What is Horse Psychology? Part 3: Glossary

Training = conditioning (a term in learning theory). We use the word ‘train’ to mean when we deliberately do it, but horses are conditioned by you and their environment every day, just like you are. Learning theory is descriptive, so please describe accurately.

In this post I will define terms from learning theory in the hope that horse people will use them correctly and end up training better. Terms such as habituation, sensitisation, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, and associative learning (aversive and attractive).

So please refer here when you need to check a definition. Control-F all you like. In coming months I will endeavour to present single example posts to assist understanding and to demonstrate how familiar all these processes are to us. Continue reading

Floating problems: a steep and common learning curve

First of all, I probably will not think of everything that should be said here, but I’d like to say something. Main point is that we want happy horses like the featured quarter horse (above). So in this I will try cover some basic techniques for solving your floating problems.

Common techniques, how they work and when they won’t are the second half of the post, along with a step by step on how to get through the hard times.  Continue reading

Your first clicker session

Want to try clicker training? Do you know the basics and want to give it a go? Read about the principles but haven’t practised them yet?

Don’t worry.

Get yourself a clicker. It saves you from using your voice and tripping over your tongue or swallowing at the wrong time or saying something other than what you decided.

Why when you always use your voice? It is valuable to keep your voice associated with a relaxation reward (to be used when riding) as opposed to a food reward because if you apply the ‘bridge’ indicator of reward but not give the reward then the horse will lose interest and will not learn as quickly. An alternative to the clicker is a whistle.

  • Get yourself a bag easily accessed and filled with small treats (carrot disks or chunks of bread) to be used as rewards.
  • Place your horse where they won’t be distracted by grass or friends.

Continue reading

Conditioning and Conditioning

Bringing your horses back into work? Then you will know about conditioning.

Training your horses to be better? Then you will know about conditioning.

Studying learning theory? That includes conditioning.

Improving fitness? You must condition your horse.

Need to get your horse used to work? That’s conditioning.

Need to get your horse used to different environments? That’s conditioning.

Training your horse for competition. That’s conditioning.

My point? All of the above are different ways of saying one of two things:

  1. You’re applying learning theory, or
  2. You’re increasing fitness.

Turns out when you do what I have done and thought about the different uses of the word in the two meanings, they start to sound just like each other.

So don’t get too confused. It’s the same thing. Training.

A thought on categories and labels

I am carefully composing Horse Psychology – Part 3: Glossary and I find myself thinking about what makes a category or definition accurate? Why use them at all? This is in fact a thought on the philosophy of science.

Sometimes people refer to science using labels in a cold cruel way that ignores the true nature of a thing.

The funny part is that this is a totally human thing to do.

In the end, categories are often arbitrary names that are extremely useful to define a thing. Once it is defined you know:

a) What it is, what it is not, and how it was defined, and therefore

b) how you can talk about it.

Continue reading

What is horse psychology? Part 2

In Part 1 I gave an overview of psychology in general, and this second part is more about scientific thinking. Psychology is  a science so an understanding of horse psychology must understand how science works. After all I am not referring to therapy for horses or even therapy with horses. In order to properly explain principles of learning, this is an introduction to scientific thinking, focused on assumptions due to anthropomorphising your horse. Learning theory provides a more accurate way of understanding your horse’s behaviour because it does not assume your horse shares your human abilities.

I began Part 1 with key terms in psychology because I think the context is extremely important and very few people know about it. In academia there are often a lot of technical terms thrown about and psychology is no exception. These terms are actually very helpful sign posts. I realise now I need a part 3 as well, and that is where all the behavioural terms used to explain horse learning will be specifically defined. Below I explain why it comes back to learning, and often associative learning.

Behaviourism ought to be understood as a way of looking at the world in terms of environmental input and behavioural output. By reminding yourself of this you can remove habits of thinking that represent the world inaccurately. Namely, you can try to avoid anthropomorphising your horses.

Anthropomorphise: verb; to think of your animal as if it had the capacities and abilities of a human (when it does not, hence you should not).

What is the harm in anthropomorphising your horse?

Continue reading

Standing martingale: what is this for?

The standing martingale is a tie down, seen in barrel racing, polocrosse, and polo. It sometimes connects to the breastplate but is often straight from the girth, and connects at a typically loose fitting noseband. As it is a tie down, it checks the horse (sometimes violently) when the horse throws their head, without any give. By keeping the horse’s head from being raised above a given point it confers more control to the rider simply because the action on the bit is not altered by high head carriage. Continue reading

White Line Fever

In sporting it is not uncommon to see riders having difficulties with their horses around the start line. Particularly with regard to having to walk over the 6m line which is often drawn in white chalk or paint. I have heard this called white line fever. It is a catchy term that lets you downplay the stress involved in experiencing this. I have experienced this, many years ago, when I was a child. It is rarely fun.

Typically the horse is excited coming up to the line, and this is quite standard for all horses accustomed to sporting, so you may not think it a problem. However, this can escalate.

The horse is excited coming up to the line and wants to take off early so you hold them back. In this situation it is very difficult to remain calm. You yourself are excited and anticipating the event about to start; the event you must do as quickly and accurately as possible. Some riders will get on a completely unfamiliar horse to sport them and discover that this all becomes a problem immediately and this is because the rider is tense and excited, causing the horse to become so as well.

Continue reading

Horse brains working for you

sportingYou want to train something new, or improve something you already can do.

My mare could stop, even canter to halt, but the other way around wasn’t so good. It was rushed and excited and only happened during rushed and exciting times.

She was becoming very relaxed with turning her forehand around her hind, with or without stepping backwards (I prefer she did than not manage to step around at all as it engages her hind and softens her fore). And I wanted to work up to a roll back: to be able to canter in, stop, turn on the hind 180 degrees, then canter off again.

But she may not be strong enough for it yet. No worries. Small steps. Continue reading