Apples to Apples

Because we have no need for tools, aids, or gadgets, (an often small mechanical or electronic device or contrivance with a practical use but often thought of as a novelty) it may have left the impression that some of us think those who use clicker training with their horses are somehow ‘bad.’*Nothing could be further from the truth.

Granted, there are some horse owners who personally feel that using a clicker is awkward, if not superfluous, (and/or mechanistic training). Whether or not this is true, using any type of tool diminishes the emotional valence needed for the depth of bonding we desire to share with our horses. Actually, quite a few Friendship Training members initially used clicker training with their horses. But after going through the Friendship Training program with their horse, they never used a clicker again, (or any facsimile thereof) with their horses. Some of them were very experienced +R clicker trainers who continued to use various forms of clicker training with other species, but not with their horse. For them, clicker training seemed to be a gateway or steppingstone to Friendship Training.

The following is offered as a comparison to hopefully alleviate some of the misunderstanding concerning an alternative philosophy and method of teaching and being with horses called Friendship Training, and clicker training. It is also offered to any horse owners whose primary interest and concern lies in seeking and objectively evaluating what is best for their horse’s mental, emotional, and physical well- being.

The entire purpose of Friendship Training is giving a horse and a human the opportunity to share the most intimate, affiliative interspecies relationship they can possibly share together.

Within that purpose is the need to preserve and enhance the horse’s spirit at every opportunity, nullify previous negative experiences, and most importantly, ‘First do no Harm. Our primary concern is our horse’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, (and perception modification more than behavior modification). For if our horse’s regard and perception of us is that of a trusted friend who values and appreciates them, values the relationship they share, (and would never put them in harm’s way) then any type of teaching/training/habituation is much more easily accomplished.

*Friendship Training is science-based utilizing Operant Conditioning, Classical Conditioning, Positive reinforcement, shaping, and chaining. In neurological terms, one might say that the Friendship Training Structured Recreation interactions are a combination of the Play, Care, and Seeking systems. As such, the fulfilling enjoyment of experiencing an affiliative interspecies relationship as it slowly evolves far outweighs and quickly displaces the fleeting self-satisfaction of ‘training an animal.’ In short, the process should be enjoyable for both parties.

*Friendship Training is ethologically-based modeling a specific type of equine relationship. Various designations by equine ethologists and research scientists are given to this type of relationship such as; affiliated pairing, nonsexual bonding, peer attachment, mutually beneficial coalitions, pair bond, and preferred associates. We call them horse pals or horse buddies. In this type of relationship, their greatest need is NOT one of hierarchal rank, but rather one of sharing time with their pair bond other. They are literally, ‘a herd of two within the herd.’Of course, the horse knows we are not a horse. But they do recognize the parameters of their own basis of attachment when we present ourselves in a like manner. This, (coupled with sound empirical knowledge, adequate preparation, and our Intent) gives us the greatest opportunity for perception modification.

This markedly differs from conventional training models that rely on a hierarchal status, fear and pain for training and control. “A central mechanism of herd cohesion is the formation of pair bonds and mare-foal bonds. Within the herd, individuals have preferred associates with whom they spend most of their time and these are usually horses of similar social rank (Kimura, 1998). Within peer groups, Pickett, H. (2009).”

“Horses: Behaviour, Cognition and Welfare close pair bonds develop between individuals and can persist throughout life, especially in mares (Goodwin, 2002).

These bonds are mutually supportive and bonded pairs graze and rest together and engage in mutual grooming, affiliative neck overlapping and resting head-to-tail fly swishing “(Goodwin, 1999 and 2002).” “Preferred attachment appears not only between dam and foal, but also among peers of all ages, genders and between species” (Dierendonck and Goodwin (2006)”

“Horses form “long-term, cooperative alliances between unrelated individuals,(Fey 2005) and ‘tend to be faithful to their playing partners’ (Sigurjónsdóttir, Dierendock, and Thórhallsdóttir (2002).”

*Friendship Training requires submitting a questionnaire prior to acceptance in the program. Knowing the horse’s personality, life history, present living environment, herd compatibility, nutrition, usage, regard of the horse’s owner and other humans, overall health, internal parasite program, and past and present general management/care lends the opportunity for maximum daily email, Skype and phone support, (as does knowing the previous equine experience of their human caretaker). Another reason for the questionnaire is to retrospectively give the horse owner a clearer insight of their horse as an individual with mental, emotional needs specific only to them.

*Friendship Training does not allow caging/stalling horses for any period of time with the usual temporary exceptions, (severe weather, vet recommended illness/injury recuperation, and/or abnormal insect infestation). There is far too much empirical scientific and ethological documentation to ignore, or in any way condone an archaic practice that is so maligning to horses on multiple levels, (mental, emotional, physical and instinctual).

*Friendship Training strongly encourages FT family members, (and all horse owners) to read ‘An Open Mind,’ by Dr. J. J. Dewey and ‘You don’t have a right to your opinion’ by Patrick Stokes, (both available on our Facebook group). Doing so aids critical analysis and ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’ in making the most informed decisions possible regarding the management, care, and ‘training’ of our horses.

*Friendship Training does not condone ‘riding’ or any mounted activity until the horse reaches an appropriate age of physical and emotional maturity. A custom remodeling program is offered for young horses to increase the bone density and bone mass. This reduces the possibility of injury caused by mounted activity, extends the functional life of the horse, and prevents much of the physical damage and ailments that later plague older horses. Starting a horse at an appropriate age also helps prevent many of the negative experiences that occur when starting a horse that is not emotionally mature. If the horse is presently being ridden when they enter the Friendship Training program, all riding ceases until the relationship warrants mounted activity. This gives the horse a tangible sign, (amongst others) that their owner has ‘changed’ in addition to a mental/emotional if not physical period of recuperation.

*Friendship Training addresses the importance of proxemics, kinesics and haptic communication of both humans and horses in establishing a ‘bridge language’ using simultaneous voice, hand, body and facial expressions. This allows the horse to more easily associate vocal requests with facial and hand expressions as the majority of equine communication is body language. Recent studies have shown the importance of facial expressions when horses had negative reactions to photographs with an angry human face versus no reaction to photographs with a happy human face.

Proxemics is a one of several subcategories of the study of nonverbal communication, (Hall (1966). It is the study of the cultural, behavioral, and sociological aspects of spatial distances between individuals.

Kinesics is the study of body position, posture, movement, and facial expression in relation to interpersonal communication.

Haptic communication refers to the ways in which people and other animals nonverbally communicate and interact via the sense of touch. It is a component of communication in interpersonal relationships.

“Although there are other subcategories, three are most important to this discussion: movement, touch and space.”

Communication, (clearly expressing our feelings, needs, and intentions) is the cornerstone of any long term Positive relationship. ~ Scientists Discover that Horses Are More Expressive Than Chimps


If it seems like your horse is sneering at you, you may be right. A new “directory” of horse facial movements shows that these animals are more expressive than we once thought.”

“Humans, of course, have such dexterous musculature that we’re able to tacitly communicate our most subtle feelings using 27 different facial expressions. But scientists at the University of Sussex have discovered that the horse repertoire isn’t that far behind. Using their so-called Equine Facial Action Coding System (EquiFACS for short), the team identified 17 distinct facial movements in horses, many of them—especially in the lips and eyes—similar to humans. That’s at least three more than the number of recognizable facial expressions in chimpanzees, and one more than in dogs.

This range of possibilities is much more immense than scientists could have ever predicted, considering they originally thought that the further away a species is from Homo sapiens on the family tree, the more limited the use of its facial expressions would be.”

“The finding shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise—horses are visual creatures; their eyesight is better than that of domestic dogs or cats. But it wasn’t until lead author Jennifer Watham and her colleagues dissected a horse’s head and photographed all aspects of its muscular design that scientists fully understood the emotional role of the eye in equine communication.” chimps/
Excerpt: “Equine vocalization and acoustic sounds can communicate a horse’s emotional state, physiological state, and situation to other individuals, including other horses and humans.”

“Horses can communicate their emotions through their behavior and their vocalizations, Briefer said.” “Emotional expression is important for regulating the interactions between individuals and is therefore a crucial phenomenon in social species.” utm_source=Copy+of+07262014&utm_campaign=Email07282014&utm_medium=email

Equine vocalization and acoustic sounds can communicate a horse’s emotional state, physiological state, and situation to other individuals, including other horses and humans.

*Friendship Training uses three levels of aversive signals to clearly communicate our disapproval. We also us an ‘encouragement / keep going signal,’ (in addition to the completion, approval signal). The ‘encouragement / keep going’ signal is used to tell them they are doing well in a particular exercise but that it is not completed yet.

Friendship Training encourages the use of ‘Thank You’ in addition to the usual vocal ‘Good Boy / Good Girl,’ (thereby utilizing the ‘Law of Appreciation’ to its full extent). Good Boy/Good Girl designates approval.

‘Thank you’ designates appreciation for the horse as an individual. Communication from the horse is always encouraged at every opportunity, (which also gives them the understanding that we value and appreciate their input). Reciprocal Communication is all-important in any relationship and lends to a deeper understanding of both parties involved.

Friendship Training calls attention to the detrimental over use and misuse rugging/blanketing horses.

An Amazing Article on Why Your Horse Should Not Be Blanketed

*Friendship Training requests reconsidering the type of both forage and supplemental feed used balanced against the knowledge of equine nutritionists, (Nyland, Kellon, Winfield, Getty, Layton and others). Soil, grass, and hay analysis is essential to make an acurate determination of what may be required for a balanced diet, (and to help avoid functional malnutrition).

In their natural habitat horses may roam between five and twenty-five miles a day grazing, (depending on weather, environmental pressures and forage conditions) consuming a variety of plants and grasses. As domestic horses usually do not have that opportunity, every effort must be made to give them adequate nutrition. Free access to forage at all times is absolutely essential.

Tracts similar to a ‘Paddock Paradise’ that encourage exercise are strongly recommended when the area of the horse’s living environment is limited.

*Friendship Training includes a required study of equine sensory, neural and physiological systems. This aids in giving the horse adequate management and care, (as well as a deeper understanding their physiological needs).

*We cannot possibly practice ‘First do no harm’ without gaining an in-depth knowledge of the animal we are working with and their species-specific needs. Nor can we ‘First do no harm’ if we blindly continue using traditional methods of management, care, and ‘training.’

*Friendship Training requires gaining an in-depth ethological understanding of the horse’s true mental,/emotional, physical and instinctive needs from peer reviewed, reputable ethological and scientific sources.

This is required to help gain a more comprehensive understanding of their horse as a prey animal, their instinctual needs, and the memes and development of their social structure. It also aids in reading and understanding their horse’s feelings, intentions, and communication, which is equally as important as them clearly reading and understanding ours, (if not more so).

*Friendship Training addresses internal parasites/anthelmintics in an attempt to clarify some of the traditional myths and often misguided beliefs on these topics.

*Friendship Training addresses hoof care and is predominantly barefoot, (with only a few very rare exceptions for specific treatments). Again, there is far too much undeniable empirical data to continue using archaic methods of applying any kind of metal to their hooves.

*Friendship Training does not use any type of whips, ropes, sticks or gadgets. Doing so would be at best a distraction, and at worst, be counterproductive to the type of relationship we desire to share with our horses. Granted, as they are forced to live a domestic life in ‘our world,’ there are situations and circumstances that dictate our ‘having the last say in matters.’ But we are trying to keep the human/equine dyad as pure as possible, (and minimize speciesism and entitlement in the process).

*Friendship Training strongly encourages horse owners to have a compatible herd mate for their horse as horses are social animals and desperately need same species companionship, (an integral part of ‘Friends, Forage, and freedom’).

In fact, social contact/association is so important to them that lacking their own species when isolated, they will display affiliative attachment behavior to a different species. *The degree of intimacy, understanding, communication and reciprocal caring of the Friendship Training relationship eliminates the need to use a bit in a horse’s mouth, (or any device that is intended to cause discomfort or pain on their head or body). Thus one could say we are ‘bitless as well as barefoot,’ (and spurless and whipless as well!) True ‘forward motion’ does not come from any degree of external discomfort or punishment. True forward motion, true ‘impulsion’ comes from deep within the horse’s heart, and mind, and spirit, (and their desire to do with, be with, and share life with ‘their human’).

*Friendship Training requires that all learning/teaching/training interaction and Structured Recreation is done in an open pasture, (or the most open, freedom-based area in the horse’s living environment). The reasons are simple.

#1. If the horse’s human teacher gets ‘pushy’ or forceful, the horse will leave. This curbs the human to accomplish goals in any specific time frame and allows a greater likelihood of processing at a cognitive level. Each couple is composed of two individuals who are distinctly different from any others on the face of the earth. Each sequential phase is micro-tailored to the horse’s and the human’s individuality and personality.
#2. The horse is a prey animal whose primary means of survival is flight. Entrapment in a small area and forcing them to do something using tools or implements such as ropes, whips or sticks, intimidation of physical Punishment and/or physical Punishment causes stress. When stress hormones flood the horse’s body, attention and bodily functions are directed toward flight, or fight. Learning / cognition is diminished or ceases altogether. This results in a negative environment and a negative relationship. A positive learning/teaching environment and a positive relationship increases, (rather than decreases) learning/cognition and most importantly, a receptivity to learn.

Giving the horse complete choice in a truly freedom-based environment allows them to appreciate and experience a sense of control. When isolated and trapped in a small area like a round pen, picadero or corral, they lose any sense of control, (leaving the only course to ‘obey’ the human forcing them to ‘do something’ or face potentially painful but unknown consequences). This is all important in the type of relationship we strive to share with our
horses. It cannot be ‘pure’ without complete choice, (or if it is encumbered with human tools).

“When a horse is stressed, the first component of the endocrine response to be activated is the sympathetic nervous system, which potentiates the release of the catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine. Catecholamines mediate the classic fight-or-flight response, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate.”

Stress Management for Equine Athletes

*To date, we have not experienced any problems ‘marking’ with our voice. Nor can we find any empirical studies
determining the actual time differential between the ‘click’ and vocal communication using specific words, (Total/Simple Reaction Time being the sum of RT, Recognition Time, CRT, Choice Reaction Time and DRT, Discrimination Reaction Time). In fact, we’ve found the affiliative emotional valence increases exponentially using our voice to communicate our intentions and feelings, (tone, volume, duration).

*Developing the Friendship Training relationship is a process as it takes time for new neural pathways to grow and ‘undo/nullify’ previous negative experiences with humans, (and maligning management, care, training and usage practices). The primary Intent is to heal and nurture.

*Friendship Training does not adhere to any ‘quick fixes’ for a particular behavior modification that only serve to mask the underlying perception / problems caused by conventional methods of management, care, and ‘training.’ The Friendship Training program is a holistic sequential process that requires a horse owner to first partake in a comparative analysis, then gain a more comprehensive ethological/physiological understanding from sound empirical sources, and finally prepare themselves using the most expressive means possible for Communication.

*There is much more to the Friendship Training program to consider including but not limited to; the initial transitional period of introspection/retrospection, physical conditioning of both horse and rider, saddle / tack fit, the importance of developing an ‘independent seat,’ rider-induced lameness, the ‘learning / teaching’ environment, emotional valence that increases cognition, fascia care, the Law of Intent, and many other facets all bent on giving our horses the best life possible while they fulfill their domestic responsibilities.

A few points to consider.

(1.) To ‘first do no harm,’ it is essential to gain sound empirical knowledge in every area of
management and care from some of the world’s leading equine ethologists and research
scientists. To do less, only perpetuates the old saying,

If you keep doing what you’ve always done , you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.’

Considering the advances made in ethology and science, that would be an utter waste time, money, and potential to ignore that knowledge.

The Cloud series documentaries by Ginger Kathrens and “The Domestic Horse, the evolution, development and management of its behavior” by McDonnell / Mills are only two of many sources we use.

(2.) Horses use facial, body and vocal expressions to communicate and micro-tailor their feelings, emotions, and intentions. It would behoove us to do the same for the sake of clear, concise Communication.

(3.) A specific ‘quiet time’ and place set aside each day for two sentient beings to meet without any outside interference, (or the emotionally adrift of the human’s daily burdens) where they can exchange their feelings and needs in a nonviolent, learning/teaching atmosphere aids inactualizing the full potential of an intimate, interspecies relationship shared by a horse, and a human.

(4.) The Internet is full of examples proving that optimum ‘safety’ for both the horse and their rider can not possibly come from using any type of tool or gadget to either force or entice a horse to do something against their nature. If that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t see all the abusive gadgets used for supposed ‘control’ horse as daily read about the ‘behavioral issues and bad horse problems’ resulting from ‘Alpha/leader – dominance/submission’ training formats. Optimum safety for both the horse and their rider is reached when they both care equally about each other’s well-being.

(5.) I am certain beyond any shadow of doubt that there are individuals who use clicker training that cover every aspect of Friendship Training mentioned previously, (and possibly more). But in this case, we are comparing two seemingly different types of learning/teaching/training formats offered to a general populace of the horse world, (not individuals within any particular system). On that note, I cannot find any clicker training books or trainers that encompass the overall need to ‘first do no harm,’ equate clicker training to any comparative relational model, or any necessitation as to the type and degree of management, care, and usage. That clicker training uses Positive Reinforcement can only be a ‘good thing’ for most, but certainly not all horses. The drawback being anyone can use a clicker in any manner with no limitation of management, care, or usage.

(6). The word ‘training’ in Friendship Training leads some to think we are actually using some type of ‘training’ in the conventional sense to make the horse accept us as a friend. Or that there is some ethereal ‘magic wand’ that will accomplish the same. That is ridiculous. Yet in every horse/human couple, there is a potential spiritual aspect to their relationship. I could not begin to explicate that spiritual melding into words. I don’t think anyone can. If you have ever shared that feeling of complete oneness with a horse, you know this to be true.

Friendship Training attempts help any horse owner attain that same closeness with their horse. I’ve had many discussions over the years with other FT members as to exactly how and why this happens. Learning their horse’s nutritional and species-specific needs, the deep commitment to giving them the best life possible in management and care, and a host of other aspects of Friendship Training may all play a part cumulatively.

But after all things are considered, I would have to say the ‘bottom line,’ the singular source is the horse owner’s need which will govern their Intent. And their willingness to meet their horse with an open heart, open hands, and an open mind. An open mind filled with a deep desire to win their horse’s heart coupled with sound empirical knowledge, and give them the best life possible.

(7.) Above all, as responsible horse owners and caretakers, we must never stop learning all we can about our horse’s needs and proper care, for both their benefit, and our own. For any amount of time invested in bettering their mental, emotional, and physical well-being will always be returned a thousandfold.

(8.) “Please understand that collectively, our worldwide Friendship Training family has experienced in depth every ‘training method’ on earth and have found them counterproductive to the rewards and benefits of the type of relationship we choose to share with our horses. I believe beyond any shadow of doubt that each and every horse owner using clicker training is a very special human being, and should be commended for their efforts seeking a gentler, less abusive method to train horses. And for their unwaveringly enduring the ‘slings and arrows’ from those who remain mired in archaic forms of horse training to hold fast to what you believe is best for your horse.

I have been advised not to say that, as it may be perceived as condescending or facetious. But I assure you, (having endured much of the same ‘slings and arrows’) that I mean it in all sincerity.

In fact, that respect is what motivated me to write this.