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.