Monday, 31 October 2016

What does it mean to earn a horse's "trust,"?

Research in equine-assisted mental health has explored how people develop trust by working with horses, but is trust the same for horses as it is for humans?
Social psychologists agree that trust involves giving up some control and accepting vulnerability, with the expectation of being protected from harm.
Dr Robin Foster, Researcher and equine behaviour specialist says
“The balance of power in a relationship affects the balance of control.... the employer-employee and parent-child relationships have an unequal balance of power, with a leader and follower. ...Some   leaders control through intimidation, and aggression…
... most interactions involve an imbalance of power with the human as leader and the horse as follower. Consider, for example, jumping serves the rider’s interests—recognition and a ribbon! The horse, however, takes a risk by jumping, and given a choice most horses would probably take the safe route and go around. An important question is, why does the horse cooperate and jump? Does past experience [ indicate] that the rider will ensure his safety? Or does he jump to avoid pain that might result by not cooperating?”
She continues “Trust is fragile, and repeated trust violations can damage both present and future relationships.”
So, researchers agree that horsemen can earn a horse’s “trust” by:
·       using consistent and skilled handling techniques (cues, movements)
·       be tuned in to the to the horse’s emotional state (tension/relaxation)
·       provide frequent, positive experiences
So let’s go out and be trustworthy riders!

Monday, 24 October 2016


I’m asked this regularly. I may dig a little deeper, “Tell me what you mean by bonding.”
If bonding means to you:
  • my horse feels safe/relaxed in my presence
  • he understands me,
 I’d say that’s very important. However, if you’re hoping for your horse to share your human emotional needs and share your goals, probably not.
Dr. Robin Foster, researcher of equine behaviour, writes that the horse’s perspective probably does not mirror the human experience.
 “People have an emotionally based social need for companionship, and research shows relationships with animals help to satisfy this need.
In contrast, a horse’s social needs are rarely met through his relationships with humans. In a recent article published in the journal Behavioural Processes researchers reported that horses are more interested in and form stronger connections with other horses than with humans. Horses tend to be wary of humans at first…”
 Attachment to humans might be stronger when horses are hand-reared, but researchers cautioned that
“the negative welfare implications of keeping horses socially isolated from others of the same species may constitute an ethical dilemma for caregivers wanting to increase their horse’s attachment to them.” 
How to make a horse feel safe? Is this the same as “trust?”
More about this next blog, but I’d like to hear your thoughts…
My list starts with
  1. the predictability of my movements and cues
  2. the predictability of the environment and schedule I provide

Friday, 7 October 2016

Do helmets give us a false sense of security?

A CBC interview about helmet safety piqued my interest.

I learned that in nearly every study of hospital admission rates, helmeted cyclists are 80% less likely to receive serious head and brain injuries —but these stats apply only for those who get into accidents.

So here’s the flip side –research says that helmeted cyclists bike faster, take more risks, and ride in riskier environments.
We’ve also discovered safety feature in cars give drivers a fall sense of security – what psychologists call “risk compensation”.

The University of Guelph’s driving lab put drivers in a simulator and told them to watch for moose.  Drivers sped up when they knew their cars were equipped with special moose detectors. “The moose would be in the back seat before people stopped the car,” remarked the lab’s director.
Risky behavior. At every horse show I see impetuous riders – climbing aboard fresh, distracted or green horses – prey animals in a busy, unfamiliar environment…but these riders are wearing their helmets. Yikes!
Compare two riders who’ve brought their young horses to the horse show: the western reiner, on a supple, focused, carefully prepped horse who chooses not to wear a helmet, and the helmeted rider on the distracted, jigging horse – resistant to rein aids and without lateral cues installed.
I guess in the event of a fall, the helmet will minimize damage.  But wouldn’t it be better not to fall in the first place?
I guess the best overall solution would be to ride it as if you had no helmet…  and then wear one.