[Picture caption: woman sits on chestnut horse who isn’t wearing any equipment]
I acquired a non-public 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. 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 folks from experiencing conditions which may end in 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 using
•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 on.).
•I’ve taught them to yield their our bodies to the texture of sunshine pressures, from my bodily contact and tools comparable to halters & leadrope, in addition to ‘recommended’ stress, from my physique or tools comparable 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 path 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 facility – and fallout – of an ill-prepared horse being ridden. This typically leads to 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 growing a powerful concern of individuals falling off when he bucked arduous.
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 by the opening within the fence; or, as has occurred to me, a horse tied up outdoors the world pulls again arduous or somebody driving down the highway paintballs the facet of the world during which you might be using. 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 may make use of quick response prevention.
Response prevention is ‘the process of altering the atmosphere to forestall undesirable behaviour from occurring’ (Likelihood, P. 2003). Response prevention is just not punishment, however it may be an efficient, low-stress different to forestall undesirable behaviours occurring. In conditions comparable to 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 alteration 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 does not assure that bodily or behavioural accidents will not happen. However by response prevention, tools, very similar to the fence round an enviornment the place a horse is began, completely can decrease any hurt which will happen.
I perceive totally 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 photos fail to contemplate 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 strategies to assist horses overcome behavioural accidents, relapse of realized fears is unfortunately frequent. It is a actuality, it doesn’t matter what quadrant we could attempt to make use of when beginning a horse. Lots of my shoppers face this actuality after 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 fantastic era of recent, R+ horse trainers to color a unique image of low-stress coaching: one which additionally considers minimizing potential trauma by response prevention.