Bad Becoming Normal

‘Bad becoming normal’ is simply the concept that when something bad happens within an environment, gradually but prolifically, it becomes perceived as “normal.” Unless you approach the situation from a clean perspective, you don’t notice it. The conditions worsen slowly over time and no one notices the change.
Shanyn Silinski with Dr. Temple Grandin & Dr. Bill Muir

After I read about this concept of bad becoming normal my thoughts immediately began pondering the current state of whack’em, smack’em horsemanship. It’s not only become normal to whack, slap, stomp, shush, wave horses into obedience it’s what’s expected.

The reason it’s expected is that it works for some horses. I can’t help but notice that the horse of choice to demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods is the Quarter Horse. The Quarter Horses I’ve known are usually compliant and don’t ask a lot of questions. I won’t say that this type of training is ‘bad’ for horses that respond well to pressure. For some reason pressure doesn’t seem to activate the RAGE system as it does in the high fear horses.

In my experience, I will say that this type of training (pressure that causes frustration or worse) may be not only be ‘bad’ for sensitive or high fear horses such as Arabians or horses of Iberian descent but it could be potentially damaging.

Lucky me, I’ve seen more than my fair share of horses sent to auction or passed from owner to owner because they were considered behavior problems. When I saw these horses, there was nothing wrong with them, they just didn’t respond well, or at all, to the current ‘normal’ way of working with horses.

When I’d appear in public with my painting horses. I’d hear comments like:

  • Horses will do anything for a treat, she’s cheating.
  • She’s bribing those horses with food.
  • I could never be that nice to my horse.

Despite the fact that the my horses were unhaltered picking up brushes, handing them back to me, painting with a variety of stroke styles, sometimes painting when I wasn’t even in the corral, the focus was rarely on the cool stuff the horses were doing. All I wanted was to show how easy it was to train this way, but folks by passed the simplicity and could only see me as a food dispenser.

It was as if folks were offended that I was doing something different and getting a great result. I was offended that they were offended. How could they not see the difference on my horse’s faces as they interacted with me?

I no longer am offended and feel saddened that I felt that way. My training methods did not look normal to them. I also saw that not many people truly know what a happy horse really looks like, or what happy horse training looks like. In my effort to promote good becoming normal here are few wonderful websites:

Although this is a Swedish site, and I can’t read a word (It’s all Swedish to me!) Check out the tag line in the banner. Clicker Horses: Train with laughter and joy! What a perfect description of the process of training with attraction. For me personally, I’m always smiling and laughing during training. I think training with laughter and joy completely brings out the best in a horse, and its handler.

Here’s another great blog promoting good becoming normal by Mary Hunter.  It’s called Stale Cheerios: A serial for positive animal training.  Mary has undergraduate biology degree from the University of Chicago. She takes classes part time in the behavior analysis department at the University of North Texas. She plans to pursue an advanced degree in either animal behavior or behavior analysis. With her background in biology and analysis she can scientifically provide examples of good becoming normal.

I will continue to post new information as I find it to promote what I hope will become the new normal, or at least the laughing, smiling and joyful normal!



2 thoughts on “Bad Becoming Normal

    • I’m so glad! I think collectively we’re entering in to an exciting era of horsemanship where horses can have a voice instead of being just a beast of burden.

      My passion is to continue to share information, just as you do so well on your site Enlightened Horsemanship. This way it can become normal to handle a horse in a manner where it is honored for having feelings, emotions and the same desire for validation as humans.

      I think in the past, traditional horsemanship would say that type of treatment would cause a horse to ‘walk all over you’ or gain the upper hand. To my delight it seems to have the opposite effect. My horses have such enthusiasm for offering the correct behaviors, because I try to ask for those behaviors without pressure and with great reward.

      I think the more like-minded folk continue to share what we know, the more it will become normal and we’ll see a lot of smiling horses!


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