Care and Management

These are focused on specific care, management, husbandry, and enrichment for horses

What are we teaching our children?

What are we teaching our children?

When we teach our children how to work with horses we know this goes far beyond horses and deep into their core understanding of how to interact with all living beings. So some lessons we may want to include might be, Love is never supposed to hurt or cause pain, it’s not consent if they’re afraid to say “No”, and how you treat someone is always more important than what you can get from them.
 
When we teach our children that loving someone can involve inflicting pain on them to get things that we want, this lesson doesn’t just stop when they get off the horse. When your kids are fighting over who gets to chose the TV channel, why is your little rider suddenly kicking their sibling? If we teach them “ask, tell, demand” (a common practice in horse riding, where the rider escalates the aversive level of our cue until the horse complies), we are not teaching them to be confident – we are teaching them violent communication skills. Instead of learning how to communicate with their partner to come to a compromise or solution to their disagreement, they learn to become harsher, louder, more intense in how they ask to get what they want. This may be a strong character attribute when working your way up in a lawfirm – but this is not how healthy relationships between partners should look. Not only are we teaching them to use violence to control and manipulate animals and their peers, but we are also teaching them that violence is acceptable in a love relationship. If they can love their horse and hurt them to get what they want, then can’t the person who is hurting them also love them? But violence and control should never be a part of a loving relationship. True partnerships are built on communication, compromise, mutual reward, and compassion for one another’s life history.

When our children utilize these aversive-based training techniques they are learning that if someone says “no”, to keep asking, demand, even force the other to comply, so long as you get what you want in the end. This is teaching them that when one party says “no” it’s ok to push them into compliance, without even really considering why they said “no”. Not that “why” should matter, “no means NO”, but it may be a physical or emotional problem inhibiting the horse from complying. By ignoring their communication and utilizing “ask, tell demand”, we teach our children to ignore the other individual’s truth, their side of the situation, just to get what they want. Their horse may be in pain or scared out of their mind, but by ignoring their feelings and their attempts at communication we are unteaching empathy. Teaching them that so long as they get what they want in the end, what happens to the other who we are controlling doesn’t matter. Think about this lesson in reverse. If teaching our children that consent and control can be taken away and disregarded by anyone strong enough to take it – we are teaching them that they too can have their consent and control taken away. That it’s acceptable to say “no” and have that be ignored and overpowered. That even someone who we love or loves us can disregard a lack of consent.
 
The competitive, “win at all costs” mindset that often comes in riding lessons often prioritizes winning over the welfare of the horse. We teach our kids that it’s ok to diminish our horse’s welfare if it gets us what we want. From something as simple as our horse in small box stalls vs. appropriate sized and socialized turn out, to assure they’re clean and ready to compete. We are teaching our kids that it’s acceptable to reduce our horse’s quality of life to make it more convenient for us to get what we want out of them. Especially when we look at extreme sports (the dangerous ones) we are putting our horse’s health and safety at risk without any regard to their willingness to make this sacrifice. When we ask our horse to jump unbreakable jumps or run too fast, too far, too young, we compromise their wellbeing, safety and future lives. We may have fun the first few years but at the cost of the horse’s last several years. Causing premature aging and career-ending injury. Then the disposable mentality of trading in your horse when they no longer meet your desires, to get a new one. This teaches kids that when something isn’t fun anymore it should be thrown out – even if it costs them their life. A horse with a riding-ending injury will rarely get a safe home, even if you think it’s safe it may only be until that person also gets bored of them. Because we have developed a disposable mentality to life itself. We also teach our kids this is how they should treat their other pets, their family (watch out when you get old!!), or that they themselves could be treated this way. If you are no longer fun or doing what someone wants out of you, you too may be thrown away for a newer, funner version.
 
So stop and think about these values we introduce our kids to when you begin their horse journey. Horses are a friend, a partner, their quality of life is entirely dependent on your quality of care, their safety and wellbeing is up to you, for life.
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Ethics
Our Quality of Work is their Quality of Life

Our Quality of Work is their Quality of Life

Our quality of work is their quality of life”
This is a common quote in animal and human care related jobs. It’s vital we remember this key point. It’s easy to get lost in our daily life, letting our mood or distractions reduce our quality of work. This is fairly typical in all jobs, especially when we are an employee or volunteer in a care position, it’s easy to say “it’s just a job/volunteer, it doesn’t have to be perfect”. In most jobs we need to remember a healthy work/life balance and not let our job overwhelm us or take over our lives, it’s just a job! But in a care position it takes a little more than that. The thing is, it’s not just a job when you are a caretaker – it is our animal’s whole life.
 
Our animals spend their lives at the mercy of our care, if we don’t feel like cleaning, if we are too busy to toss some extra hay, if we just aren’t up for cleaning and refilling their water – our horses go hungry, live in filth, or even become ill. They can’t just go get food elsewhere or refill their own water buckets. While there are some tools and ways to set up the animal’s environment for greater ease, but even with the best set up and nicest tools, everything still needs care. The tools need to be maintained, food needs to be dished out, items need to be cleaned, and waste needs to be removed.
While their care is often rewarded by lots of fun time spent with the horses, doing agility, training new skills, and just being awesome snuggle buddies – sometimes the work is just alot. We get burnt out. Caretaking is an exhausting job, physically and emotionally. When the work is hard, our bodies struggle to keep up, and in rescue, sometimes even if we do the best we can, we can’t fix everything. Sometimes our horses struggle with health or pain issues, sometimes they don’t appear very grateful for our hard work, sometimes even with everything we do, they still pass away. This can be a very defeating and draining job. It takes great inner strength for these volunteers to chose to continue to provide care and love, money and labor, even when the personal cost outweighs the benefits. When our animals pass, when we know we are fighting against inevitable loss and personal suffering, when we know we are going to lose the battle – it takes a special person to continue to chose to do what’s right.

We are blessed with a wonderful herd of volunteers of all ages who really recognize that the quality of their work is the quality of the horse’s life. We use pellet bedding for easy cleaning, so much less waste, easier storage (we can hold about 250 bags in our shed, shavings take much more space). But our old Belgian at 33y.o and 2000lbs he had begun to get pressure sores, no matter how thickly we bedded his stall. Taina’s feet hurt when they get cold, so while it’s more expensive, more work, and super inconvenient for us, we have added plenty of fluffy shavings to give them a soft, warm place to sleep. Inconvenience or extra work for us is the difference between spending their nights in pain or in comfort, getting good rest or suffering. To us, this isn’t even a question. Our volunteers go the extra mile to ensure our horses aren’t just cared for well, but also have plenty of enrichment, training, and fun. I couldn’t be more proud and grateful for our crew.

 
It’s important to take care of ourselves, remain grateful for our supporters, and to support each other throughout the hard times. We are in this fight together with the same goal of providing a great life for animals who otherwise wouldn’t.
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics
My friend is dying and i’m pretending to be brave

My friend is dying and i’m pretending to be brave

My friend is dying and i’m pretending to be brave. I have been down this road before many times and i need to guide the others who haven’t yet. But as i sit in the shower crying, as i usually do in these times, i ask myself the same question – why do i do this to myself?
I could have a few healthy horses that i ride and enjoy. I could run a rescue with young horses i train and adopt out. Why do i choose to be a shelter for the old, the sick, and the broken beyond repair? These horses i rescue, some may be able to play but most of them won’t recover really, they rarely are able to be riding horses and none could ever really sport or show. These are horses that are damaged and unwanted, thrown out by society because they are no longer (or never were) useful. Whether they have an illness or injury that ended or never allowed them to start their work, whether they just got old and tired, they were let down.
 
I can’t fix them, i’m not magic (though i wish i were and i do try my best), i can’t stop them from dying, despite my best efforts. I do this because they would die anyway. But they would die alone and afraid, and often with great suffering. When i do this i promise them as much time as i can offer them filled with love and fun. They will spend their days remembering what it is to be loved. They will be reminded that they are horses, with all the freedom, friends, and good food that they deserve. And i can promise that when they die they will do so with braids in their hair and surrounded by gentle love. They will not be afraid and won’t be alone, and we will give them the gift of peaceful passing before they suffer.
 
So i remind myself why i continue down this road, why i do what i do, even though it feels like walking on coals. When my friend dies he will be cremated and buried in our garden where the fairies play. We will build them a home on his grave with the flowers that used to decorate his mane. All the lives he influenced can visit him there, where he will never be forgotten.


Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics
Butterfly – A Horse’s Value

Butterfly – A Horse’s Value

Most people value horses by how useful they can be to humans. Can the horse be ridden? Driven? Are they safe on trails or roads? Are they sound for sport or labor? How many working years do they have left? Are they safe for beginners to use? Everything about the horse’s value is determined by what we can get them to do for us…
 
But what is a horse’s real value? What is anyone’s real value? How do we judge?
 
I believe all life has value, simply because they are alive. It can’t be measured in dollars and coins, not in gifts or services, and it can’t always be measured in time, but rather, in experiences and love shared. How well the live and thrive in the life they’ve been given, how they’ve bettered or enriched others, and the love that’s been given and felt.
 
Yesterday some of the volunteers were brushing Butterfly, a job I frequently send kids to do to keep them entertained. I watched as the older girls taught the youngest how to make braids, they each practiced different styles. I remembered back to when I was a kid, learning for the first time how to braid hair, when an older volunteer showed me, on Butterfly. Then I wondered, how many kids has Butterfly taught how to braid? What if we measured a horse’s value by how many braids they’ve had in their hair? A symbol of how loved they’ve been?
 
Doing that math Butterfly is 22-24y.o. That’s not super old for a mini, we hope she has many more years with us. But as a horse who was born in a hoarding situation, too small to be ridden, who went blind young, limiting her potential for her future. She is a horse who has no traditional value. But she has lived a beautiful and happy life any horse should hope to live. With all the food and care she deserves, with horse, sheep, donkeys, and people friends of all ages, from all around the world. She has enjoyed a rich life of love and has spread her sweet, gentle love to all who take the moment to notice her. She is a most valued member of our farm.
Me and Butterfly as “kids”

When Butterfly first arrived at the rescue I grew up at <3 she was 2, I was 14.
Butterfly and our friends growing up
               
Butterfly’s time here at EE
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Ethics
Horses and their kids deserve Positive Reinforcement.

Horses and their kids deserve Positive Reinforcement.

 Our horse rescue is run primarily on kids, teens, and people with extra needs or mental health struggles. When they volunteer here and work with our horses they learn not just to care for horses, but to communicate with compassion, empathy, and clarity. Our volunteers and students learn so many life skills by working with horses from a positive reinforcement (R+) lifestyle. R+ isn’t just a way of training but a wholesome care-taking style including a natural living environment, plenty of enrichment, positive training, and developing a loving partnership.
 
In using positive reinforcement to train and handle our horses young people learn kind and effective ways to communicate what they want and appreciating the efforts given in response. Through formal positive reinforcement training with the horses the young people learn to break down goals into achievable steps, organizing and prioritizing their missions. They learn critical and creative thinking skills as they puzzle out new ways to encourage the horses to reach the goal behaviors without needing to use force, violence, or invasive control techniques. They learn to be resilient when things don’t go according to plan, how to stop and re-evaluate their plans and goals, then determine how to better approach the situation.
 
More importantly they develop loving partnerships with their horses built on clear communication, compromise, and lots of love. They learn to value their relationship with their horse more than what they can get the horse to do for them. Taking the focus away from themselves and into developing the partnership. They learn to respect the horse as a sentient companion with emotions, deserving of empathy and compassion. Rather than aspiring to control the horse through force or manipulation, they work together with the horse as a partner.
 
Many of our rescue horses have emotional or physical difficulties to overcome, helping our volunteers develop their empathy by relating to their equine peers. Through understanding and relating to the horse on an emotional level, and then compromising and problem solving to achieve their goals with their horse. They learn to be understanding and forgiving with themselves. This helps them raise their own emotional awareness and self-compassion.
They develop their own self awareness.
They are also made acutely aware of the hardships and rewards that come in life, including some painful decision making. Our volunteers understand that our horses have special needs and our priorities are to improve their quality of life. This means we don’t always get to do what’s fun for us, and sometimes we have to do things that are hard for us. Including participating in their medical care or letting go when the time is right. Learning about the value of life, how to honor the lives of our equine friends, and assure them the highest quality of care in the time they have with us.
 
These young people not only learn to work with horses in a kind and effective way but also learn to advocate for the horses. They learn values that extend to every area in life. Standing up to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Choosing compassion and kindness, even if it means not always fitting in with their peers. They learn to do what’s right, even if it’s not always what is easy.

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Clicker Training, Ethics
Engaging the CARE system

Engaging the CARE system

Due to the advancements in Neuroscience we have been able to better understand the emotions of our equine learners than ever before. With this new knowledge it’s vital we adapt and grow our training and care systems, the more we know the better we can do for our equine partners. We already know that Positive Reinforcement is the way to go when it comes to training. We know this is a forgiving, kind, safe, and effective means of communicating and motivating our equine learners to participate in our training. We have learned that not only is it effective but it works within the brain/body systems (SEEKING and PLAY) to make a happier, more resilient, more engaged learner.
But did you know there is another brain/body system that we should be paying attention to in our animal partnerships? Of the 7 major systems only 4 feel relatively good to the individual (when stimulated appropriately) – SEEKING, PLAY, LUST, and CARE. SEEKING system is what we engage when training, having the horse learn to problem solve their environment to earn reinforcement. When done right, positive reinforcement techniques often frequently engage the PLAY system as well. The LUST system we should leave alone, let the horses take care of that among themselves. It may mildly interfere with your training if your mare is in heat or you’re working with a stallion, but there are many management techniques for both of these situations. Mostly we want our horses to sort that out in a natural way among their herd.
 
The CARE system, however, is frequently overlooked when discussing training. This system not only feels good, but is vital for the mental health of the animal. If the CARE system is not satiated the PANIC system sets in, the horse develops   anxiety problems, especially around separation from their peers, or it may present as depression, shutting down, or restlessness, hypervigilance (easily spooking), or general feelings of insecurity. The CARE system is vital to social animals like equines, for their feelings of safety and comfort.
 
Many people struggle with horses who exhibit separation anxiety related behavioral problems – not wanting to leave their peers, their farm, balking on trails, bolting home, or being over-threshold when out of sight of their friends. In these cases what we’re seeing is that the horse’s CARE system is only being fulfilled by their equine peers. They are dependent on their herd to meet their emotional CARE needs. It would be unkind, even cruel to push a horse beyond this threshold, and often include a good deal of fall out behaviorally. We also want to be sure we aren’t using positive reinforcement to coerce a horse beyond their threshold for comfort and safety. By luring a horse with food outside of their comfort zone we not only set ourselves up for failure, but we also poison the food – at some point the need for safety in their peers is going to outweigh the desire for food. Now the food has become something the horses see as a risk, not an opportunity.
 
So what do we do about all this? The answer is simple, we need to be a source of engagement to their CARE system as well. By stimulating the hormones, by engaging the emotions, by creating the bond that lives within the horse’s individual CARE system we become the source of safety and comfort the horse is seeking. This does not, ever mean reducing, replacing or removing their equine herd. No matter how hard we try we will never be able to replicate or artificially supplement what horses get from one another.
 
So how do we become a source of CARE for our horses? The first key ingredient is a tough one, TIME! Time is hard for us humans, it’s one of our most valuable resources, but being so valuable it matters a good deal to those who it’s given to. By sharing space and being present with our horses, by spending time with our horses we become a part of their social unit. Not as another horse, but as another being who chooses to share their valuable life with one another. Coexisting creates a beautiful, gentle, force-less connection between beings.
 
We want more than this though, while it’s a vital first step it isn’t the only step. We also need to make sure the time we spend together is as valuable to the horse as it is to us. Do you ever sit and watch your horses in awe of how magical, perfect, and wonderful they are? They bring us such joy. We need to stimulate a similar feeling in our horses about us. We can do this by ensuring our shared time is wonderful.
 
A key way that horses develop social bonds is through mutual grooming. If your horse is comfortable with you spending time physically connecting can reach new, deeper levels of connectedness. While we touch, letting our presence bind us together, we also want to make sure it feels good, non-invasive, and is done with full consent. We love our horses and often want to reach out, grab them in ways that feel good to us. We want to stroke their face, hug their neck, and get lost in their mane. Our horses would much prefer we scratch their withers or their bum cheeks. Much less romantic to us, but feels so much more wonderful to our horses. We can explore our individual horses and find what feels good to them. They are all unique. Try rubbing, scratching, or grooming specific areas and watch your horse’s reaction. If you stop, do they seek out more? Do they make groomy faces? Or do they step away and toss their nose at you like a pesky bug? Find what they enjoy and spend time making them feel nice.
 
Another way horses show their social bonds is in sharing resources. This is one of the biggest things for horses, their resources are their life-line. Most horses in domestication have learned that resources are limited and need to be defended through violence. To see horses sharing resources shows great trust in their peers and their access to resources. This doesn’t mean we need to graze with our horses, but we can take our horses to a sweet, extra special grazing spot. Ever sit in the sun while hand grazing your horse on the nicest part of the lawn? Just magic. But we not only share resources with our horses, we provide them! This makes us extra special, almost maternal. We are a source of comfort and safety emotionally, but also fulfill their physical needs. With no need to assert “dominance”, we are not competition for their resources – we ARE the resource and everything they want.
 
When being with us is stimulating their CARE system we become a source of comfort and fulfillment for our equine partners. Ensuring they feel safe and engaged with us as their friend, their peer, and their provider, knowing that with us not only are they physically safe, their needs are met, and they are loved.
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Turning Fear into Curiosity

Is your horse spooky? Are they pessimistic, assuming everything is out to get them? Do they freak out about every little change? Does it seem like they’re just making stuff up to lose their mind over?
These comments are all too common. This can happen for hundreds of reasons. Often horses who live in a punishment-based environment learn quickly not to explore or try new things, because it will likely go bad. Horses living on fancy farms often lives very sheltered lives, in small stalls, small paddocks, separate from other horses, working in quiet indoor arenas. Horses are often under-exposed in an attempt to keep them safe (we all know how easily our horses hurt themselves!) But often this lack of exposure and lack of engagement can cause more health and behavioral issues than they prevent. By taking away everything that may harm them we also take away everything that satisfies their emotional and behavioral needs. This creates outbursts of unnatural and undesirable    behaviors that can include hurting themselves.
 
Instead of sheltering your horse, turn their fear and pessimism into confidence and curiosity. The first step to this is enrichment. Enrich their lives as much as possible, in as many different ways you can. You can supplement them socially introducing new peers or other species. Visually, with funny looking items, pool noodles look solid but are flimsy, mirrors show strange reflections, light up toys, large stuffed animals, etc… You can enrich them audibly with music, noise makers, recordings of sirens or different animal vocalizations. Tactile options can include brushes, hanging rugs on walls or fences for rubbing against, itching boards, or various different substrate flooring. Scent can be very enriching with the use of essential oils or natural smells from around the farm, like letting them smell another animal’s poop. Novel food can be engaging and fun to explore, including melons and pumpkins to crush and munch. Food can also provide mental enrichment as they problem solve new ways to engage with their environment to work out food puzzles.
 
The enrichment is mentally stimulating and interesting, but it’s important that the enrichment also include some positive outcome for the horse a good amount of the time. While we often present the new stimuli without any added food (we don’t want to pressure them to approach or handle the stimuli faster than they are ready) once they are comfortable around the new item we often add food to it. Some enrichment is self-sufficient, exploring smelly items, or interacting socially would be good examples. But if engaging with the stimuli isn’t very interesting, adding food can help push the stimuli from being benign to being a good thing in your horse’s mind. The more often these new experiences have a good outcome the more optimistic your horse will become. Soon “new” will become a source of curiosity, something worth trying. Changing their entire outlook on life and the world around them.
Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, Equine Emotions, Troubleshooting

Quality

“Our quality of work is their quality of life”
This is a common quote in animal and human care related jobs. It’s vital we remember this key point. It’s easy to get lost in our daily life, letting our mood or distractions reduce our quality of work. This is fairly typical in all jobs, especially when we are an employee or volunteer in a care position, it’s easy to say “it’s just a job/volunteer, it doesn’t have to be perfect”. In most jobs we need to remember a healthy work/life balance and not let our job overwhelm us or take over our lives, it’s just a job! But in a care position it takes a little more than that. The thing is, it’s not just a job when you are a caretaker – it is our animal’s whole life.

Our animals spend their lives at the mercy of our care, if we don’t feel like cleaning, if we are too busy to toss some extra hay, if we just aren’t up for cleaning and refilling their water – our horses go hungry, live in filth, or even become ill.  They can’t just go get food elsewhere or refill their own water buckets. While there are some tools and ways to set up the animal’s environment for ease of care. But even with the best set up and nicest tools, everything still needs care. The tools need to be maintained, food needs to be dished out, items need to be cleaned, and waste needs to be removed.

We are blessed with a wonderful herd of volunteers of all ages who really recognize that the quality of their work is the quality of the horse’s life. We use pellet bedding for easy cleaning, so much less waste, easier storage (we can hold about 250 bags in our shed, shavings take much more space). But our old Belgian at 33y.o and 2000lbs he had begun to get pressure sores, no matter how thickly we bedded his stall. So while it’s more expensive, more work, and super inconvenient for us, we have added plenty of fluffy shavings to give him a soft place to sleep. Inconvenience or extra work for us is the difference between spending his nights in pain or in comfort, getting good rest or suffering. To us, this isn’t even a question. Our volunteers go the extra mile to ensure our horses aren’t just cared for well, but also have plenty of enrichment, training, and fun.

Sometimes however, our volunteers and workers get burnt out. Caretaking is an exhausting job, physically and emotionally. When the work is hard, our bodies struggle to keep up, and in rescue, sometimes even if we do the best we can, we can’t fix everything. Sometimes our horses struggle with health or pain issues, sometimes they don’t appear very grateful for our hard work, sometimes even with everything we do, they still pass away. This can be a very defeating and draining job. It’s important to take care of ourselves, remain grateful for our workers, and to support each other throughout the hard times. We are in this field together with the same goal of providing a great life for our animals.

Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Ethics

It’s OK not to Ride!

Did you know it’s ok not to ride?
So many people are shamed into giving up their horses because they’re not “using” them to their full “potential”. People are convinced to euthanize their horse because “they’ll never be able to ride again”, even if they could live a full, happy life. People are encouraged to pass on their horses when they outgrow their horse’s athletic ability. But why? Who said a horse’s value is limited only by their ability to carry a human around?
Things your horse needs for a good quality of life: Friends (horse and/or human), Freedom (to behave like a horse), Forage (to eat like a horse), Fun (enrichment), saFety (a clean, safe environment), and comFort (ability to avoid harsh elements or stressful life events).
Things they don’t need: Riding, competing, traveling, changing homes frequently, living in confinement or isolation (so they don’t get hurt being a horse). There’s nothing wrong with riding with your friend, no one is telling you not to ride, but riding has no effect your horse’s happiness and quality of life. Your horse doesn’t care if he wins shows, so long as he’s spending time with someone he loves. He doesn’t care where the trail leads so long as it brings him home in the end.

Did you know there are millions of other things you can do with your horse if you or they can’t ride?
Equine agility is an absolute blast, the kids love it, horses love it, done at liberty and with positive reinforcement everyone has fun! This can work to help build your horse’s physical wellbeing with exercise as well as their coordination and proprioception as they learn to negotiate new obstacles. This can also entertain their brain and teach them about a wild variety of new things they may encounter. Keeping life active and fun!
Enrichment, even if you can’t participate much with your horse you can offer your horse a wide variety of enriching toys. Puzzle feeders, treat balls, new stuffed animals, mirrors, new scents (essential oils), giant stuffed animals, sprinklers, misters, introducing them to new animals of all species. These are all fun ways to keep your horse active and mentally engaged even when your time and ability to participate is limited.
Going for walks together, pack a lunch and take your friend for a lovely walk with you!
Teach them tricks, with positive reinforcement we can teach our horses to do literally anything. So why get stuck on riding? You can teach your horse to dance a routine with you. Your horse can become an artist and express themself through painting! Put on your favorite dress or fantasy outfit and take beautiful photos, or play dress up with your horses! Did you know your horse can learn vocabulary? Teach your horse to identify all their brushes or other toys in their environment. Or teach your horse to talk back with cue cards, so your horse can cue you for belly rubs or playtime!
Riding is fun, but there is so much more to life and horses than just sitting on their back. If you or your horse can’t ride, don’t let that stop you from sharing an amazing bond! Don’t give up on your beautiful relationship with someone you love ❤ There is so much more to love than riding.
Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, Ethics
How to Change Behavior

How to Change Behavior

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.
Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Care and Management, Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Troubleshooting