The Science of how Horses Think & Learn Is your horse in a rush? Part 1

A prey animal doesn’t get a 2nd chance in nature to

make a judgment error – when a threat is perceived he flees to a safe distance and checks things out from there. “Wow, that was close!” Thus, while most skills are learned by trial and error, it only takes one trial for him to learn some- thing through fear. No wonder when a horse catches his blanket on the

stall door latch, he starts to rush through doors. Horses hurry through canter transitions, scurry across trail bridges, and back off trailers in a flurry! Not out of eager- ness, but actually to get the experience over with! A scary experience is confirmed when any running

By Lindsay Grice, Equine Canada certified coach and show judge.

As a young rider my horse rushed his jumps.

A good thing, I reasoned – he was “keen” to jump and so was I! He never refused. In fact, on approach to

every fence, his ears would perk up, his head would lift up and his legs would speed up. While I may have joked about my eager

jumper in the schooling ring, rushing was no laughing matter in the show ring. My horse would rush past the distances, oblivious my at- tempts to regulate his stride. The more I pulled, the more he sped up…and then the more I pulled. Advice was given to stop and back him up at on the approach to the fence – as soon as the rush began. Or brake and back on other side of the fence. Years later, I came to understand the reason

for the rush. And I discovered more effective ways of preventing and dealing with the problem. What is rushing? Any type of rushing, jig-

ging, hurrying is an expression of the flight re- sponse.: A horse’s instinct as a prey animal, is to flee from perceived danger.

away behaviour results in escaping the object of fear. So by increasing the amount of distance between the horse and the scary object, the horse reasons that fleeing the scene works! He escaped the clutch of the stall door latch, left the trailer ramp behind and scooted across that bridge before it grabbed his legs. What’s the solution for a rushing horse? 1. Avoid creating fear in training. Had my first horse been started over fences by an experienced rider with a good eye for a take-off distance, and an elastic hand that would never catch his mouth, even if he popped the jump, he’d likely have never learned to rush. As a green rider, to make matters worse, my automatic response was to hang on, yank, or back up. Correcting a fear response with more fear or punishment is adding kindling wood to a fire. “Fearful stimuli receive special recognition by the

brain in terms of remembering - unlike other information, once learned, fearful responses are not forgotten. You can layer new responses on top, so they become less easily re- trieved, but forever after, fearful responses need careful training to keep the lid on them.” Dr Andrew Mclean

2. “Slow the legs, slow the thinking” is one of my favourite lines in coaching. Fright in flight is self-gener- ating -the faster a horse’s legs, go, the more nervous he be- comes. That’s why, when afraid, a horse can run right into a fence! Every time you let him rush, you’re teaching him to rush. If practice makes perfect, we must make sure not to practice undesired behaviours. Every dash through a show in- gate, or hastily executed trail gate, your horse will associate with fear.

Next month, 4 more tips to slow your horse, minimize his tension and maximize his trainability.

iour. After 25 years as a competitor and horse trainer, Lindsay enjoys teaching clinics and travelling to Ontario farms as a freelance instructor. She’s taught the science of equine be- haviour and learning for horse associations, courses for University of Guelph and therapeutic riding facilities. Lindsay judges many disciplines and breeds and serves on an EC judging committee

Why do horses do what they do? “In the horse world, our traditions and evidence sometimes collide – I love to help riders solve their horse puzzles with logic, patience and equitation science.” www/lindsay-

About Lindsay Grice. A horse show judge and certified riding coach with a special interest in equine behav-

Conflicting aids create confusion and tension. Be distinct with aids. Com- municating clearly and deliberately calms both stressed horses (and hu- mans)..

Any type of rushing, jigging, hurrying is an expression of the flight re- sponse. A horse’s instinct as a prey animal, is to flee from perceived dan- ger.

The Fire Horse Through my classes

and daily contacts, I en- courage others to de- velop closer bonds, appreciation and mutual trust with animals, and a respect for all life in this world.

Chapter 19

Mares like to test us At another stable, I

By Lauren Bode All content copyrighted

My mission statement: Having developed and prac-

ticed my talent for years, I speak for animals. I willingly provide a voice

for the non-human creatures of our world, in the hope that I may assist them to obtain greater health, bet- ter understanding of their expected roles, and better relationships with their human partners.

spoke to a horse, a mare as well. Mares are partic- ularly good horses, how- ever people frequently tell me that their mare is bad-tempered. I love to tell them that in order to ride a mare, you have to know who you are. The mares get this. If your head is all over the place and you are trying

to ride a mare thinking she is just another horse, you would be mak- ing a mistake. Mares like to know what you

are doing and why you are doing it. It is that simple. Sometimes I see someone riding a mare and fighting for control with- out acknowledging that this is a sentient being. It is best if you can connect

with yourself before you connect with a mare.

For example, we buy a mare

at an auction, we take her home to our barn, all the time she is docile - until she is ready to fight back. She gets very annoyed. You try to ride her, and she becomes like a demon. She is a different horse al- together. She wants nothing to do with anyone. In my experience with mares,

I can tell you that most of them have hormonal problems, some- thing that we often overlook. By chance one day, I was

driving by a farm where I know the owners quite well. I decided to stop in to see how things were going.

To my surprise, one of their

mares had just delivered her baby, sadly the baby was born dead. After a period of time, the owners decided to let her go outside with the other horses. We were all quite sad and we

stood around silently looking on as she walked back to her herd. One of the other mares

walked up to her and gently laid her head against hers, one of the most beautiful gestures which I have witnessed to date. Still looking at the mare com-

forting her, I turned to the owner to see her eyes well up with tears. She told me that the two mares were not friends at all and what she just saw was confirmation that they had feelings just like us.

Copyright Lauren Bode

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