In my line of work I come across some amazing people. One of which is Hannah Dawson - a remarkable young lady who is at the forefront of working with horses - our very own horse whisperer! - who can help develop a truly outstanding relationship between an owner and their horse.
I asked Hannah to give an insight into her work...to see if we could learn on how to motivate our teams....(if you want to know more about Hannah you can email her, watch her You Tube channel or visit her website, Hannah Dawson Equine.)
"My expertise is horse training and using positive reinforcement methods to do it. This means rewarding the horse when it gives you the behaviour you want, rather than punishing them for doing the wrong thing. It’s an effective method used by the military and Disney to train their animals, not just because it’s nicer to the animals - they want results!
The responses to these methods are pretty universal throughout the entire animal kingdom and humans are no exception.
- Let’s start with motivation. The reward has to be something the subject values. Roisin loves apples, India spits them out - training India with apples is pretty ineffective! Finding rewards that motivate people is an individual thing. For some people, money and monetary bonuses will be the best reward, for others it’s praise for a job well done and recognition of their skills. It can be pretty much anything as long as the subject wants it.
- When to reward? When training a horse to go backwards, if I treat it every time, the behaviour actually deteriorates after a while. Reward works best when it’s variable, so there has to be some level of unpredictability. Going back to horse training, if I always rewarded the 6th step back, I’d get 6 steps and no more. Also, the first few steps tend to be pretty half-hearted, as they never get rewarded. Monthly pay slips or workers on a factory line with a specific number of items to get through, are in the same position as this horse. To add in an extra bit of motivation, occasionally throw in a reward for the first step, or for that extra bit of effort over the necessary work. This will raise motivation and increase productivity.
- Another aspect I focus on is the emotional side of my horse when carrying out the behaviours I ask for. The fact that my horse does it isn’t enough - I want them to enjoy doing what I ask. I call this softness. This means that there is enthusiasm, mental engagement, understanding and a complete lack of resentment, anxiety or tension. For the best work, you want ‘soft’ workers, who are pleased to be working for you and want to go that extra mile. To achieve this with horses, it’s important to set them up for success - put them in a situation where they are likely to succeed. Some horses like to work the puzzle out for themselves; others find guidance reassuring and need a few extra pointers. This is just the same with people and finding the right way to present a task will have a huge bearing on the success of the outcome.
Putting all this into practice will really help change the attitude of workers. This is a video of Toby, my 21-year-old pony.
I’ve owned him for 15 years and the experiences he had with me in the early years and the experience with humans he had prior to coming to me, meant that he was often cross, resentful and anxious. He did the very minimum of work he needed to and could get very argumentative if he felt I asked anything unreasonable (does this ring any bells in offices??!).
However, due to these positive reinforcement techniques, he is a changed horse (and I’m a changed owner!). He’s now keen, willing, enthusiastic and will put in loads of extra effort for me. He enjoys what he’s doing - I get better results; success all round!"