Question: I am a Level 2 student and Savvy Club member and I realized this weekend that I did not know the association span of the horse. For a dog the association span is 3 – 5 seconds in which you have to attach a positive or negative action to the dog’s action. This is a really important part of timing and overall training, too. How long is the association span in a horse? – Pamela R.
Answer: Hi Pamela! This is an interesting question, and given its scientific nature I have sent it to Dr. Miller for his thoughts.
In the meantime, here is a perspective from me: I think that the very next thing you do will let the horse know if he was right or wrong. Even people who do it a little slower get the right response from their horse eventually, but of course the quicker you can let the horse know he was right, the better.
Letting the horse know he was “wrong” is not the game, they don’t understand that – not in terms of punishment anyway. Punishment is not a constructive method with horses (prey animals). So in that case, if the horse doesn’t ‘do’ what you expected, you should either slow down and reiterate (making sure you were giving the right message), or stop and start again, take a fresh start.
But here’s the best thing to do – the moment, the MOMENT a horse tries to do what you want, give him a release. Some different ways you can give a release are: stop the stimulus, relax your energy for a moment, smile – your horse will read the change of energy, open your hand/hands on the rope or reins, or go to neutral (there are many ways to do that! You don’t always need to “stop”).
So timing is a big part of this – the sooner you can let a horse know he’s right, the sooner he will shoot for that. And the longer a horse is wrong, the more he thinks he’s right. But that does not mean you should punish him, it just means you should do something about it – such as maintain your original objective, stop and take a fresh start, or redirect his energy and focus on that until he finds what you’re looking for.
EDIT 4/20/10: Dr. Miller did get back to me about the length of a horse’s association span. He believes it is about 1 – 3 seconds for a horse.