Equine Emotions

discussing neuroscience and equine emotions – and how we can strive for better

Taina Beginning to Explore

Those of you who don't know Taina, she's one of the most damaged horses I've ever met. She came to us last summer as an extreme neglect case, she was emaciated and lame when she stumbled off the truck and up our driveway to her new home. Over the next few weeks we unwrapped layers of her terrible past. With X-rays and grooming the filth off her body we learned she's had the ligaments cut in her tail so it forms the "J" shape so popular in the Paso Fino shows. Her legs lashed with whip marks from dancing in pillars, and her trachea crushed from being roped in rodeo events. As her winter coat grows in the white marks of scars become more and more apparent all over her body. Emotionally she was much worse than physically, which is hard to imagine. When it was time for any sort of interaction she'd tuck her head into the back corner of her stall and tremble while we haltered her and began whatever treatment was needed. While she'd stand near the front of her stall and carefully take handfuls of treats from us, she would leap away at the first sign of danger. Soon her fear began to fade and her feeling of control expressed as aggression. She rapidly learned she could keep humans at a safe distance with her beautiful dragon impersonation.

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Posted by Jessica in Care and Management, EE Horses, Equine Emotions, Troubleshooting

Operationalizing Whips

Operationalizing Whips
Let’s take the whip discussion and operationalize it. I find a lot of psuedo-science and romanticized opinions are clouding our ability to look at the use of this tool appropriately.

Remember Classical Conditioning? Repeated pairing of any stimuli, the first being conditioned to predict the second. Keep that in mind as you review the next ABC scenarios… Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Heart Horses

Heart Horses
Many of us equine-enthusiasts strive for what we consider a special relationship with our ‘heart horse’…
We have millions of definitions, descriptions, stories and romantic ideas of what this “relationship” should be or look like. A common image is a horse and human riding together in a whimsical setting, with no tack or tools to bind them, just two souls connected by the heart. We dream of clear communication letting our horses know exactly what we want from then and when, creating beautiful, dance-like riding. We also dream of a horse who has the self-created desire to comply. The horse who wants to do what we ask, for no other reason than their love for us, their beloved human. Continue reading →

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

Why Avoid Aversives?

Why Avoid Aversives?
What is the difference between P+ and R-? Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Every Horse?

 Is CT Right for Every Horse?
Sometimes people ask me if clicker training is really right for EVERY horse? Are there times you don’t use clicker training? Do you ever use negative reinforcement? Punishment? Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Clicker Training, EE Horses, Equine Emotions

Food Related Anxiety and Over-excitement

Food Related Anxiety and Over-excitement
Most horses start out at least a little thrilled about the clicker training experience. Teaching a safe, alternate behavior to mugging, such as stand facing forward, is a fantastic way to keep us safe and help the horse learn to relax around food. A key element in this first behavior MUST be relaxation. A horse can tuck their chin or look away or stand facing forward, but be boiling over, trembling with excitement.

Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Poisoned Cues

Poisoned Cues

The idea of poisoned cues first requires a good understanding of what a cue is and isn’t. A Cue is defined as “a discriminative stimulus (SD) established through positive differential reinforcement” this means the learner knows that cue/antecedent=behavior X=positive reinforcement. Remember our ABCs? Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (loop). A “cue” is one that results in a positive (addition of appetitive) Consequence. A cue eventually becomes a conditioned positive reinforcer, just like a click. Remember Classical Conditioning when X=Y? When a neutral stimulus is paired repeatedly with an appetitive stimulus is becomes a classically conditioned appetitive. So when Cue=Behavior=R+, Cue=R+! As simple as that! We can also test this – the animal will work for the ability to get the cue that results in R+, remember this is how behavior chains work! Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics, Troubleshooting

Importance of Choice

Importance of Choice

Does positive reinforcement (R+) and negative reinforcement (R-) present the same amount of choice and partnership? We all want a good relationship, we all want partnership and love – no matter which quadrant we’re using.

What is choice? Is there such thing as free choice? If we really want to get into it there is no such thing free choice – every behavior has consequences, consequences influence behavior. No matter whether humans are involved or not. The horse can choose not to run from the predator, but it might not be a smart choice. So honest and complete free choice doesn’t really exist. Add in domestication and choices are further limited, because there are some things that are needed for their own well being. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions, Ethics

Stimulus Stacking

Stimulus Stacking

Fear based reactions from horses can be a real danger to humans working closely with them. This is where working with horses differs greatly from working with exotics, as they’re almost entirely trained in “Protective Contact” (training with a physical barrier between trainer and animal). While I am a strong advocate for using protective contact while working with horses, especially those new to CT, horses with strong or frequent fear responses, or impulse control issues with aggressive behaviors. Protective Contact is a valuable tool to use in many situations not just for our safety but to help encourage a horse to open up and feel safe (especially those with poor human history). It also really forces us humans to communicate in a way that is clear and concise with a proper rate of reinforcement, because the horse can easily just walk away if things aren’t just right, I truly believe protective contact work makes us better trainers. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Equine Emotions

Dealing with Fear

Dealing with Fear
Make sure to read the article on Stimulus Stacking as well.

There are four basic ways of helping our horses overcome fear. Our goal is not to remove or teach them to ignore their instinct to defend themselves (through the freeze-flight-fight responses), nor to teach them to tolerate every stimuli in the world, but rather to help them build a sense of self confidence and encourage curiosity. Continue reading →

Posted by Jessica in Behavioral Science, Clicker Training, Equine Emotions, Troubleshooting