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Differences between CAT & Advance-Retreat - Natural Horse World

Differences between CAT & Advance-Retreat

What is the difference between CAT (Constructional Approach Training) and Advance-Retreat?

By Laurel Gordon with photos and captions by Lynn Scott. 

Cat is about the horse having control over the proximity of interaction. On a relaxed signal Lynn would step back, giving Sakima control. This continued for many weeks as Sakima was a highly sensitive wild caught brumby, with a total fear of humans where he tolerated no human touch. With the realisation that Sakima could control the scary thing, in this case Lynn and make her go away, there is chemical change with the fear pathway in the brain. Suddenly the horse seeks the thing it feared and here we see Sakima stepping forward to Lynn, where in the past he would have stayed away. The is the behaviour of the horse called switch over, referring to when the brain switches from a fear emotion to a seeking emotion.
Cat is about the horse having control over the proximity of interaction. On a relaxed signal Lynn would step back, giving Sakima control. This continued for many weeks as Sakima was a highly sensitive wild caught brumby, with a total fear of humans where he tolerated no human touch. With the realisation that Sakima could control the scary thing, in this case Lynn and make her go away, there is chemical change with the fear pathway in the brain. Suddenly the horse seeks the thing it feared and here we see Sakima stepping forward to Lynn, where in the past he would have stayed away. The is the behaviour of the horse called switch over, referring to when the brain switches from a fear emotion to a seeking emotion.

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.)

Over many weeks Sakima began to consistently seek Lynn and step forward to have  closeness with her. Now the focus of Cat moved from steps that involved a distance from the horse to being up close and helping Sakima accept human touch on his body without his fear emotion sending him over threshold which would have been a rapid retreat on his behalf. To avoid this mini Cat was developed and the same principles of Cat H apply to the hand. Lynn would not try to touch Sakima but hold the hand at a distance and when Sakima gave a relax signal she would drop her hand. This continued and Sakima now learnt he was able to control the closeness of the touch by giving a relax sign. Slowly the distance of the hand from the neck was reduced. The equivalent of switch over in Sakima’s mind was when he allowed Lynn’s hand to touch him without withdrawing.
Over many weeks Sakima began to consistently seek Lynn and step forward to have closeness with her. Now the focus of Cat moved from steps that involved a distance from the horse to being up close and helping Sakima accept human touch on his body without his fear emotion sending him over threshold which would have been a rapid retreat on his behalf. To avoid this mini Cat was developed and the same principles of Cat H apply to the hand. Lynn would not try to touch Sakima but hold the hand at a distance and when Sakima gave a relax signal she would drop her hand. This continued and Sakima now learnt he was able to control the closeness of the touch by giving a relax sign. Slowly the distance of the hand from the neck was reduced. The equivalent of switch over in Sakima’s mind was when he allowed Lynn’s hand to touch him without withdrawing.

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.

Having the horse be able to generalise its Cat experience is the final step in the Cat methodology. Once the horse knows it can control the things if fears and in this case it was people as Dorado is a wild caught brumby who had a heightened fear response when people approached. Cat gives the horse the ability to think about the fear object and to evaluate is it real danger. As the chemical pathways of the brain change the horse begins to like the thing it feared and will approach of its own choice. Once switchover was solid it was then time to introduce different people to Dorado. The Cat process starts again and here Kay, a new person in Dorado’s life is stepping back once Dorado gave a relaxed signal, in this case it was chewing. It would take several sessions of Kay stepping back when Dorado gave a relaxed signal before Dorado would move to switch over behaviour.  This photo shows the critical stage of generalisation that helps the horse apply the new skills it has learnt in new environments and new people.
Having the horse be able to generalise its Cat experience is the final step in the Cat methodology. Once the horse knows it can control the things if fears and in this case it was people as Dorado is a wild caught brumby who had a heightened fear response when people approached. Cat gives the horse the ability to think about the fear object and to evaluate is it real danger. As the chemical pathways of the brain change the horse begins to like the thing it feared and will approach of its own choice. Once switchover was solid it was then time to introduce different people to Dorado. The Cat process starts again and here Kay, a new person in Dorado’s life is stepping back once Dorado gave a relaxed signal, in this case it was chewing. It would take several sessions of Kay stepping back when Dorado gave a relaxed signal before Dorado would move to switch over behaviour.
This photo shows the critical stage of generalisation that helps the horse apply the new skills it has learnt in new environments and new people.

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.

For more information on CAT see Laurel’s first article here and for more info visit Julie Lannen’s blog where you will find several useful videos and the steps to implementing this approach.

My best memory of Jedda was the way every day she would put her soft eye close to mine, then gently lick my hand, I felt so loved, and as if our souls were linked.
My best memory of Jedda was the way every day she would put her soft eye close to mine, then gently lick my hand, I felt so loved, and as if our souls were linked.

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.”

 

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