BB HORSE CARE - Equine Bodywork & Coaching for Equestrians
We all know the situation:
You try to teach your horse to do side pass, to jump, to stand still when saddling (etc etc. the list is long...) but it just seems to be stubborn, is distracted or resisting to do anything.
The short answer to that is: WE must change the way of teaching our horses. WE must provide an environment our horses need to be able to learn and WE have to question ourselves before we blame the horse. Horses are willing to please to cooperate, they are prey animals who try to save energy in case they need to run away. ( Hardly no tigers in New Zealand but your horse does not know that....)
The question is:
How do horses learn? Which role do we play? What can we provide to help our horses to learn what we want them to?
Horses are very good learner. They absorb every information, they look for cues, they remember certain sounds ( of your car or the food bucket....).
In an equine environment, horses remember the source of fresh water, good grazing areas, where to find shelter etc..
They learn the hierarchy of the herd, they remember which horse is their friend, they remember the smell of each animal ( dog, sheep, cows,....) within their environment. They learn what situations to avoid and they remember events that caused them fear.
In a human environment they learn to associate certain verbal commands with specific behaviours, they know their own rugs and tack and they also remember the meaning of almost 10000 body aids we apply ( more or less successful...).
So, horses are definitely capable of learning a lot of things, that's for sure!!!
It is also a fact that the animal needs help to learn when it comes to human/horse interaction and performance.
Our horses are begging us ( in their silent way): Please help me to understand what you want, teach me what I need to know.
By nature, they use their sensitivity for body language and energy around them to find clues of what we want them to do.
The issue is, we are not as precisely with our cues and demands we ask our horses to do. We send mixed messages, or reward unwanted behaviour because we are not clear and present within ourselves, or haven't learned the language of the horses yet.
How horses learn:
Horses don't do categorisation like humans. They learn each cue and respond to it with exacting detail. To horses, little differences have a big impact in their learning. People often think they have to change course completely if a horse does not respond in a correct way the first time. But more and different cues do not really solve the problem. Stick to the cue you gave your horse and give it time to figure out the "correct answer", trial and error. The cleanest and consistent cues work best. Ask in the same way you have asked before. You horse will figure it out what you want.
If it does not work even if you have given ( or think you have) the same signal for the expected task, something is wrong. ITS NOT THE HORSE!!!!! Its either the teacher, the body awareness of the rider/trainer, the environment is not suitable for your horse to learn (stress triggers, distraction....), or your horse is physically not able to perform the task (yet).
It is always helpful to check certain factors and the learning environment and mental state of your horse when the training is not progressing as you expect.
An example of a problem: If you do pole work on the ground and you want your horse to walk or trot over them, but your horses fails and stumbles within or always touches the poles. You get inpatient or frustrated, your horse becomes helpless because it cannot understand what you want him to do.
Solution: A solution here can be to check the distance of the poles! If the poles are too close, it is physically impossible for your horse to do this task. Measurement aids for pole work are available on the web, or your trainer might be able to provide the information too.
Basic requirements for learning:
What is happening in their brain when horses learn?
Such as human learning, learning means built new connections/pathways within the braincells.
Horses gain knowledge by:
Humans add to them the ability cognition, planning, reasoning, forethought and judgement. And the " baggage" of doubt, arrogance and fear of embarrassment. As we all know, this baggage is not helpful for learning. Actually it prevents us from learning and causes stress.
Horses are fast learner as they do not have these " baggage" abilities within their learning process.
A horses behaviour is a mirror of the past as you know, if you own a horse that did not have a nice previous life before it met you....A lot of bad experiences you have to deal with. But as we know, learning never stops. You can still train a horse with bad experience, it just takes longer, needs more patience and a lot of practise. Like humans, horses with a bad past have a lot of triggers that you need to find out within time and " override" them with new, more positive behaviour. That takes time and needs lots of repetitions over time .( not in the same training lesson)
The good thing about horses is, they never lie. They are honest about who they are. They do not wear a second face or play a second role to be accepted by others.
That is probably the reason why so many people see their horse as their personal coach for personal development. As we know, horses are very useful partners within Equine assisted therapy to work with PTSD clients, young people who suffer from anxiety and even the Riding for the disabled. Horses help us in many many ways.
Its our duty to learn as much as we can to improve management, training, handling and dealing with possible health issues.
We are all on a good way already, but there is still lots more to learn.
For the horses....!
As always, if you have any questions, comments or requests for a Blog topic YOU are interested in, please let me know.
Enjoy your horse and stay curious!