My aim through EBSI is to provide owners and practitioners with scientific, evidence-based information and training tools in order to ensure that equine welfare is promoted and protected at all times throughout the training and management process of horses, and that human safety is maintained while still gaining the desired performance outcomes from your horse.
Every behaviour has a reason, a motivation for taking place, in the same way that every behaviour has a consequence or an effect. This is the basic principle of cause and effect – and equine behaviour is no exception.
Mark Rashid, an American trainer and author of Whole Heart, Whole Horse: Building Trust Between Horse and Rider, says that:
“One of the primary ways horses communicate with us is through their behavior. Again, it is my belief horses don’t distinguish between how they feel and how they act. So if they act a certain way, their actions are reflecting the way they feel. A horse’s body then becomes a mirror for their emotions. So the body informs us of what is truly going on internally.”
Behavioural responses are a form of non-verbal communication, in actual fact, body language or using the body to communicate, is the horse’s primary form of communication since they are mainly non-verbal communicators. By paying attention to how the horse is behaving, we are receiving clues as to how the horse is feeling, thinking and experiencing the environment at that present moment.
When it comes to horse training, whether it’s just for fun or serious competition, every interaction, signal, or movement from us will be interpreted by the horse – even if we aren’t aware of it. This is how horses learn.
The aim of horse training is to teach the horse a set of desired responses to specific signals, and to keep reinforcing the desired responses appropriately so that they keep occurring. Understanding how horses process information and how human interaction affects equine behaviour will enable us to create training strategies that work with the horse rather than against it. Conflict in training can largely be avoided if we use clear, unambiguous signals in a consistent manner.
Conflict behaviours tell us that something is wrong and the horse is in a state of stress. When stress is present, learning cannot take place. So conflict situations basically hinder performance and make training futile…
Species evolve. Behaviour isn’t static – it changes as the animal adapts to new environments, new circumstances. While inherent needs remain programmed as instinctive responses, horses are continuously learning from each other, their environment, and from us, and are adapting their behaviour to better meet their needs. Because of this we can’t just rely on tradition and ‘how we always did it’ anymore. Our practices must also evolve in order to meet the changing needs of domestic horses.
Learning is best done when the body and the brain are stimulated, in other words the horse is actively seeking out information from the environment because the activity is engaging, the outcomes are appealing and pleasant, and motivation is high. A big part of understanding equine behaviour is understanding equine ethological needs and ultimately what motivates horses in their current environment.