There are no deadlines in Project Proprius. You go at your own pace. We recommend to take your time, and most people take 2 to 4 months to go through all the videos, but it’s completely up to you —there is no pressure to “keep up.”
There IS no Project Proprius “way”. This is not a “program” for the horse. What we do with our Intrinzen horses is just one possible example of how to implement the science principles covered in this project. You may design your own path that is entirely different from what we do, and what we show in the examples. However, if you DO choose to transition your horse from a more traditional training (escalating pressure/release) to the more autonomous approach that we use, it takes approximately three months to help the horse “make the switch”.
But helping the horse transition to autonomy is just the beginning. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to three years or more to have a full range of rideable gaits, but the timeline belongs to each individual horse.
The horse’s background, earlier training, current movement function, and most important — current living and working environment — plays a powerful role in the horse’s progress.
A horse that is already moving well will make a faster, smoother transition than a horse with movement dysfunction. But most of the horses in the project videos began this journey as rehabilitation horses with severe movement problems, including two failed neurological exams.
In the project, you will see many different examples of horses at various stages from their first week to many years of experience working in this way.
If you are certain you will NOT use food treats, you will still benefit from all of the movement and motivation science education, but... you might not be able to use ANY of our movement activities and exercises. We believe it is possible to implement the science without treats, but we have never seen anyone do it. The science on movement requires the horse to NOT be forced into movements... that the movement exercises must be voluntary.
If the horse is willing to perform the movement activities, and you have communication with the horse that does NOT involve threats or escalating pressure, then it is possible to apply these principles. But we believe that would be extraordinarily hard to do, and carries more risk for the horse.
No, definitely not. However, we believe the science is compelling on this point: forced movement activities are NOT effective or efficient in developing robust, healthy movement, and they also carry a serious risk to the horse.
Project Proprius is about movement, NOT horsekeeping in general. Many people — including those working with the horses at our home farm — DO use pressure/release in many situations, but for reasons explained in the project, we try to NEVER use escalating pressure or force for ANY movement-related activities, unless it is a life-threatening emergency or we have NO other possible options.
Of course. There is nothing in the science that we personally believe prohibits riding. However, the ways in which we prepare the horse for a rider are informed by movement science, and as a result VERY different from most traditional approaches.
While most people following these principles do give the horse a temporary break from riding while the horse is “transitioning” to working in autonomy, some people continue riding throughout the transition.
We do not personally recommend riding until after the horse has learned that he has the right to refuse movements the horse perceives as painful, stressful, or difficult in any way. Of course this leads to the bigger question: what if the horse decides that ALL riding is “painful, stressful, or difficult?” Answering that question is one of the core themes in Project Proprius: helping the horse willingly accept and rise to physical (and often mental/emotional) challenges.
Most of our Project students have horses in a boarding stable. There are two concerns for doing this with horses kept in a boarding stable:
1. The horse’s environmental lifestyle might not be supporting their physical and emotional health. We would all love to have our horses roaming across wide open acres of varied terrain, free and happy. That is the ideal situation to help horses restore and maintain healthy and motivated movement. But most of us do NOT have this, and until very recently, our Intrinzen home farm was in a VERY tiny space. The lack of a healthy open environment for the horses was a large part of WHY this project emerged... to help the horses recover what was missing in their modern life. We believe the science principles in this project are MOST important for horses that do not have the advantages of varied, open nature. We use a wide range of techniques to “bring Iceland to the horses” no matter their circumstances.
2. You do not have full control of how your horse is handled, and by whom. This CAN be a problem in the beginning of transitioning a horse to having more autonomy, but there are solutions to those problems. In part, this is one of the main reasons we still believe most horses should understand more "traditional" pressure/release cues for basic handling including leading, backing up, etc. What this means to those who are restarting their horses in a force-free/autonomous way is that they must be consistent and clear with the horse on where/when the horse has autonomy (for example, when at liberty in an arena), and where/when the horse does NOT have a choice (being led to and from a stable, during basic horse care, etc.).
Within the project, we have people working with horses across a full range of an autonomy spectrum, from those whose horses have autonomy ALL of the time (unless emergency), to MOST-but-not-all of the time (which describes how we handle our own personal horses), to only a very small, SPECIFIC time: for example, only at liberty and only in one specific location. Horses are quite capable of learning and respecting context. They can easily understand and accept — if you are EXTREMELY consistent — that their are different “rules” for different contexts.
You can ride with whatever you choose. However, most people applying these movement science principles find they no longer have much use for a bit. But for times when they might need to have a bit — whether for competition or legal requirements — we believe the horses that are safest and happiest with a bit are those that no longer NEED one.
A horse in true self-carriage does not struggle with the bit, and the bit can then be used purely for communication.
We believe a bit can be acceptable for the horse as long as the horse has a choice AND the horse is never struggling or seeking to avoid the pressure of the bit. Most people who have chosen to transition their horses in this way are riding most of their time in bitless bridles. But the choice is entirely up to each individual and horse.
Our answer is the same as it was for riding with a bit: you certainly CAN, but depending on your particular sport, you might find yourself with changing priorities. Or rather, you might find that you and your horse will choose a different sport in which to compete.
Many people doing this — including myself (Kathy) — have competed successfully while still applying most of the science principles covered in the project.
You may find that some sport disciplines are NOT compatible with healthy movement function in the horse. Or you may find that you need to modify the ways in which you prepare for competitions.
Some sports have a conflict between what is healthy for the horse and what the judges value in scoring. But only you can make this decision of whether to continue in your sport and if so, if you need to make any changes.
Since our specific discipline is Icelandic sport competition, we find that Icelandic sport is easily compatible with modern movement science principles.
The videos are available for online viewing only at this time, though the eBooks are all downloadable. However, since by signing up for the project you have lifetime access, that means if some time in the distant future the website is eventually taken offline, you will FIRST be given the opportunity to download all of the videos.
If you have extreme bandwidth limitations, we can possibly help you find a solution, but for now, the videos are all streamed. The back-end hosting service of the videos is "Wistia", and they have one of the best delivery systems for video, including the ability to set your preferred video resolution. But we understand this is not always enough.
Unfortunately, no. We both have our “day” jobs and family/life/farm commitments that make it nearly impossible for us to personally participate in discussions. This is a very tiny and (mostly) labor of love, as there are not many people willing to even consider any approach that is THIS contrary to the mainstream forms of horse training.
However, the community is both active and growing, and there are now several hundred people who have been doing this for more than a year, and with multiple horses, and many of them are actively who are providing ideas and inspiration, and support.
Today, the community we participate in is on Instagram. We do not participate on Facebook. There will be a community site within the project itself, but it is not yet available. We expect it in early 2019.
There are also now a small number of independent professional trainers who can provide consultation from a distance. (Note: we do not at this time “certify” or authorize Intrinzen trainers, although we will be in the future. But we do recommend and support any independent trainer who feels they can help others applying these principles.)
The GOAL of Project Proprius is to help everyone — including (especially) non-professionals— learn the underlying principles so that they do not need to depend as much on others.
Our goal is that participants at any level will have essentially the same knowledge and understanding needed to design and implement a path for their own horses. Part of this project is about helping people move forward with their horse, regardless of their prior experience.
Most people who are struggling to implement these ideas do NOT lack knowledge, they lack exposure to a variety of different horses working in these new and unusual ways. But this is where the community comes in, and we very STRONGLY urge people to participate on Instagram, which has a growing number of Intrinzen students (and other Intrinzen-inspired accounts) posting a wide range of extremely useful and creative examples.
While knowledge alone can never make up for a lack of hands-on experience with multiple horses, a deeper understanding of how movement (and motivation) actually work offers a framework that anyone can apply.
We feel quite strongly that young horses should be handled by humans as little as possible, and given the chance to “grow up” in a natural herd setting (even if it's a very small herd).
We do not believe any work beyond emergency handling is appropriate or healthy before age 3. However, there are some special circumstances where you have a young horse that cannot be in a natural setting while growing up. This is unfortunate for the horse’s development, but there are many reasons why this can happen. So while we strongly urge people to wait as long as possible, if a young horse is NOT in a natural environment, then it is our responsibility to provide a more enriched sensory/movement experience for the horse.
We believe age 3 is an appropriate age to begin the very earliest work with a horse. But if you DO have a much younger horse that CANNOT be in a natural herd environment, then of course we would suggest that you DO implement a movement/proprioception program for the young horse, to help compensate for what they are lacking in vital movement opportunities.
It is absolutely essential that a foal be given as much open freedom and varied terrain as possible during the first six months of life, as studies have shown that cartilage and (possibly) tendons and ligaments may NEVER be as healthy as they could be if the horse is not given adequate environmental activities in the first six months, no matter how good the horse's movement training is later in life.
The first month of a foal’s life is the MOST crucial for movement health that will persist throughout the horse's life. For that reason, we believe that foals should NOT be kept in small paddocks except in life-threatening emergency situations.
Mares do not necessarily play in the same ways that many geldings and stallions play, but mares still PLAY. Mares love to show off, to chase others, to run/jump/dance with the other horses. They are just as likely (or more) to find rich sensory experiences intrinsically rewarding. Although most of the horses in our project videos are geldings or stallions, we DO show a few mares. But many of our long-time students work with mares, and have delightful and amazing results.
Stallions thrive on these experiences. You’ll see one of the “stars” in our videos is an Icelandic stallion, Elfaxi, and we have many students in the project who have been working with stallions successfully in this way for quite some time.
We are known for showing videos and photos of “badass” postures and movements, but this is never about activities that are dangerous for horse OR human. While it can be easy for others to misinterpret based on what they see in videos, we apply movement and motivation science in every aspect of what we do.
There is nothing in movement science that says our horses must perform “badass” movements. We have a wide range of techniques to achieve one of our main goals: improve motor input through increased proprioception. And that requires more mobility, which means more novel movement expression. Playful exuberant movements are often the most effective and efficient path to quickly increasing the horse’s movement competency (if done strategically and carefully).
But this playful exuberance is not the only path. It is simply one of many possible ways to help a horse find more movement exploration in the earliest stages. This is always a personal choice, and we only recommend this when it can be done in a way that is safe for all.
The movement science covered in the project explains in deep detail exactly why this matters and how to help improve the horse’s proprioception through rich sensory-motor experiences.
These “badass” postures are based entirely on authentic, natural movements that most horses do within their first few days of life, and represent the horse’s natural PLAY state. While there are some forms of natural horsemanship training that attempt to force a horse to "play" through pressure/release, the benefits of PLAY in mammals can ONLY happen if the activities are 100% voluntary.
Using pressure/release OR even some forms of treat-training can cause a horse to feel pressured into what might look like “play” but is NOT true, voluntary play. In true voluntary "rough and tumble" play, the science has shown that play-fighting aggression has NO overall with actual aggression, and playing at "being a badass" DOES NOT "bring up" or encourage aggressiveness. (See Panksepp, "Affective Neuroscience").
However, it is possible that horses first transitioning to having more autonomy can go through a stage where they do appear more “aggressive”, regardless of the activities. This is most likely because the horse finally has the freedom to express emotional states that had always been there, but had been suppressed through training. A horse that is punished for reaching toward you in a nipping/biting way, or lifting up a hind leg to "threaten" has been trained to NOT display these behaviors as "bad behavior" or "disrespect". But when the horse is no longer punished for showing his actual feelings, then it can feel like the horse is now "suddenly" become aggressive, when in reality we are now SEEING what was always there.
It is of course possible that working with treats in a careless way will bring up stress in a horse, so the presence of treats can be a problem, but this is ENTIRELY a human-created problem that can be solved very easily with a few standard rules:
1. NEVER train with treats if the horse is hungry (feed hay first!)
2. Use the lowest-value treats the horse will actually eat
3. Always use a consistent signal, marker, or word before delivering the treat, so the horse quickly learns to associate treats ONLY with this signal.
4. If the horse has difficulties with food treats, be sure the horse has a clear alternate choice for food at first. For example, a bucket of hay or available grass the horse can choose. We never want the horse to feel trapped into performing certain behaviors as his only way of getting food.
Horses that become aggressive in the presence of food have alarm bells going off in their brain telling them they NEED to have the food (“winter is coming!”), and they can become frustrated and angry if they do not understand how — or why — they must behave in order to get the food. This is NOT natural behavior a grazing horse evolved to do. 99% of treat-related problems in horses are caused by the human not following a few guidelines that support what is most natural and comfortable for the horse. These are discussed in our free eBook on "Getting Started."
(Note: The examples in this project are NOT for severely traumatized horses.)
Project Proprius is primarily focused on movement science. But we cannot separate movement from motivation, and the motivation science we use includes BOTH "clicker training" (a form of externally-regulated extrinsic motivation) as well as internally-regulated intrinsic motivation. The science of motivation includes many different forms of motivation on a continuum with intrinsic motivation at one end, and operant conditioning (where clicker training / positive reinforcement, and pressure/release all live) on the far OPPOSITE end. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are different in every way, and we believe that for healthy movement training in horses we need BOTH. The problem is, we cannot simply begin with purely extrinsic (externally-regulated) reinforcers of either treats or release of pressure and then steadily work our way up toward more intrinsic motivation. It’s not what more than 50 years' of research shows!
Instead, we must take special care that the way in which we use externally-regulated motivators of release OR treats from the beginning does not later inhibit more internal forms of motivation. This is described in detail in the project, as it is both a complex and counter-intuitive topic. While on the surface it would seem that ANY use of rewards would only likely enhance motivation, the science shows that using some forms of extrinsic motivation in some circumstances can reduce intrinsic motivation for the very behavior that is being rewarded. We take special actions and precautions to help work around this crucial problem. Because, as we explain in the project, it is only intrinsic motivation that provides some of the cocktail of “performance enhancing” neurochemicals that help the horse become not just more motivated for and by movement, but also have a greater ability to move.
People who have been doing a more "traditional" form of clicker training with their horse will have as much to learn from this as people who have used only pressure/release, because both clicker training and pressure/release are forms of externally-regulated extrinsic motivation.
So while we do USE a clicker and treats, we sometimes use it in a dramatically different way from most recommended uses of clicker training / positive reinforcement.
But our main priority is the horse's transformation in movement, and the use of clicker training is simply a valuable tool we use to help us do that.
The science principles for both movement and motivation are valuable knowledge and understanding regardless of what you are currently able to do with any specific horse. The choice to give a horse autonomy, and under which circumstances, is one that MUST be made carefully and thoughtfully, as there are many implications.
We have many participants working with horses they do not own. In some cases, the owners of the horse have chosen to embrace these principles themselves. In other cases, the horses are NOT worked with full autonomy, but can still benefit greatly from the posture and movement exploration principles.
Later in the project we discuss the tradeoffs that everyone must make for each individual horse, and what to expect based on those choices. But ANY horse’s life can improve dramatically when the human has a better understanding of posture, self-carriage, and agility.
Some of the most beneficial activities we do with our horses can still be done with horses that do NOT normally have autonomy.
In our perfect world, everyone would learn the principles of modern movement science before they get anywhere near a horse :)
Project Proprius is a learning program for humans. It’s not a step-by-step program for a horse. If you can occasionally observe horses, that will be extremely helpful as you go through the project, but we have deliberately designed this to include video of multiple horses at multiple stages.
In some ways, this can be even more effective if you are NOT currently working with a single horse. Brains learn through pattern-matching, and when working with just one horse, our brain can place too much importance on what that one horse in that one situation is doing. Without many different examples, the brain has no way to determine what is a deeper underlying pattern and what is simply... that one horse in that one specific situation.
So... the answer is yes, it is useful even if you don't yet have a horse (or are currently between horses). Any horse you have in the future will benefit greatly!
And although we do not go into much detail about human movement, much of the science applies equally to humans, and you might find yourself doing movements that you, too, did not think were possible for you :)