Prerequisites for training a horse:
• Understand Prey animal (horse) psychology.
• Understand Predator (human) psychology.
• Develop horselike body language in ourselves.
• Understand how a horse’s behaviour is modified by conditioning and
be able to do this.
• Have a program of training outlined.
• Have appropriate equipment.
Understanding the Contrast between Horse and Human Psychology
Horses have evolved as prey animals (i.e. hunted animals) and even though they have been domesticated for thousands of years they still have the instincts of their wild counterparts.
Horses’ brains are thus hard-wired to be on the ‘lookout’ for predators. The horse’s survival policy is if in doubt, get out. Run first then ask questions. A Horse’s primary defense is to run away, if cornered it may resort to kicking, biting, bucking. This is defensive behavior not aggressive. If a horse is uncertain of its safety it will very quickly become defensive.
Humans in contrast have evolved as predators (i.e. hunting and eating animals like horses), even though humans have been civilized for thousands of they still have the instincts of a predator hard-wired into their brains. Thus when a horse gets frightened and defensive the predator (human) instinctively moves in for the kill, i.e. becomes aggressive and angry.
A confused predator becomes aggressive and angry.
A confused prey animal becomes defensive.
The more defensive the prey animal, the more aggressive and angry the predator. Each response builds from the other.
Horses are also social animals. In the wild, they live in bands in which each horse has a defined social status, ranging from the most dominant to the most subordinate. The dominant horses having the first pick of food, water, shelter, mares, etc.
Dominance is established between horses when one manages to drive another from its “body space.” This may include some physical contact. This behavior is interpreted by humans as aggressive behavior but would be more accurately interpreted as assertive behavior, as no damage is intended only space is required to be yielded.
Horses living in bands are natural followers. They feel comfortable following the other horses.
Horses are not Humans and therefore are not:
Instead, reinterpret horses’ attitudes “naturally”. Replace the words aggressive, cantankerous, vicious, bitchy with Frightened and Defensive if the horse is on lookout for predators OR Assertive and dominant if the horse doesn’t respect your space and is trying to yield you.
Replace the words sullen, stupid, lazy, dull with confused or desensitized
What Motivates a horse?
Left to itself, well-fed in a reasonably sized area with other horsey company a domestic horse is perfectly happy. Spending days, weeks, and years mooching around, a little play, a run in the evening perhaps, no worries about predators and no aspirations for self-improvement and greatness.
This is all a horse wants “Comfort” that is: Extended periods of mooching
Some play, some exercise
No predators to worry about
Comfort = Stability, Predictability
It is amazing what a horse will learn to do to maintain his comfort.
Developing horselike body language
We need to develop a body language that communicates to the horse that we are
2) Horselike and worthy of the horse’s respect and submission.
To be non-predatory in our actions we have to watch a sheepdog working sheep and do the opposite i.e. do not creep around tensely, using strong eye contact attempting to cut off and corner the horse, Using quick sharp unpredictable movements. Surprise attacks with whips and spurs (fangs and claws)This body language upsets horses:
~Sharp unrhythmical movements
~Strong eye contact
~AggressionHorselike body language:
~Smooth rhythmical movements
~Fair warning before physical reinforcement (The 4 phases)
~Less eye contact
To be worthy of our horse’s respect and submission we must be able to yield the horse out of our way, out of our personal space when and as we wish (as opposed to frightening the horse away). If we cannot yield the horse then the horse will be yielding us, which will signal to him that he must be the dominant partner and will have him feeling within his rights to reinforce his dominance perhaps with a nip or kick. On the other hand, if we can yield the horse effectively it will see us as dominant and will be happy to submit. In this state, it would not dream of kicking or biting its dominant partner.
The Horse has been playing yielding games all its life and is good at them. Humans have to learn them. This takes time and practice. The horses won’t let us win the yielding games easily we have to earn their respect and submission.
Changing a Horse’s Behaviour i.e.Training
A horse’s behavior is the sum result of the “conditioning” it has received throughout its life, from its environment.
Conditioning is a process where external environmental stimuli are linked or associated with certain behavior patterns. For example, a horse may snort and run a short distance every time a sprinkler is switched on or may become nervous when it sees it is being lead to a float/trailer.
In these cases, the horse is associating the objects, the sprinkler, and float with danger, whether the threat is real or not ( This is “classical conditioning”). Every time the behavior is repeated the conditioned response is reinforced.
A conditioned response is involuntary it becomes a reflex reaction to an environmental cue.
Horses can’t help acting the way they do its not their choice but a result of instinct and usually random associations.
A horse is trained when humans condition the horse to associate desired behaviors to certain artificial cues e.g. to move when there is pressure on the ribs, and to slow when there is pressure in the mouth.
The reason there are so many imperfectly trained horses is that humans are ignorant of how conditioning works.
Any horse can be perfectly trained (i.e. conditioned) including horses with so-called serious behavioral problems.
A horse is in some respects like a computer when a certain stimulus is given it “remembers” what its response was last time it received that stimulus and does the same again (even if the last occurrence of stimulus and response occurred 20 years ago), e.g. the last time the farrier picked the horses foot up in that particular manner the horse lashed out, so chances are the behavior will be repeated if the foot is picked up the same way. Thorough training includes re-conditioning the horse so that all its responses to human cues are “desirable.”
We teach a horse by a process of “Trial and Error” Initially the horse has no idea what we are asking and by trial and error it hits upon whatever behavior stops us from asking it to do something.
The horse learns to stop us “asking” by performing a certain movement OR conversely it learns that it regains its comfort by performing a certain movement.
To Train, a horse we have to desensitize it to many things it is instinctively sensitive to e.g. humans on its back, stock whips, forceful hammering on its feet, AND sensitize it to things it normally wouldn’t take any notice of, e.g. subtle nudges to move it forward or slow it down. How on earth do we achieve this?
to DESENSITISE a horse to an action-Stop the action before the horse reacts to it OR stop the action as soon as the horse stops reacting to it.
To SENSITISE a horse to an action-Stop the action as soon as the horse reacts as desired.
The reason this works is that the horse is seeking the COMFORT of not being “asked”
Phil Nye from Tasmania.
PHIL’S PHILOSOPHIES – ATTITUDE – SOME PERSPECTIVES:
Horse and humans have evolved as natural enemies. We are designed to push their flight/fright/worry buttons and they are designed to push our confusion/frustration/anger buttons (opposition reflexes).
A big part of the fun of natural horsemanship is learning how not to push the horse’s opposition reflex buttons, and not letting the horse push ours (and they will but that’s OK).
SMILE AND WHISTLE.
Breaking old habits in ourselves and our horse is not easy. It requires a lot of conscious effort (someone once said that thinking is the hardest work).
Establishing a new habit requires a program, perfect practice, and repetition.
If we are not using something regularly our memory is designed to delete it. Our subconscious is specifically designed to maintain the status quo i.e. old habits.
Therefore developing new good horse handling habits requires a lot of conscious effort, support, and repetition.
Remember how we learned to read, write, or change gears in a car.
Natural horsemanship is as involved as learning a musical instrument, or flying an airplane only our instrument (the horse) is conscious and has feelings and opinions.
Natural Horsemanship is something we LEARN FOR the horse NOT DO TO the horse. A natural horseman is someone that gives the horse security. The horse perceives them as a Lead or Alpha horse (Albeit with 2 legs), someone the horse can trust, follow, look to, and respect.
We don’t learn how to do this in a few hours or days, it is a longer-term commitment.
CELEBRATE the small successes!!