal’s muzzle, so close that if he moves, he will accidentally make contact.  The instant he makes contact, bridge.

Step 2: Saying “Here!” as above, move the target 6 inches, or 10 centimeters, to the right, with the same crisp, dramatic motion.  Bridge the instant the animal makes contact.

Step 3: Saying “Here!” as above, move the target 12 inches, or 20 centimeters, to the left, again with the same crisp, dramatic motion.  Bridge the instant the animal makes contact.

Stop here and give the animal a few minutes of quiet time to think about what he has just learned.  DO NOT REPEAT THE TARGETS AGAIN AND AGAIN!

Choosing a target: Almost anything can be a target, but the most important target for most animals is the Two-Finger Target (T).  This is a target that you always have with you, and calls the animal to you. (See for photos)  It has a higher priority than the Target Pole (P) or Target Station (S).  It is also very easy to use, because no equipment is needed.

Reason for conditioning targets: It is important to condition a target before using it.  It takes about 15 seconds, and allows the animal to clearly understand what he needs to do to earn a bridge.  Although it takes only fifteen seconds, many things are communicated during that short lesson.  The animal learns that if he touches your fingers when you say “Here!” and make the Two-Finger gesture, he will earn a bridge.  He learns that he must touch with his nose (initially), and that he must specifically touch your finger target.  So, he learns two cues (“Here! And the visual finger presentation)”, that he must make contact to a specific point that you designate, with a specific point of his body, and that he may need to move his whole body to make that contact.  Allowing him to rest after this lesson allows him to consider all that he has just learned.

With these signals in place, a trainer can easily teach many useful things, such as hoof care manners, directions, body parts, bitting, and more.  Next issue, we will look at how these tools, and other elements of SATS, can help with handling and care, featuring Cisco, the New Mexico mustang.