How Horses Learn- Behaviours

Before you read this post, it may be useful to read my previous post about antecedents which you can find here. In this post, I introduced the ABC model of learning:

Antecedants- these are the things that happen just before your horse does something.
Behaviour- This is what your horse actually does.
Consequence- This is what happens immediately after the behaviour.

Behaviour is the middle portion of the ABC model of learning. It is the response to a stimulus – or the antecedent- which will result in either a positive or negative consequence. It really is that simple. There are things you should be aware of in relation to behaviour.

Set your horse up for success

In order to achieve a desirable behaviour and thus the response we are looking for, it is important that we set our horse up for success. If you don’t then the behaviour will likely be more unpredictable and you will be less likely to achieve what you are looking for.

You can set your horse up for success by planning the antecedent. If we break that down into simple terms lets say you want your horse to walk forwards. You squeeze your legs around the girth then release when the horse takes the step forwards. The antecedent is clear, the response is desired. However, if you are not paying attention and you ask your horse to move forwards but when he does he gets jarred in the mouth, you will have confused the horse and the outcome is more unpredictable, you might have just taught him to toss his head up or snatch the reins.

Give some power to your horse

The most effective way to teach a horse, in my opinion, allows the horse to make decisions. If you can make it look like it was your horses decision then they are more likely to repeat the behaviour. Sometimes, it’s just about being patient and letting them work it out. All horses learn at different rates and some are slow learners and processors (you can tell this largely by the size of their eye and other facial features). Furthermore, if you ask your horse to do something and they just don’t understand, make sure you listen and allow them the freedom to move away or take a breather. Re-evaluate how you are asking and see if you can frame your question in a different way.

By doing this, the horse will feel more confident while he’s working and so you are more likely to get positive results.

Think of behaviour as communication

Try not to look at behaviours as good and bad. I know that can be tricky when you have an explosive horse, but really they are trying to tell you something. If you frame it as bad, you almost limit your own ability to be able to work out the issue. I believe being open minded is key here to spotting what might be going on.

Don’t assume

Finally, there are different types of behaviour. There is learned behaviour which is something that can become habit due to repetition or there is reactive behaviour where the horse is merely reacting to something. If you have a horse acting out, don’t assume it’s learned behaviour automatically. Investigate what the cause could be. Is it a dentistry issue? Is it a tack fit problem? What’s your horses diet like, could that be influencing behaviour? How much turnout does your horse have? There are a HUGE range of factors which could be the cause of behaviours. Investigate this first before you try to solve any behavioural issues.

NOTE: The above information is from what I have learned and from my own experiences. If you are unsure about a behaviour and it risks yours or the horses safety, speak to an Equine Behaviourist, vet or even a coach/ trainer to seek advice if you are not able to work through it on your own.

Does your horse have any undesirable behaviours? Let me know below or over on my Instagram @bbequines.

Happy horsing!

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