Everything Other Than Training

It’s important to remember that when we are dealing with training horses, or trying to solve behavioral problems with our animals, it isn’t limited just to training. Training increases or decreases the likelihood of a behavior happening in a chosen scenarios. It allows us to put behaviors on cue and recall them when we may like them performed. Training also allows us to train an appropriate behavior to reduce the chances of the learner choosing an unwanted behavior. Just reinforcing the incompatible behavior makes the unwanted behavior less likely to happen.

But adding and subtracting behavior isn’t the only way we can progress and support our horses’ behavioral improvement. Management is an important tool, it can be as easy as switching which stall the horse goes in, rearranging some fences, reorganizing your turn out groups, putting up some temporary fencing or partitions. We can also use food placement and different feeder styles to reduce issues with resource guarding or food anxiety. Using the support of their peers can help a horse overcome difficult or stressful situations. Visual barriers can help reduce social anxiety or stress related to certain environments. With various management techniques we can help reduce the likelihood of unwanted behaviors occurring, reducing aggression, anxiety, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Even if we address unwanted behaviors through training, using management can help reduce how often the learner practices the unwanted behavior, reducing the strength of the behavior.

Enrichment is another under-utilized and under-valued training tool. So many people think of enrichment as an optional, fun thing to do for your horse. In reality, it’s an indispensable tool for fulfilling your horses’ emotional needs and expressions of natural behavior. There aren’t many times a horse is engaged in natural behaviors when placed in a barren paddock, using enrichment can simulate a wide variety of natural stimuli.

Enrichment can be used as a great way to prepare your horses for all that life may throw at them. We can engage them with a wide variety of novel food, puzzles, toys, and whatever silly sensation we can entertain them with! We can use enrichment to help them meet their own needs, such as scratching posts to rub against, pools to splash in, toys to play with, and friends to find comfort in. We can help them keep up with their exercise, meet their dietary needs, expose them to new things, and offer a mentally stimulating life.

Enrichment is a great and healthy outlet for unwanted behaviors that horses want to express, such as rough play and mouthing objects. We may not want them to do that with us, but if they have an appropriate place to meet those desires, they’re less likely to do them where they’re unwanted. Enrichment can also help teach our horses about new behaviors we may want to capture on cue. It can also make new, difficult scenarios seem easy and fun, the vet’s tools are just another fun enrichment, nothing to be scared of.

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