Name and explain

One of the interesting facets of the SATS approach is ‘name and explain’. It is suggested that, without even incorporating bridging (intermediate or terminal), you can start labeling events, locations, physical or emotional states etc. As I understand it, it is different to adding a cue to a learnt behaviour. You just explain things as you go.

This approach has been used to successfully prepare animals for veterinary procedures. A practical example with a horse is explained in this blog post.

I have been comparing and contrasting this in my mind to body language, energy and intent, all clear ways of communicating with horses. Years ago I read Dancing with Horses by Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling and immediately and with some success started to put his ideas around leading horses into practice. Recently I have revisited and reinforced this with Ben and Cloud. And it is effective. However, I will never have the focus of energy and intent that Hempfling seems to bring to his work with horses. (I have only his videos to go on as regards this.) There is still plenty of room for error. Adding language is surely a way to help a horse understand what I mean. (This desire for more clarity in my communication was also the reason I got into clicker training.)

Ben and Cloud live in a domesticated environment, in close contact with humans and rely on these humans for their basic needs. Therefore, their natural and normal expression of instinctual behaviour is not always appropriate. They need to adapt.

Here is an example. Morning and evening they are brought a bucket of feed each. As I do not want to be pushed aside I ask them to wait until I have put the bucket down and moved away. They have always done this but each time it has required strong body language and energy from me. So recently I added words. As I emerged from the shed holding the bucket I would say ‘food’. In the stable I would say ‘wait’ with my hand up. I would put the bucket down and step back. I would say the word ‘good’ as a terminal bridge. (‘Good’ is my new bridge as the tongue click had become too associated with excitement and even aggression). Then I would say ‘eat’, as they ate.

I was able to very quickly stop using the bridge word ‘good’. I now just use the words ‘food’, ‘wait’ and ‘eat’. I have not needed to use strong body language. I could be tired and distracted and still I would not be crowded. Indeed Cloud, of his own accord, has been giving me extra space.

This morning I decided to let them into the lake front area that we own which is across a road in front of our house. To get there I had to lead them through the yard gate, down a longish drive with grass on one side, through a further gate, a short way along the road and into the lake front. Ben and Cloud are on hay 24/7. I wondered if I should lead them down separately given their expected excitement at the prospect of grass. I decided to name and explain to help us together reach the lake calmly and safely. I told them we would go to the lake for grass. (I have been naming grass when I let them have grass while riding.) I named ‘headcollar’ and both stood in place as I put headcollars on. We walked out, one pony on each side, each on on a loose lead rope with their head just behind my outstretched hand. I could feed Ben’s excitement rising so I said ‘wait’ and he calmed down and stayed behind me. I could feel Cloud wanting to make for the grass that was beside him. Again I said ‘wait’ and he calmed and stayed just behind my hand. And so like that we walked down the drive, they waited as I opened the bottom gate, we walked calmly along the road and into the lake front area. I named ‘lake’ when we arrived. I asked them to wait again and each did so until released.

It may not sound much but it felt like a lot. Two grass starved ponies successfully curbed their instincts until we arrived at the lake. They had successfully generalised their understanding of ‘wait’ and could apply it to this short journey. As my husband pointed out naming the word must have also helped me: supporting that magic pairing of attention and intention so that I was present, calm and focused with them. I also realised afterwards that I did not even think of using a bridge to mark desired behaviour and it was not needed.



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16 responses to “Name and explain

  1. June

    Where have I been? What have I been missing? What is SATS?
    This all sounds really great! It’s like what I always say – just use your words. I think the clarity of intention which comes with using normal means of communication with which we are comfortable and familiar (rather than trying to learn a technique or a specialized means of communication) really helps the horse understand what we mean. Thanks for linking to that other blog entry too – very nice.
    I’m with you – I’m just no KFH! Sometimes I can PRETEND to be KFH for fun (a bit like a theatre class exercise!), and sometimes that works in a goofy kind of way. But I just don’t have the Svengali thing going. Maybe if I got me a pirate shirt …. (You know, I really don’t think the guy actually wears pirate shirts – he just gives the IMPRESSION of wearing pirate shirts.) Occasionally I pretend to be Attila the Hun. For some things that actually works really, really well.

    • Hi June. I mentioned SATS a couple of posts back. Worth investigating if you’re interested. I do agree with you that using communication that comes naturally to us gives clarity of intent. As for KFH: I like his suggestions re leading, but I can never be a medieval knight, nor do I want to be!

  2. June

    What good ponies Cloud and Ben are – it’s impressive they were so patient about getting onto the grass. And I’m jealous of all your green! The grass here is on strike and saying it’s not coming out until the humans are wearing shorts again.

    • That is the only grass I have. Seeded in autumn and untouched until now. Nothing else has grown yet. It is very cold here. Btw, I can’t leave moments on your blog. I try but there seems to be a gremlin somewhere as they don’t go through.

      • June

        Don’t know what the problem is with leaving comments – I’ve sent in a question about that.

  3. I do believe that horses can be made aware of words and meanings. I’ve done this with our herd and as an example I just stand by a leg and say “pick up” and they will lift their hoof for cleaning. “Wait” “Slow” “Easy” are all in their vocabulary so to speak. There are more and they do listen and comprehend. It takes time and patience until the understanding completes itself but it’s worth it.

  4. June

    oh my gosh, I downloaded the 99c SATS papers. Before I even did that, I taught our pitbull to high-five! and since the download, I’ve taught Bridget to turn 180 degrees. There’s no mastery of technique in my case here – I think I just got inspired. Also – the intermediate bridge thing – Bridget HATES going backwards. I was asking her to go back, and she picked up her front foot and tucked it underneath, which is usually preparation for offering it to me a la Harpo Marx. But as soon as she picked it up, I started saying “That’s it! that’s it!” (my intermediate bridge cue) in a cheerful voice, and she thought hard and placed her foot down about 8″ BEHIND where it had been before. So there’s some kind of magic in this method.

  5. I have said ever since meeting Keil Bay that some horses resist “speaking horse” and want to speak human. We had a natural horsemanship trainer here for awhile who loved and was really effective in teaching us how to work with the pony, but Keil Bay detested her and she didn’t really like him either. One day she was doing some exercise with him where she was asking him to do something and he was supposed to respond the way a horse in the wild would – but he didn’t. He just kept standing there and she was getting more and more frustrated – not in her actions with him, but just that he wasn’t responding the way he was ‘supposed to.’ I suggested she just tell him what she wanted him to do. She professed not to even know what I was talking about. I joined them, said the words, and he promptly did the thing. She was dumbfounded. But he operates that way and I have no interest in trying to convert him back to horse if he can and wants to speak English with me!

    That’s a little bit of an aside to your post – I do this but had no idea there was a formal theory about it. They know many many words and are completely capable of learning more.

    Ben and Cloud being able to “wait” for an entire walk to new green grass is quite a feat!!

    Now to go read more on SATS. 🙂

  6. June

    I’ve been looking at the SATS website, and I’m delighted to find that they clap their hands and shout “Yay! Woohoo!” same as me!!!

  7. June

    And I love the way she doesn’t just use bare “command” words but imbeds them into real sentences and doesn’t even always use the same word. E.g. she says both “rub” and “rubbing.”

  8. June

    Yeah, a method can all too easily come to resemble an ideology.

  9. June

    Maire, I think one of the reasons the the intermediate bridge is so helpful is that it’s a positive reinforcement which isn’t associated with the reward. So, for example, I ask my dogs to sit and wait while I open the door and to only go on out when I give the word. But before, it was confusing because if I said, “Good dog!” while they were sitting waiting, it would trigger the expectation of the reward (i.e. going out), even though I have a separate word for that. But they recognize the intermediate bridge as a positive reinforcement which doesn’t bring a reward, and it holds them in place until I give the word to go through the door. The same applied to George the other day – I could keep throwing the intermediate bridge at him from a distance, letting him know he was doing the right thing to stay still, and then save the sortof “aha!” terminal bridge word to go with the treat when I walked over to him. I would imagine with Ben that the clicker is so associated with an expectation of the terminal reward that it might be hard to use it for “coaching” as it were.

    • Yes that’s a good way of putting it. Certainly, Ben responds very well to the intermediate bridge – it provides certainty I think and takes away the frustration of the unknown. I have recently used counting steps aloud for in-hand work as an intermediate bridge and he kept his attention on me and on the task really well with that.