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AUGUST 2020 THE RIDER /27 ^Between The Ears^ swer


By Ellie Ross Science tells us the an- Horses that lick hands,


nudge you, nuzzle your pockets, and generally ex- plore your clothing are re- ferred to as exhibiting ‘mugging behaviour’. Ac- cording to studies done by several scientists, these be- haviours are considered to be naturally occurring ex- ploratory and food seeking behaviours. So if they are natural, then it’s fair to say we didn’t teach it to them, however allowing it and/or rewarding it, is a different story.


Many industry leaders have written several books,


look after daily, all of which I do hand feed treats to, all of them exhibit oral ex- ploratory behaviours. Of the 7 seven horses in my care, 100% explore my hands and clothing. 3 of the 7 (the three most educated) appear to almost ask permission first. 1 of the 7 licks. 1 of the 7 (least educated) will progress to nipping at my clothing if exploratory be- haviour is allowed for longer than a few minutes or if there is discovery of food in my pocket, which I would conclude as this being ex- tinction frustration. How- ever,


if I direct his


behaviour, he complies will- ingly and then offers the be- haviour(s) that resulted in


Searching clothing which was reported in 81% and Licking Hands at 77% . In- terestingly enough was that of the horses that were clicker trained using hand fed food rewards, there was no significant association between hand feeding and biting. Even more interest- ing was that this research showed that the two behav- iours of biting and nipping were not significantly asso- ciated with hand feeding. There is no anecdotal evi- dence that using food re- wards or hand feeding results in biting and nipping. The natural food seek-


ing behaviours of the horses were most likely uninten- tionally reinforced by the owners and many owners incorrectly perceive these behaviours as affection vs food seeking behaviour. The human’s perception of af- fection is often what leads to the reinforcement of licking and exploring clothing. In all of my training, my rules are simple; to get the treat, you must ignore the treat. Any attempt by the horse to ‘beg’ or take the treat results in zero reward/reinforce- ment. I personally prefer horses to respect my per- sonal space but I don’t want to punish a horse for ex- hibiting naturally occurring behaviours that don’t in- clude nipping and biting. Horses that nip and bite were thought to do so as a result of extinction frustra- tion where food was ex- pected but not delivered and a lack of consistency along with unclear instructions from the human. Horse owners need to be aware of what they are rewarding be- cause any behaviour being rewarded will indeed get re- peated. Horses that are edu- cated and given very clear information about hand feeding, tended not to show frustration and hence no bit- ing.


A structured training


blogs etc. on this topic and have listed the behaviour as undesirable, rude and stat- ing that the it leads to biting. Like any behaviour, there needs to be boundaries. If you can teach a horse not to invade your personal space, its fair to say that you can teach a horse that the ex- ploratory behaviour is okay but grabbing of hands or clothing is not. Many horse owners enjoy this interac- tion and would even state that it increases their bond with their horses. So let’s look at the 5


Oral Investigative Behav- iours; • Licking Hands • Nipping Hands • Gently Searching Clothing • Roughly Searching • Biting Clothing Of the several horses I


the reward. The horse that I would have formerly la- belled as the rudest or must inappropriate, as his behav- iour included biting, is one that I specifically taught to give space and not ask for the food. In my personal ex- perience, geldings seem more likely to be grabby than mares. A survey of horse


owners was done and 1067 responded. The survey was seeking information about these oral investigative be- haviours. The breakdown of horses included in the sur- vey respondents were ; 40% were mares, 59% geldings and 1% stallions. The mean age was 11 1/2 years old. 915 horses were fed by hand.


The two most common behaviours were; Gently


program that involves the use of food rewards, effec- tively teaches horses clear instructions on what the horse needs to do in order to get the food reward. These horses exhibited less frustra- tion and clarity about how and why they would get the food rather than focusing on trying to take it. There is an association


of horses licking and explor- ing clothing along with hand feeding, however that be- haviour is natural and was reinforced by the human al- lowing it and/or even treat- ing them for it. In conclusion, there


was no scientific evidence to link the more invasive and harmful behaviours of nipping and biting with hand feeding horses. Horses that were biting were doing


Does feeding treats really lead to biting?


so out of frustration, aggres- sion or were inadvertently rewarded in the past. There was no evidence


to suggest that the act itself of hand feeding treats to horses leads to biting. The use of a structured food re- ward training program has been scientifically proven to be an effective method of educating horses and the use of treats should not be feared to result in biting. For more information about using food rewards to edu- cate horses, look into clicker training of horses. Misinformation has


led to the masses believing that hand feeding leads to biting and science proves to us, that is not the case.


Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Learning Centre


Horses Teaching People with Early Stage Dementia and their Caregivers


“The connections between


people and horses have proven to be therapeutic in many popula- tions due to the nonjudgmental, unconditional interactions horses offer to each other and humans” Literature is rich with re-


search about horses helping peo- ple with dementia and the caregiver. Studies have shown people with early stage dementia were able to: safely groom, feed and walk horses under supervi- sion—the experience elevated their mood. I was able to provide a ses-


sion for a small group of people with early stage dementia. Each was accompanied by a caregiver, who on this day was a spouse. The caregiver roles vary from a spouse to an adult child to a part- ner to a sibling to a close friend. From my nursing background I know that as people lose the abil- ity to recall information or per- form certain tasks, they may become depressed, anti-social be- coming more isolated. Clients are not always able to find the words or use them and nor is this neces- sary with horses. The human- horse


connection can be


experienced in its purest form. By offering equine assisted


learning, I consistently experience the human-horse connection and how powerful the nonverbal re- sponses and behaviors of horses can be. Individuals and their care-


givers were invited to participate in activities such as grooming, leading a horse, or to sit and ob- serve my herd. One of the caregivers ap-


proached me before the experi- ence began stating that his wife was quite agitated because of


being in the car and seeing differ- ent surroundings. He was not sure how she would react or even if they would be able to stay. I en- couraged him to sit down with his wife and see how things evolve. His wife walked towards Xena – a percheron/paint mix. After brush- ing Xena she wanted to take her for a walk. While walking with Xena, you could see a more confi- dent woman emerging. Her husband said “I’m see-


ing my wife in a different light…. she is smiling, relaxed and happy!” Several people com- mented on the quietness, and “smells of the country” which can be very relaxing. I saw obvious signs that the clients enjoyed their time on the farm: they smiled, laughed, and talked to the horses- and each other! Even those who normally acted withdrawn became fully engaged. Providing social interaction in a safe environment often decreases anxiety One individual started to


clean a horse’s hoof which he had done as a young boy on his farm.


This activity helped him “feel use- ful again” and when he finished cleaning the hoof, he stood up and smiled with pride at a job well done. I believe we need to main- tain a sense of purpose regardless of age. This experience was mean-


ingful for both the individual with dementia and the caregiver. One caregiver told me she saw this time as “a bit of indulgence and relaxation” for her. Since there are facilitators and an equine special- ist always present, she did not have to be “on guard”. While the caregiver is learn-


ing that he or she does not always have to be protective, the person with dementia is discovering that he or she is still a whole person who is not labeled by disease.


About the Author: Anne Porte- ous, owner of Sierra Acres Equine Assisted Learning Program can be contacted on Facebook, or an- neporteous@sympatico.ca For more information about services go to www.sierracres.ca


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