JULY 2018 THE RIDER /39 ^Between The Ears^ - Fear to Focus Part 3

gards, to sounds or other environmental factors at the time or other factors. Fear can also be learned indirectly through obser- vation of another horse’s response to an aversive event. An important factor to consider if your horse spends much of its time around spooky horses it may learn fear based on social observations. So what mechanisms,

By Ellie Ross

Fear part 3 The universal mecha-

nism for survival is fear and horses are quite adept at acquiring fear. How does the brain know what to fear? The answer is sim- ple. The horse either learns what should be feared through social interactions, experiences, warnings and through the observation of how others react, or through evolutionary pre- disposed learning. They learn fear the same way they learn what they like. Horses, like most living beings, learn through asso- ciation. A good example is

that upon seeing the feed cart, they learn that some- thing good is coming. That is because the feed cart is paired with them about to be fed. This association or pairing leads to the horse responding favorably to the presence of the feed cart. This has already been proven long ago by a man, whose name might ring a bell, named Pavlov. On the flipside, if that

feed cart was paired with ramming into them caus- ing them pain, then the as- sociation would be one that would lead to a learned fear response in future. Other associations may also be made with re-

regardless of the routes it acquired fear, should we use to successfully dimin- ish fear once it has been learned. The same way that the horse learned the acquired fear to begin with- Pairing, experiences and observation of others. How often has your horse put on the brakes while you’re riding and refused to move forward towards something, but then you dismount and they move forward following you? This is an observation re- sponse to others especially others they trust. Horses can also learn to not react to aversives if they have been flooded with it mean- ing given no choice but to be exposed to it over and over again until they stop outwardly showing any

expression of fear. This produces a state called learned helplessness. The horse’s brain basically shuts down as it learns it cannot escape what it fears. That is not kind nor should it be considered success. It is important that we also provide choices for our horses in order to preserve mental health and maintain or build trust. Exposing the horse to the aversive while maintaining choice can in- deed bring success to ex- tinct the fear but we must not discount the scientifi- cally proven methods of learning. Pairing some- thing good to overcome fear. The part of the brain that is responsible for ac- quiring fear is also the one responsible for the extinc- tion of fear. If the fear response of

the horse is to freeze, the horse is not open to learn- ing. If the horse is in a state about to flee or is al- ready demonstrating its hidden athletic ability and has fled, then its brain is only focused on the es- cape. Keep in mind the other environmental fac- tors that can be inadver- tently


specifically your re- sponses. Do you vocalize the same thing, get upset, appear threatening or are ready to flee yourself? Any of that can become a part of the equation of fear and hence the association with the corner. Bad things happen (you get mad, you hit them etc.) when faced with the corner or the rider compounds the fear by being fearful themselves (social observation). In part 2, we talked about the threshold. We must find the threshold and back up from whatever the aver- sive is. We must be confi- dent and have a plan! The comfort zone is also the ability to learn zone and as the horse unlearns its fear of the aversive, its comfort zone can gradually in- crease as you decrease the proximity to whatever it is your horse fears. Fear creates some

very obvious expressions, most of which are unmis- takable. For the sake of de- scription, we shall say that the arena corner is the aversive and the threshold is 20feet from the corner. Starting in the com-

fort zone, which will be at least 21feet from the cor-

ner, you observe that your horses body language does not indicate its desire to flee or freeze and its facial expression is not one of fear. If it is, then you are not in the comfort zone! Since some methods work better for some horses and other methods work better for other horses, lets dis- cuss two methods. One is to pair something the horse enjoys (a primary rein- forcer) with the aversive. This would be positive re- inforcement –giving the horse something it likes, to reinforce behavior. The other method is to apply pressure to the horse (something it doesn’t like) and that pressure is lifted once the desired response is observed. That is called negative reinforcement – taking away the pressure to reward the desired re- sponse. It is important to remember that we must maintain that the horse has a choice in the latter. The choice being that It is al- lowed to move but that movement should be to- wards the corner and not away from the corner. Using positive rein-

forcement to shape or modify behavior is a very

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powerful method. If the horse receives something of value as a reward for desired behavior, the horse will repeat that behavior and it will become stronger. The horse will also become more moti- vated. Coming up in Part 4. Creating a reward marker and application of Positive and Negative Re- inforcement to achieve success.

Author Bio: Ellie Ross is a professional animal trainer that specializes in behaviour. She has 30 years experience including being a wrangler in the film and television indus- try. Ellie resided in Los Angeles and was in charge of International Large An- imal Air Transport. Ellie was the Pet Expert for CTV, Reader’s Digest, Local,Satellite Radio and Rogers Television. For- merly an Eventer/Dres- sage/Endurance rider, she is now active in Extreme Cowboy, Western Dres- sage and Cowboy Mounted Shooting.

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