Positive Horsemanship.
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My new Twitter account – this separates the photographic one from the equine posts.

Animal Emotions

I have just completed a course with Karolina Westlund – http://illis.se/en/

It looked at the 7 core emotions as described by Jaak Panksepp and how these affect our animals.

These are:

1. SEEKING – can be a positive or a negative emotion depending on whether the horse is seeking something they want or seeking to avoid something they don’t like.
2. PLAY- this is something we can tap into when training.
3 CARE – the mutual grooming and nurturing side of horses.
4. FEAR – can be as little as mild anxiety or a full flight response.
5. RAGE – fear can escalate into aggression or frustration if the horse can’t escape or get what he wants.
6. GRIEF or PANIC system may be seen in separation anxiety.
7. LUST – fairly self-explanatory

I would recommend this course to anyone interested in looking into emotions in more depth.

We often over look how our animals feel and many horses suppress their emotions and behaviour due to the way they are trained.  Horses are an affiliative species and prefer to live in harmony with their friends. We often unwittingly suppress natural behaviour because we don’t understand the function and/or because we are afraid of losing control.

Animal emotions course completion banner

Being positive

Take a look at my new site for more musings about equine training and behaviour. I hope to keep this one as my personal training diary.

Positively Equine

I haven’t done much with Mojo recently but he did get a bit cross the other day when I took him out of the field whilst the others horses had been fed, he thought he wasn’t getting anything. So the RAGE system kicked in and he was a bit tense, of course he got his food when got to the yard and I left him in his stable eating hay for a while until he settled down. Mojo’s emotions are often very subtle and I may have missed them a few years ago – before I studied equine behaviour and neuroscience.

So it does pay to learn as much as we can about our individual horses and learn to observe those, often very subtle signs, of discomfort.

Take a look at the Positively Equine site as it has articles on learning theory and the core emotional systems all mammals share.

 

Mojo Ridden

Mojo was ridden by Liz Hibberd, he was very cool today, we used the “walk on” cue and the target. Then phased out the target and Liz just cued him to walk.
He had one little spook when he trod on his own feathers – I really must cut them again.

 

He even had a little trot at the end, then lots of praise, scratches and treats.

 

Liz also sat on Indi for the first time and walked a few steps, we used my hand as a target and then the “walk on’ cue. Indi was very relaxed and we called it a day after a few steps.

Lesson with Jo Hughes

July 30th 2017

I had to a brilliant lesson today with Jo, Mojo still is not 100% OK with someone on his back and walking at the same time. So it back to the dummy rider and lots of SD and CC to weight and things flapping about.
The first video he is learning to stand still at the mountng block and not try to turn round for the reinforcement.

The second one is him targeting the cone so he takes a step forward, he was tense and a little worried by this and spooked twice – once when bitten by a fly and the other time when he touch my stirrup with his nose – my daughter thought he may have been punished in the past for this – as apparently people kick their horses nose away! It never occurred to me to do that. So Mojo may have expected punishment – we don’t know for sure that is why, but he was in a riding school at some point in his life and they may have tried to discourage this behaviour.

Thank you Jo, I now have to remember everything!

Update August

Jo has looked at the videos and thinks the second spook was due to Mojo touching a cone, there was some trigger stacking in play – the fly bit him and he was already at his emotional threshold – the cone touching his leg was the thing that send him over threshold.
There is always a reason for a behaviour – we just need to look closely.

Long/short lining

I long/short lined Mojo for the first time this year. He was so relaxed and attentive. We only did a short session as it was very warm and humid. I set up the cones so he could walk from cone to cone. He seems to have learned to count to 4 now. I count down 4-3-2-1 bridge and treat. Must try next time with the cones in a straight line and gradually position myself further back.

Horse being trained

Behaviour is Communication

What would you do if your horse had a behavioural problem?

Firstly check for any physical reasons for the behaviour – pain, ill-fitting tack, back problems, teeth, feet etc. Then check the environment is right for the horse – has he got friends, freedom and forage? Is he free from stress – e.g stabling for too long without enough forage can cause stress related problems such as gastric ulcers.
Look at the diet, is he over fed for the amount of work he is doing?
Then look at why he performs the behaviour, what is the purpose of the behaviour, is it a fear based behaviour, does he feel insecure, does he have separation anxiety etc.
Often changing the environment will make a huge difference.

Only then can a behaviour modification plan be formulated.
Training alone may never get to the root cause of the problem, at best it may put a sticking plaster over the problem, by suppressing the behaviour.
Yes you can train alternative behaviours to ones you don’t want, you can punish the behaviour e.g adding an aversive stimulus every time he performs the behaviour until he learns how to avoid the aversive and the behaviour stops. EG adding pressure to the halter every time he tries to run away. The use of aversive stimuli can either stop a behaviour (punish), or its removal can reinforce a behaviour. So are you punishing the running away or reinforcing the stopping?

Get professional help from an equine behaviourist well versed in the correct use of positive reinforcement. Behaviourists will need veterinary approval first – this is to rule out any physical cause of the behaviour.
Find one who can teach you to use systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning. This will change the emotions associated with fearful situations.
Horses are big, strong animals and we do need to stay safe but that does not have to mean using pressure halters or other controlling equipment. They may work as the horse learns to avoid the pressure but without examining the underlying cause of the problem it may reappear later.
Suppressed behaviours do have a habit of spontaneous recovery.
Horses need to feel safe, our relationships should be built on mutual trust.

Diagram of causes of behaviour

Mojo 2017

I saddled Mojo for the first time this year, he was very good. He was in the school loose so had the opportuntiy to leave if he felt he needed to do so. We then walked around a bit before the bridle was presented, he stuck his nose in and stood whilst I fastened the buckles.

Mojo sidled up to the mounting block as soon as I stood on it and allowed me to get on. With a little moral support from a friend I asked him to “walk on” which he did and we got half a circuit of the school no leg pressure or rein contact.

Below are the photos my daughter took on her moble phone – as I left my camera in my car.

the author on her horse Mojo

Mojo being a very good boy.

Natural Animal Centre Stage 1 Equine Behavioural Qualification

Over the past few months I have been studying with the Natural Animal Centre and have just passed the Equine Behaviour Qualification Stage 1.

Now I am busy writing some generic behaviour modification programmes, these will be adjusted for individual horses and handlers.

I am not rushing in to consulting at the moment, as I wish to do some more studying and learn some techiniques to help people change their behaviour. Presently I am reading a book on Transactional Analyisis.

Now this course is finished I can get on with more saddle and mounting block training with Mojo. Just wish the rain would stop for long enough to get him clean.

2017 and onwards.

What will 2017 bring?

I am studying to be an equine behaviourist but so far am unsure whether I want to practice as a behaviourist. The equine part of the equation seems to be the easiest component. Changing peoples long held believes is very difficult, so many don’t even understand the basics of how animals learn. I don’t blame the average horse owner as they are not taught this at riding schools or even in colleges at diploma level.
If people are using pressure to motivate horses they need to understand that it is the relief of that pressure that reinforces the behaviour. This is basic negative reinforcement but I did not learn about this from the British Horse Society or even when I was doing natural horsemanship. I did learn that it is the release that teaches the behaviour but not that it was the use of an aversive stimulus nor was negative reinforcement ever mentioned.
It was only when I investigated clicker training that I learned about positive and negative reinforcement. The more I learned the more convinced I was that positive reinforcement is better for the emotional health of the horse, it gives them a choice. They can say “no” instead of being too afraid to object due to the adverse consequences of non-compliance. Even when I was doing natural horsemanship the horse was not allowed to walk away as this was seen as being “disrespectful”.

Benny taught me so much – he was very adept at escaping the escalating aversives and he introduced me to positive reinforcement.

Mojo is teaching me even more, horses can teach us so much, if we listen, than any human can.
We do not need to subscribe to any particular genre of horsemanship, we need to learn as much as we can from as many sources as possible. Only then can we truly decide what is in the best interest of the horse. To be blinkered or brainwashed by clever marketing is very limiting but unfortunately very common.
So I do find the human animal very hard to understand  – it is the human who has to change if the horse is to have a better life.