What is the difference between CAT (Constructional Approach Training) and Advance-Retreat?
By Laurel Gordon with photos and captions by Lynn Scott.
In any comparison between Advance/Retreat (A/R) and CAT, the first thing is that in CAT the horse sets the threshold, not the human.
It allows the animal to control the proximity of the aversive so the process ideally begins in an emotional space where the animal shows NO anxiety. I repeat ZERO anxiety.
The baseline is the line we need to go back from, not the place we start.
Over the years of helping people with CAT-H, we have found that often people simply don’t see the most subtle signs of anxiety in their horses at first, so they are often over threshold without realising it. (They also don’t retreat on the most subtle affiliative signals, which can be as little as an ear flick, or change in eye expression, but there is a tendency at first to wait for macro behaviours.)
In the usual forms of A/R the aversive is introduced over threshold. The horse is prevented from leaving whether on a lead rope or in a round pen, removal may be contingent on what looks like calm behaviour (but is more likely confusion and learned helplessness), but the level of residual anxiety is not taken into account and the process is completely controlled by the human.
In CAT the horse is ideally at liberty, it is essential to give the animal time to respond without provoking a response, and after the retreat/removal of aversive it is essential to give the animal ample time to process.
There can be a lot of waiting when nothing much seems to be “happening”, but internally there’s a lot going on.
Giving the horse control over “what comes next” is rare in any training system. CAT is not ‘training’ per se..curiosity about the aversive seems to be born out of knowing he can control the situation and the outcome, in Panksepp terms ‘seeking not survival’.
In A/R we are in control, though our horse may learn to tolerate the object through submission. In CAT the horse himself “removes” the object by offering a variety of spontaneous calm signals, which is empowering.
They know the difference even if most humans fail to grasp it.
A/R is usually a method of desensitising to the presence of a trigger. This is not the aim of CAT. The aim of CAT is rather to change the horse’s emotional response to the trigger by giving him the most powerful reinforcer of all, control of his environment.
This article is dedicated to Laurel’s arabian mare, Jedda who recently passed on. “I somehow already knew last week when I saw her in such pain that this was going to be the end of our story together, but what a journey and she has changed my life, and going by the beautiful letters from people all over the world she changed the lives of many in the last 10 amazing years. I always felt I was just her voice to share what she wanted put out into the world for horses and humans to learn about being with one another in the best way. I won’t stop being that voice for her.”