Approach to Behavioural Change

Equine behaviour can be modified using a number of methods.

All are based on shaping equine behaviour with positive re-enforcement without force or fear. 

Before any training method is started, it is essential that the horse is checked to ensure the behaviour is not resulting from pain or illness.

Clicker Training 

 

Clicker training is a method of letting the horse know it has done something right and then, in the early stages of training, rewarding with food.

When the horse hears a click, which is made by a little plastic device, it will be rewarded, which in turn reinforces the necessary change in behaviour.

This method is cheap, simple to administer and effective if done correctly. 

You can get a clicker here. They are quite inexpensive.

The downside is you must be really focused and ensure the horse associates the click, and subsequent reward, with the desired change in behaviour.

We have known horses that are very food motivated to become “nippy” after extensive clicker training.

Recommended Reading

 

Clicker Training For Your Horse by Alexandra Kurland

“This book has changed everything. 

My horse really looks forward to doing the exercises explained in the book and he’s a lot happier for it!”

 

Desensitising / Exposure Therapy

If a horse has specific issues, gentle exposure therapy can be very effective. 

As a real-life example, one of our horses was very scared of electric clippers. When we first bought him, mild sedation was required before he could be clipped.

So we deconstructed the clipping process into its component parts, and started to gently familairise him with the sound and sensation of the clippers. 

It went something like this:

  • Start getting him used to the sound of clippers or something similar – we started off with an electric toothbrush as is wasn’t as loud as clippers
  • Do not touch the horse to start with, just give regular but small exposure until you do not get any reaction.
  • Next, get him used to the feel of mild vibration on a non-sensitive area, i.e. the shoulder (definitely not the head, belly or rear end). Do not apply the toothbrush direct at first, touching with the hand, so transmitted vibration minimal
  • Apply the toothbrush directly
  • Get used to the sound of real clippers.
  • Apply to non sensitive areas, at first through the hand, similar to above
  • Apply clipper body direct to the horse’s body.

Throughout this process, ensure that you are calm and reassuring. Giving a neck scratch throughout to reassure your horse.

The critical thing is to be patient – not moving from one stage until there is genuinely no reaction from the horse. 

If the process is rushed, you will make the situation ten times worse through frightening or stressing the horse. 

Equine Behaviour Consultants

The Society of Equine Behaviour Consultants (SEBC) is a professional body regulating the practice of their registered Equine Behaviour Consultants in the UK.

Ben Hart is one of the UK’s leading equine trainers, with a background in agriculture and a family history working with heavy horses. 

Ben is also the author of several books on equine behaviour and clicker training, as well as the creator of a unique series of individual equine training plans. Based in Devon, Ben travels throughout the UK. More details can be found on www.hartshorsemanship.com

Suzanne Rogers, a qualified equine behaviourist can provide consultations in Surrey and surrounding areas. www.learningaboutanimals.co.uk

Ground Work and behaviour Clinics or Demos are offered by Chris Morris, a Certified Monty Roberts Instructor. www.whisperingequus.co.uk/horse-clinics

Justine Harrison is a fully certified member of the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC), a practitioner member of the International Society of Equitation Science (ISES), a member of the British Veterinary Behaviour Association (BVBA) and the Equine Behaviour Forum. www.equinebehaviourist.co.uk

Anna Saillet uses reward based training methods and scientific knowledge to help equine owners to develop a deeper understanding of their animal’s behaviour. Anna offers a supportive service to enable people to develop a more harmonious relationship with their equine partners. www.equinebehavioursolutions.co.uk

Kay Willoughby, a qualified and registered Equine Behavioural Consultant studied under the watchful eye of Dr Debbie Marsdon Bsc, PhD, an internationally recognized expert in behaviourial issues. Kay runs a small livery yard alongside her Behavioural Consultancy Business based in Northamptonshire. www.calmandcollected.co.uk