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.