Pressure halters are just collections of webbing, buckles, brass fittings or plastic they are not inherently good or bad. That said people immediately leap to the conclusion that it is the hands that hold them that determine their label. I personally don’t think it is anything to with the hands that hold them that makes them good or bad. For me it is the brain that operates the hands that counts. What I mean is that the perception of the human being involved will determine whether they see pressure halters as good or bad not whether they use them well or badly.

These individual perceptions are determined by personal beliefs about the true nature of horses, how we believe they should be trained or what our personal training ethics are.

If our beliefs are that a horse’s nose is extremely sensitive and that concentrated pressure in this area is unnecessary to communicate with them, and likely to be painful or even just uncomfortable and prevents them from expressing their natural behaviour then we will view any use of the pressure halter as unacceptable. If our view is that it is acceptable to use pressure or pain on the nose of horse to train them, or that due to constraints we have to get the work done as fast as possible, or the horse has to be safe and therefore using pressure in this way is justified, then we will say the pressure halter is a good thing.  

The mere mention of pain will cause people to focus on the pressure that is applied and, pressure halter advocates immediately defend their use of the pressure type halter by saying “well I can be really light with a pressure halter” “ pressure halters give me better timing, and are clearer for the horse because the pressure is more concentrated.”  What is interesting is that pressure is only a small part of the learning process what is more important to learning is the timing of the release of pressure. A growing awareness of the principles of negative reinforcement has meant horse handlers now have a greater understanding of the importance of the release of pressure during horse training. This release of pressure is what communicates to the horse how to remove or avoid the pressure in future similar situations. This is the crucial factor that everyone knows, but tends to under play in the pressure halter debate, had someone thought about it more carefully perhaps the term release halter ™  would have added more marketing hype to the product. 

My personal feeling is that we simply don’t know how sensitive a horse’s nose or poll are. We don’t know how a horse perceives pain or if there are differences in the perceptions of individuals. By relaxing and controlling my thoughts I can personally have the dentist drill my teeth for a filing without any anaesthetic but for other people that would be unbearably painful, is it not plausible that similar variances exist in equines? People will again justify the use of  a pressure halter by saying it isn’t pain it is just discomfort or pressure, personally I don’t want to take the risk that I might be using pain to train.

I imagine if I was teaching a simple behaviour to a child, such as shoelace tying I could teach them using a little bit of pressure, now obviously the best way to teach this behaviour is to use reward and praise, which is on the whole what we do. Funny how we use so much positive reinforcement with young children, while they learn to crawl, walk, talk and become potty trained but chose to use negative reinforcement  and punishment in so much of the rest of their lives, but that’s a different article. Anyway, say I choose to use the pressure caused by gently prodding the child with a drawing pin and releasing this pressure when they make some right move. I can justify my method by saying well I am very light with my drawing pin and it is not as bad as hitting them and it certainly is very clear when I release the pin. That pressure will be perceived differently by each child and could even distract the child from learning and could even lead to some fear or breakdown of our relationship with the child if they are particularly sensitive. Somehow in this context perhaps this argument for only light pressure does not hold up so well. I know it is an absurd illustration and that is exactly why I use it. When I know a gentler more effective way of training exists, that does not have the potential pitfalls is it not ethically right to avoid using the drawing pin?

Everyone accepts that the pressure exerted from a pressure or a rope halter is greater from the same pressure on a flat head collar. It has to be, if we apply the same amount of pressure to both, the pressure is spread over the area in contact with the horse’s nose, so the wider the area, the less the pressure, the narrower the area the more pressure per square centimetre, and this is not taking into account the closing or restricting nature of some pressure halters. 

It seems to me this might be why people claim their communication with the horse is clearer with the horse if they use the pressure halter lightly, because as I have previously said it is the release of pressure that communicates with the horse, and the greater the pressure the more the horse will want a release from it. What happens is the horse makes a choice, they want to avoid the pressure they feel on their poll or nose and therefore they choose a different set of actions, and this choice is magnified by the application of higher levels of pressure.  A pressure halter puts on say, 10 on the applied pressure scale, whatever that might mean in real terms does not matter, just that the light applied pressure to be a reading of 10 on a scale that could range between 10 and a 1000, the harder you pull the higher up the scale we go. When the pressure is released and the applied pressure goes to zero. So we have pressure release cycle that goes ten- zero, ten – zero, ten – zero. There is big difference in the horse between 10 and zero which is what causes them to choose between pressure and no pressure. The scale starts at ten as even the lightest touch on the rope has to scientifically exert more pressure than a flat head collar with the same pull. 

With a flat head collar we might be putting on a pressure of 2, on a scale of 1 to 500. Again the release cycle pattern we get is, two – zero, two – zero. So this lower level of pressure is not as convincing to the horse that they have to modify their behaviour to avoid it. This is why pressure halter and rope halters work, there is the greater difference between even the lightest pressure and the release, than there is with a flat head collar. Yes you can put on a considerable amount of pressure with a flat head collar too, but it will never be a severe as a pressure halter at the same level of pull applied to the rope.

We accept that using a thinner bit causes more pressure and discomfort to the mouth compared to a wider rounder bit, and most horse trainers who consider themselves emphatic or natural would hopefully not advocate the use of a thinner harsher bit to solve a ridden problem.

If a horse is fearful of the trailer or kicks because it hurts to pick up their feet, obviously as the pressure goes to ten on the scale the horse is more motivated to seek no pressure. If they do the required behaviour and the pressure comes off the desire to seek that release will have to override their fear or pain or excitement which already exists. For that to happen you have to believe that the discomfort felt by the horse is quite considerable. I have seen a horse that had not loaded for 15 years, ridden 25 miles to a demonstration load using a pressure halter in under 15 minutes. Given that in 15 years everyone and their dog is likely to have tried to load the animal and failed, to me this demonstrates the higher level of force that a pressure halter can apply albeit at a much higher level of force on the rope. To cause the horse to choose to deal with the terror of the trailer and years of fearful experiences rather than feel the pressure on their poll and nose must surely show how forceful pressure halters can be. Imagine your own fear or phobia and how much pressure would be required to make you pick up the spider or snake or perhaps climb to the top of a ladder within 15 minutes?  I know we can argue it was in the best interests of the horse in case they ever needed to go to the vet, I am not at this point saying it was right or wrong only that the pressure applied must have been considerable for the horse to choose the trailer.

The flat head collar used lightly is a choice between zero and two that’s not a major discomfort compared to the choice between ten and zero so the horse will perhaps choose to ignore the pressure, at this lower level they can deal with it and so seeking the release is not so motivating for the horse to change their behaviour as it does not over ride their fear or pain.

However, my argument is this; the pressure halter interferes with our thinking and our learning. The pressure halter becomes for many people the one solution to ten problems. I think they stop us from asking the two most important questions, why and how. Why is my horse behaving this way and how can I best help him to learn a more suitable behaviour. It is possible to justify the use of the pressure halter because “the horse has to be safe, we don’t have the time, they are dangerous without it” and if that is an individual’s choice that is up to them. However, I don’t what to hear owners keep saying “oh in the real world….” This is just an outdated defence, we create our world and, we choose what is acceptable and what is not so when enough people choose that force in not acceptable the real world changes.  

For me personally, I never say never, if it was purely in the best interests of the horse, such as emergency veterinary treatment, that a pressure halter is something I might consider with great hesitation if it was impossible to control the horse or sedate them and other options had failed first, but only if it was best for the horse not because it was easiest for me.

I also think pressure halters stop us developing our own skills as a horse person and our horses’ potential. For me I want to develop lightness based on not being able to force the horse to seek the release of pressure but rather allowing it to learn they can deal with the situation and to build their confidence while developing problem solving abilities. People talk about willingness and wanting their horse to want to be with them. This willingness is difficult to achieve if the choice is between discomfort and no release. They use pressure heavily and then get lighter not accepting the horse is quite capable of understanding that if they do not respond to lightness they will feel increased pressure, and so are still in fact responding, all be it psychologically, to the original heavy pressure that conditioned the response.

grey horse wearing blue head collar being touched on the nose by man Ben Hart a horse trainer in a white polo shirt

 

If trainers want to use pressure halters that choice is theirs, I would prefer for the sake of horses they didn’t, but it is the choice of the individual based on their ethical beliefs. However, at least people should be honest about the how and why pressure type halters work. If pressure halters didn’t apply more pressure than a flat head collar at the same contact, pressure halters would be no more effective than a flat head collar. People justify their use of a pressure halter by saying they use it lightly, and when I say ten on the pressure scale that is lightly but it is still not as light as two on the scale. Using a flat head collar is not an excuse to pull harder because it doesn’t hurt the horse much, putting more pressure on with a flat head collar is also destructive to lightness.

It is important for me to give any horse I work with options, and that the motivation or persuasion I use to overcome fears and problems actually relies on positive reinforcement or the minimum pressure I can use with a flat head collar which will be less than a pressure halter. I prefer to use a flat head collar because I think it increases the choices between pressure and no pressure. More than that having taken away the element of increasing pressure the trainer develops a great sense of timing to apply the lightest pressure, and we do horses a disservice if we think they can not feel the change in pressure between two and zero on our imaginary scale. Further more, not using pressure increases the trainers imagination and their reliance on their ability to shape behaviour. With less force we have to invent smaller steps which our animal will find easier to achieve while working towards the desired goal. This process of successful shaping is what creates a relationship, confidence and trust and ultimately to safety and willingness. We shouldn’t be putting our horses in situations where they react so big trainers justify the use of a pressure halter for control.

I am not saying if you use a pressure halter you are not a good trainer, I am saying that I don’t think the regular use of pressure halters encourages trainers to be as light as they can be and I think that reliance on the pressure halter to solve equine problems such as leading and loading stops the trainer from thinking to their full potential. I think if we use a pressure halter it can lead to the application of the law of the hammer – “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”  the routine use of pressure halters stops trainers using their imagination and creative abilities to find more positive solutions to problems. When we know we can load the horse with the pressure halter why explore any other possibilities? 

If a trainer feels the need to use a pressure halter because of the situation they find themselves in that is their choice but they shouldn’t pretend it is ok because they only use it lightly and it isn’t really causing any discomfort. The reason pressure halters work is because they cause more discomfort or potential pain however you measure and categorise that, than a flat head collar causes when used at the same level. 

 “The Dog Whisperer” is under massive investigation by leading welfare organisations for the adverse training methods he is reported to use, including such items as pronged collars. Yet pressure halters, heavy handed use of whips and spurs are used in full view of every welfare organisation and apparently are acceptable forms of training for equines. Yet if I started training dogs using a whip or perhaps a spur device or a pressure halter with brass studs on, I suspect there would be an immediate investigation and outcry. Why do we treat the two species so differently? Behavioural ignorance is no longer a defence. 

I don’t think for one moment the vast majority of advocates of pressure halters would endorse the harsh use of whips, spurs and harsher bits as a solution to problems and I think that is because the marketing of the pressure halter has been such that it has been sold as a tool that if used effectively is very quick and therefore the horse “teaches himself.” The name given to some pressure halters has even been mistaken for being nice to our horses, rather than making our horse be nice! 

I believe that pressure and thin rope halters are a barrier to more ethical training for equines and so I want to call on trainers around the world to stop using such equipment as routine and prove that their methods work when they don’t have the option to apply this level or type of pressure to the nose, if it is about the horse, about good timing about being natural and about learning then this shouldn’t be a problem should it?

The very desire to only use pressure halters lightly indicates people want the best for their horses and I think the best for a horse is not a pressure halter but for a horse to have choices, with a trainer who has soft open hands, a creative imagination and the ability to shape behaviour effectively while thinking with the horse’s brain not their own.

Ben Hart


hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.
 
Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses
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hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.

 

Learn more about how Ben works.

Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses

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Monday, 09 October 2017 13:32

Trusting the little voice | Ben Hart

The body has its own wisdom and responds to the world in a very sensitive way, learning to listen to the wisdom of the body is very important in the development of training skills. The body sends sensations to our brain. We usually experience them as a vague sense of knowing, a gut feeling, a tension, a nervousness or a feeling of peace and happiness.

Listening to the body is very important as the spend and subconscious level it works on can be very accurate compared to the over analytical brain. The little voice is your body's wisdom, it will speak to you just before you eat another cake for instance, saying you are full but we have become so used to overriding the brain that we stop listening and allow the thoughts in our head drive us, I want cake, I deserve cake, just one more won’t hurt. But they are so good, I have eaten two and blown it any way so what difference does a third make, I’ll start healthy eating tomorrow.

This sense we get from the animal and situation relies on our resonance circuitry, our mirror neurons fire when we see behaviour in others causing us to have a sense of another’s experience this is the beginnings of empathy. The more we experience another’s behaviour the better our resonance circuitry is at reproducing what they feel.

Often handlers “know” if their animal is having a bad day, how do they know, do they think it, no they feel it first, a combination of body language, movement, posture, action and reaction, previous experience and behaviour give us a sense of knowing the emotional states of others. Then these feelings connect to the brain and we know and rationalise the feeling to a state of knowing the animal is having a bad day.

Many handlers have a feeling about what they should or should not do, especially when it comes to getting on to go for a ride on a nervous horse, they may experience a sense of fear, nervousness apprehension, it is natural we say, but it is the little voice that is representing our feeling in the body that we actually haven’t done enough work to be sure of the animal’s behaviour, we can trust their behaviour, we are not sure we have the skills to cope. But our analytical brain over rides this again much like when we get to the third piece of cake, don’t be silly you will be fine, don’t be such a whimp, I have to do more otherwise he is going to waste, everyone else will think I am a chicken, I would get on and ride if I was any good. And so we ride. Unfortunately far too often our little voice was right and we shouldn’t be riding and accidents or fearful incidences that make the situation worse do occur.

It is possible that through our life experiences and self protection we have shut off our feeling and our little voice to a level that it is almost imperceptible.  The good news is we can with some work and attention to our bodies open up the channels of communication an reengage with our bodies again learning to listen to the small sense of feeling that is so important if we are to develop our listening skills. Trust the feeling.
hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.
Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses
Published in Trot On Blogs
Thursday, 05 October 2017 12:00

Just Because We Can! | Ben Hart

Just Because We Can! - The first of 5 articles in which Ben Hart questions what we do to horses and why

I suspect there has never been a time in the human relationship with equines that we have pushed so far or learnt so much about what we can do to equines as a species. Over the last twenty years trainers have pushed the boundaries of what was perceived possible. I almost wonder is there anything left to invent that we can physically make do to horses, donkeys and mules.

I mean, can we start horses at 18 months of age and have them racing at 2? We can. Can we get a young horse to tolerate their first set of tack and rider in under 27 minutes? We can. Can we take a horse that hasn’t loaded willingly into a trailer for years due to fear and in a strange environment, with a unfamiliar trainer and in less than 30 minutes have them run up and down the ramp into the box? We can. Can we use gadgets and force enough to pull a horse’s head into such unnatural positions that their tongues turn blue? We can. Can we make a horse so compliant that it will run endless circles around the trainer with minimal reinforcement and no benefits to the animal themselves? We can. Can we train a donkey we don’t know in front of a crowd of people to have tack on for the first time and the get on for the first time and not have a train wreck? We can. Can we train frustrated, angry even aggressive animal to put their ears forward when every natural instinct of the animal is to pin them back, and do so using just food rewards? We can. Can we teach them to sit on balls, allow us to stand on their backs, make them lie down with them on us, roll them over on to their backs while we stand astride them and all manner of other tricks? We can. Can we ask more and more of animal regardless of whether they have already given their best? We can.

I could go on and on and on but I am sure you get the picture. If we can imagine it then someone will create a way to get it done. We have truly mastered the species. As far as I can see there is nothing that the horse is not physically capable of doing that we have not found a way to make them do. In 6000 years we have learnt to control, manipulate, dominate, and train so many different ways, to get faster, more predictable results, be more positive and understand their behaviour more. We have learn to market and sell solutions to ever manner of horse human problems and human aspiration. At this stage of our species relationship with horses, donkeys and mules, are we not the most benevolent, smart, productive, clever and imaginative we have ever been?

All of the things we can do and yet there are still so many equines with behaviour problems, so many owners who feel bullied, horses that are shut down and suffer environmental stress, horses developing learned helplessness and becoming aggressive, frustrated and confused by the countless methods they endure. Horsemanship must still in evolution, or surely we would have solved these problems and we are prevented from evolving further by the lack of one simple question. 

Should we?

It seems to me that if we spent more time asking should we, instead of can we, then we might behave differently towards our equine partners. I am not claiming to be the only upholder of ethical values, there are many good people out there, guided by this simple question “Just because we can does it mean we should?” and I salute them all because it is harder to put aside what we can do and replace it with what we should do. After all, what we should do, most often doesn’t make for great showmanship, or lightning fast results, programmed packages that fit all horses and all handlers regardless of age, ability or experience and it does not make lots of money selling gadgets and equipment to the owners desperate to help their equine.

As trainers, “should we?” Causes us to question not only what we do to equines but asks us to look at what we tell others to do. “Should we?” means we might not demonstrate our amazing powers of horsemanship on every occasion, instead settling for showing only what the audience needs to see in order to increase their own skills and abilities while building their confidence. 

This one question is what is needed to guide us in our relationship with horses, donkeys and mules after all we use it in other areas of life’s challenging dilemmas. Should we have factory farming? Should we experiment on animals? Should we cut down the rainforest? 

The direction of our relationship with equines will be determined by the use of this simple question and those brave souls who are prepared currently to be ridiculed, side-lined, laughed at, written off as weird because they refuse just do what can be done, but instead are guided by what should be done in favour of the animal. 

As we choose a trainer, attend a demonstration, by a book, read the article, are tempted to buy the equipment, decide on a behaviour to train or choose the management, environment, or method for our interaction with equines a simple question should be ringing in our ears “I know we can, but should we?


hartshorsemanship 150Ben Hart hates injustice and wasted potential, and he has a mission to help people understand the true nature of equines by using the honesty of the science of behaviour to help both animals and their people unlock their true potential. He firmly believes working with equines doesn't have to be complicated, dangerous or stressful and by helping people to understand the true and amazing behaviour of equines, he wants them to better understand each other to make life better for horses, donkeys and Mules. Ben removes the myths and dependence on dominance and forceful training methods and focuses on positive, safe effective solutions that centre on both the animal and the human. Ben's delivery of training is unique, ensuring an outstanding experience that is enjoyable and life changing.

Ben Hart's Online Learning Opportunities - Hart's Horsemanship Courses
 
Published in Trot On Blogs

There's a common training myth that we need to act like the Alpha Mare and dominate our horses.

In this one minute video Ben Hart argues against this approach and promotes a better form of leadership that means training with clarity, consistency and direction.


Published in Trot On Blogs

Leading equine trainer, Ben Hart, teaches people how to think, rather than what to think, giving owners the opportunity to develop their own abilities and their own unique equine relationships. Here he gives an interesting insight into spotting the signs of stress in horses.

Early recognition of stress in our horses helps not only as a guide to improving their welfare but can also allow us to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

Stress is a term which is actually coined from structural engineering when talking about the loads and pressure that can be withstood by certain building materials before they break. So when we talk about stress in ourselves or our horses we are by inference talking about the build up of pressure, physical or mental, and how much pressure it takes before something snaps. This pressure can be placed on us by the environment or factors in the environment and it can be physical, like a lack of sleep or a lion chasing us, or it can be mental like a the pressure felt proceeding a big event or meeting a work deadline.

Stress is of course useful to humans, at least in the correct levels. It is designed to create motivation for food foraging, preparation for the flight or fight response, defence of our loved ones, property and possessions. Essentially, it is a set of coping strategies that allows us to deal with the difficulties of survival. Much of our human stress is now only mental, where perceived threats and environmental stress caused by people's behaviour (ours and other peoples) are seen by our bodies as real and are dealt with the same the same way as physical threats.

Through the fight/flight mechanism the correct level of stress serves similar functions in horses, causing them to search out food, avoid difficult or dangerous situations, act defensively and of course be successful in the acquisition of mates.

So how does excess stress show up in our horses?

The stress chemicals that are released in times of conflict, fear, pain or confusion are designed to prepare the horse for fight or flight, therefore any behaviour which is designed for use in the flight or fight response can be indicators of stress in horses. Whether the stress the horse experiences could be considered “good or bad” depends on the length of exposure to the stressor, whether there is an opportunity to release or escape from the stress and the individual nature and experiences of the horse involved. One horse with a fearful nature may from previous experience, find trailer loading very stressful, where as another experienced and more confident animal may only experience a very mild stress during loading.

If you consider a human in a stressed state, you see somebody who is generally more agitated, is likely to fidget and be unable to sit peacefully or quietly for any length of time. They are often less tolerant, more snappy with other people or argumentative. They also will deal with conflict or problems either by avoiding them all altogether or by having excessive arguments and fights with those people around them. These two fight or flight responses as can be seen in equines in the same way.

 

As the balance begins to tip from normal, useful stress levels, to increasingly higher levels we see our horses begin to exhibit unusual or out of character behaviours, usually related to movement of some form. As creatures of movement, they are flight animals after all, the stress chemicals are produced to predominately create preparation to engage the flight response. This preparation for flight starts to show up as movement, the animal becomes a “coiled spring.” When this natural response to stress is prevented either by lead rope, reins, stable confinement or paddock fencing this desire for movement is redirected into other behaviours.

This movement may be an out of character behaviour such as a normally very willing horse not wanting to be caught. Maybe a normally relaxed horse starts to put his ears back and fidgets even threatening to kick while his tack is being fitted. In contrast, under prolonged bouts of chronic stress, the horse that is normally active and alert may become dull and depressed.

Changes in behaviour are vital clues that have to be seen and recognised as potential indications that something may be wrong. The key is in knowing your horse well enough to spot early changes in behaviour before they escalate.

While out riding an increased pace of forward movement may indicate your horse’s level of stress is increasing, as can holding the head higher as if looking for predators or exaggerated head movement. Reluctance to move forward and a slowing of pace can all indicate changing levels of stress.

 

Stabled horses may show signs of stereotypic behaviour such as, box walking, weaving, and walking, repeatedly backing away from and walking up to the stable door, head tossing and more general signs of an aggressive nature such as pinning their ears back and threatening to bite and kick.

If we do not listen to the signs of stress they will continue to escalate into behaviour such as, jogging or trotting at a walking pace, napping behaviour, rearing, bucking or bolting. On the ground we may see them escalate to these similar flight responses and also more of the fight responses of actual kicking and biting.

One of the major causes of stress in equines is conflict.

Equines are not good at dealing with the conflict between two decisions; these may be choices that the horse has to make between different environmental situations. This conflict can be things such as wanting to be with people and receive attention due to previous good experience, but due to current bad handling be very nervous of approaching their human. Another example could be when picking up a foot, not wanting to kick a human but being in pain and wanting to put your foot down again. If the choice is between two negative consequences such as jumping a fence which is uncomfortable or painful because of the riders position or poor use of hands and not jumping the fence which would receive a smack from the riders whip, or where the horse wants to run away from a scary stimulus, but the riders legs and the bit prevents escape then having to choose between these similar negative situations causes the horse to become stressed. They want to run away but they can't. This conflict can then spill over into flight or fight behaviour.

 

One way to avoid stress is to allow the horse to deal with the confines and challenges of domestication. This can only be done through good training practices, a shaping plan which prepares your horse for all manner of necessities of domestication from farrier and vet to riding and loading.

Most importantly, susceptibility to stress can be reduced by building his problem-solving capacity and confidence.

Equines that have been correctly exposed to the obstacles and conditions they might face during their lives through the process of long lining and training on the ground will have a much healthier engagement of the stress mechanism and therefore will be more relaxed, calm and confident.

Most of our unwanted behaviours in our equines are a natural response to dealing with the problems they are faced with.

So, next time your horse is doing something you don’t want him to, look for signs of unhelpful stress and if you spot any it is very important to avoid further escalation of the stress response by listening to your horse, rather than trying to override his fears and forcing him forward and making him deal with stressful situations. Forcing the issue will increase stress and it is likely that the horse’s behaviour will escalate as he tries to solve the problem he perceives using his natural flight behaviour such as bolting, rearing, spinning and napping.

Ben Hart.

 

In our next article we will look more specifically at the causes and treatments for napping and how we can pick up the signs of stress under saddle.

 


Ben Hart is a leading equine trainer who specialises in training horses, donkeys, mules and their human owners. Starting with a background in agriculture and a family history working with heavy horses, as well as the UK and Europe Ben has worked with equines all over the world. From mustangs and race horses in California, stock horses in Australia and working equines in Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mexico. Ben’s use of the science of equine behaviour rather than a one method approach have been successful with traumatised animals at the UK’s leading equine charities and his ability to work with Human behaviour has been utilised by world leading animal welfare organisations such as, WSPA, The Blue Cross, The Brooke and The Donkey Sanctuary. Ben uses his understanding of behaviour to enhance the communication between humans and animals. By teaching people, how to think, rather than what to think, Ben gives any owner or trainer the opportunity to develop their own abilities and to develop their own unique equine relationships. Ben’s delivery of training is unique, ensuring outstanding training experience that is enjoyable and life changing.

Ben uses his knowledge of behaviour and animal welfare to provide Principle Centred Training and facilitation services for animal welfare organisations and businesses. Participatory approaches are used in all aspects of his work and the empowerment of individuals and communities to promote and encourage animal welfare are at the centre of all his working practices.

Ben is also the author of several books on equine behaviour and clicker training as well as creating a unique series of individual equine training plans.

www.hartshorsemanship.com

www.benharttraining.co.uk

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