Sunday, 28 April 2013

Equine Behaviour term of the week: Stereotypies

My students thought I made a typo on my power point – odd word, stereotypy. These are things we know as cribbing, weaving stall walking, etc. Defined as an action that’s practised out of its original context/ environment until it becomes repetitive, mechanical and compulsive.

• Triggered by stress or pain, initially.

• Brings relief, pleasure, releases dopamine (pleasure brain chemical)

• Once habit formed (compulsive), will occur when horse is not under stress

• Purposeless: It doesn’t get the horse anywhere except a temporary “feel good.”

Looks crazy perhaps, to see a horse wavering back and forth, or grabbing any edge and sucking in air. But what do we humans do to normalize life, but it doesn’t really get us anywhere? Buy more stuff, have another drink, rebound into another relationship…is it wise to take stock from time to time to check if anything in life is becoming repetitive, mechanical, purposeless?

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Do horses watch and learn?

While nearly three-quarters of owners, when asked, believe that horses can learn negative behaviors from each other (such as cribbing), Evelyn Hanggi, MS PhD, president of the Equine Research Foundation, said as yet there is no research supporting this theory. "In reality, the appearance of stereotypies (vices such as cribbing) in horses living near each other is more likely caused by genetic relatedness or to the stress of existing in the same, inappropriate environment," she said.

While researchers continue to study this, it’s safe to say at this point, you need not fret about your horse’s cribbing neighbor at the boarding stable, or hope that your reining horse will learn to stop by watching your trainer’s horse slide.

Interestingly, stereotypies are unknown in non domestic horses: another reason to naturalize our horse’s lives as much as it’s possible to fit in with our chosen discipline and situation, don’t you think?

Friday, 12 April 2013

Horse Shows: Exam Time

Students in the Equine Behaviour class I teach wrote their final exams today. Remember reading a test question and the thrill of “Yes! I studied that!”? Conversely, “Rats, I meant to go in for extra help with that…I hoped it wouldn’t be on the test.”

Schooling shows, provincial shows, national shows – quizzes, tests and exams. With the first spring show around the corner, now’s the time to be acquiring the skills from your coach and working them out in your practice ring so you can have a ready answer when the question presents itself in the show ring.

Be it a rollback turn in equitation over fences, counter-canter in a horsemanship pattern or a water obstacle filled with the real stuff in competitive trail, there’s nothing like the confidence of having a ready answer!