[Picture caption: woman sits on chestnut horse who isn’t wearing any equipment]
I obtained a personal message from somebody asking my opinion on making ready a horse to be ridden for the primary time utilizing constructive reinforcement (R+), with out the usage of any tack or tools. This can be a topic on which I’ve had sturdy 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 probably prevents each horses and other people from experiencing conditions which might end in bodily or behavioural accidents.
As a former teacher and horse coach, I’ve began (and restarted) horses beneath saddle utilizing what many would name horsemanship strategies:
•I’ve systematically ready horses via 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 resembling halters & leadrope, in addition to ‘recommended’ stress, from my physique or tools resembling flags.
Briefly, 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 might have to provide 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 typically 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 journey resulted in me sustaining a fracture to my thoracic vertebrae and the horse growing a robust worry of individuals falling off when he bucked laborious.
Regardless of splendid preparation, ‘life’ can nonetheless occur when a horse is initially ridden: the neighbour sparks up her chainsaw; a canine runs into the world via the opening within the fence; or, as has occurred to me, a horse tied up exterior the world pulls again laborious or somebody driving down the street paintballs the aspect of the world wherein you might be 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 forestall undesirable behaviour from occurring’ (Likelihood, P. 2003). Response prevention will not be punishment, however it may be an efficient, low-stress different to forestall undesirable behaviours occurring. In conditions resembling those described above, response prevention is used to forestall a small startle response from turning into a extra catastrophic chain response of behaviour: the horse startles and spooks, the rider slips, the horse sees and feels this transformation of place and bolts, the rider falls off. The rider is bodily (and probably behaviourally) injured, and the horse has been subjected to a preventable state of affairs the place worry conditioning quickly happens.
Using tools on a horse for his or her first journey would not assure that bodily or behavioural accidents will not happen. However via 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 totally how new trainers could discover it a powerfully interesting image to see a horse being began beneath saddle fully equipment-free. Nevertheless, as a scientific animal behaviourist and IAABC licensed horse behaviour marketing consultant, I really feel strongly that such photos fail to think about the potential unintended, harmful ramifications for each horses and people. For individuals 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 strategies to assist horses overcome behavioural accidents, relapse of discovered fears is unfortunately frequent. This can be a actuality, it doesn’t matter what quadrant we could try to make use of when beginning a horse. A lot of my shoppers face this actuality after we work collectively to assist their horses overcome a variety of discovered fears.
In abstract, I really feel strongly that we owe it to each the horses and the fantastic era of recent, R+ horse trainers to color a special image of low-stress coaching: one which additionally considers minimizing potential trauma via response prevention.