[Picture caption: woman sits on chestnut horse who isn’t wearing any equipment]
I obtained a non-public message from somebody asking my opinion on getting ready a horse to be ridden for the primary time utilizing constructive reinforcement (R+), with out the usage of any tack or tools. It is a topic on which I’ve had robust opinions for some time however have by no means shared publicly. This felt like a great alternative to air a few of my issues, within the hopes that by doing so it presumably prevents each horses and other people from experiencing conditions which might lead to bodily or behavioural accidents.
As a former teacher and horse coach, I’ve began (and restarted) horses underneath saddle utilizing what many would name horsemanship strategies:
•I’ve systematically ready horses by groundwork coaching and desensitization to tack/tools earlier than driving
•I’ve taught them cues to maneuver their our bodies ahead and backwards or transfer one a part of their physique in isolation (hindquarters, forequarters and so forth.).
•I’ve taught them to yield their our bodies to the texture of sunshine pressures, from my bodily contact and tools equivalent to halters & leadrope, in addition to ‘steered’ strain, from my physique or tools equivalent to flags.
In brief, earlier than I swing my leg over their backs for the primary time, I do my greatest to make sure that they’ve been taught to calmly settle for any route I may have to offer them as soon as I’m on them.
I do that as a result of I’ve each witnessed and personally skilled the ability – and fallout – of an ill-prepared horse being ridden. This usually ends in bodily and/or behavioural accidents to each horse and human. For instance, regardless of me pondering I had adequately ready a horse (when clearly, I had not), one eventful experience resulted in me sustaining a fracture to my thoracic vertebrae and the horse creating a robust concern of individuals falling off when he bucked exhausting.
Regardless of preferrred preparation, ‘life’ can nonetheless occur when a horse is initially ridden: the neighbour sparks up her chainsaw; a canine runs into the world by the outlet within the fence; or, as has occurred to me, a horse tied up exterior the world pulls again exhausting or somebody driving down the street paintballs the facet of the world by which you’re driving. In such moments, I’ve been grateful that I took the time to show my horse to calmly settle for tools that aids in me directing their physique in order that I might make use of quick response prevention.
Response prevention is ‘the process of altering the setting to stop undesirable behaviour from occurring’ (Likelihood, P. 2003). Response prevention will not be punishment, however it may be an efficient, low-stress different to stop undesirable behaviours occurring. In conditions equivalent to those described above, response prevention is used to stop a small startle response from changing into a extra catastrophic chain response of behaviour: the horse startles and spooks, the rider slips, the horse sees and feels this modification of place and bolts, the rider falls off. The rider is bodily (and presumably behaviourally) injured, and the horse has been subjected to a preventable state of affairs the place concern conditioning quickly happens.
Using tools on a horse for his or her first experience would not assure that bodily or behavioural accidents will not happen. However by response prevention, tools, very similar to the fence round an area the place a horse is began, completely can decrease any hurt that will happen.
I perceive absolutely how new trainers could discover it a powerfully interesting image to see a horse being began underneath saddle utterly equipment-free. Nonetheless, as a medical animal behaviourist and IAABC licensed horse behaviour advisor, I really feel strongly that such footage fail to think about the potential unintended, harmful ramifications for each horses and people. For folks and horses, some accidents cannot ever really be healed. Bodily or behavioural scars could stay. Regardless of the usage of evidence-based, low-stress behaviour modification methods to assist horses overcome behavioural accidents, relapse of realized fears is unfortunately widespread. It is a actuality, it doesn’t matter what quadrant we could attempt to make use of when beginning a horse. A lot of my purchasers face this actuality once we work collectively to assist their horses overcome a variety of realized fears.
In abstract, I really feel strongly that we owe it to each the horses and the great era of latest, R+ horse trainers to color a unique image of low-stress coaching: one which additionally considers minimizing potential trauma by response prevention.