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Training


For years psychologists all over the world, have researched how people learn, and thousands of scientific studies have been conducted to identify the way that people learn and how to teach them. The whole world has an education system for humans based on these scientific studies.

It would seem reasonable to do the same for our animals.

The results of scientific studies of animal behaviour has produced proven information on how and what horses can learn, and how it is best to ethically teach them. We can now train horses efficiently and predominantly without stress using this knowledge. Information on the wastage rates in the horse industry is now regularly published in the press. By imporoving our basic training methods and systems we can reduce this senseless wastage of our equine friends.

 

At YRS most of our training is based on Equitation Science. Susan has also trained with some of the most world renowned masters of the equestrian world, such as Nuno Olivera, Franz Meringa, Martin Plewa, Ginny Ling and Christopher Bartle. training_a

As a national dressage judge, EA Technical Delegate for Horse Trials, EA SSTA assessor, an EA General Level I coach and having recently gained her Level I Equitation Science Theory Certificate in addition to her many years competing, Susan is well qualified and experienced to assist with the training you require. Susan has a passion for training riders with correct independent positions and for all to achieve their personal goals. Horses must be treated with respect and kindness while maintaining effective maintenance of their training and increasing the training of the horses individually and combining this with upskilling riders knowledge and skill.

 

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Training programs are tailored to the individual needs of the horses and the riders. These programs are developed after discussion with the owners and/or riders and evaluation of the horse and its history. Please contact us to discuss your individual needs. Take a coffee break and read our adapted Learning Theory Our roadmap to fair training of our equines When we train fairly, consistently and ethically horses will develop in us! (Adapted from the ISES Training Principles) Training Principle 1 – horse’s ethology and cognition this is just their natural behaviour and their ability to process things in their mind – God forgot to give them a prefrontal cortex – the bit we humans have and often do not use wisely! DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: recognition of Ethology and Cognition? Ethology is the study of animal behaviour that provides information on how animals have evolved to live. It helps to explain natural equine social structures and behavioural needs. Since horses need the company of their own species and readily form attachment bonds, isolation is detrimental. They have evolved to walk and graze for about 16 hours per day. Cognition refers to the ways animals process information about the world. Compared to humans, horses’ prefrontal cortex is relatively small, so they may not experience events as we do. They excel at memorising and recognising stimuli that trigger certain responses, particularly those that keep them safe. We must be careful not to overestimate equine intelligence and to say things like “he knows what he did wrong”, especially when trying to justify punishment. Equally, we should not underestimate cognitive abilities by supposing that horses do not have emotions. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: Isolation and restricted locomotion and foraging have a negative impact on horse welfare. Similarly over- or underestimating horses’ intelligence also can have negative welfare implications. Training Principle 2 – Use learning theory appropriately DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: the appropriate use of Habituation, Sensitisation, Operant conditioning, Shaping and Classical conditioning? Habituation refers to the process of response reduction, which can occur after repeated exposure to a particular event or stimulus. Horses are innately fearful of new/unfamiliar things (i.e. they are neophobic) and may react to various stimulus characteristics, such as size/magnitude, novelty, proximity, and sudden appearance or occurrence. Objects that are moving, especially if erratic and/or coming towards them, may be hard for them to identify, even when familiar. A range of desensitisation techniques can be used to achieve habituation. Systematic desensitisation, approach conditioning, overshadowing, counter-conditioning, and stimulus blending are some methods of desensitisation. See Table 1 for further explanation and practical examples. Sensitisation is when the responses made by an individual increase, i.e. become more intense. If an individual experience a series of arousing attractive or aversive stimuli, sensitisation describes the likelihood that it will respond more quickly or with more intensity to these stimuli in the future. This increased response may generalise to a whole class of stimuli. Operant conditioning describes training using rewards and punishment. There are 4 subsets (see Table 2 for practical examples): 1. Positive reinforcement: is the addition of something the horse values to increase the occurrence of the desired behaviour. Primary positive reinforcers are resources that horses naturally value such as food and gentle touch. Training becomes more efficient if the reinforcement is given immediately at the onset of the correct response. Secondary positive reinforcers can also be used but have to be reliably linked to primary reinforcers. These often take the form of auditory stimuli, such as a clicker or a consistent vocalised sound made when the desired response is performed by the horse. 2. Negative reinforcement is the removal of something the horse wants to avoid to increase the occurrence of the desired behaviour. Negative reinforcement in horse training often relies on the use of pressure and it should ultimately be very subtle.Pressure motivates horses but the release of that pressure is what trains them. Applying pressure for inter-gait and intra-gait transitions relies on the trainer beginning with a light pressure cue followed by the maintenance, repetition or increase of the pressure and then the release at the onset of the desired reaction. 3. Positive punishment is the adding of something aversive after an undesired behaviour has been performed in order to decrease the likelihood of that behaviour occurring in the future. Positive punishment can have negative welfare implications and should be avoided. If used, it should be carefully timed to coincide with the occurrence of the undesired behaviour. 4. Negative punishment is the removal of something the horse values after an undesired behaviour has been performed in order to decrease the likelihood of the occurrence of that behaviour in the future. Negative punishment is rarely used except for prompt removal of attention or food to suppress a behaviour. Timing is important for all types of operant conditioning: the reinforcing or punishing stimulus must occur in connections with the targeted behaviour. Classical conditioning is the process by which an association is made between two stimuli. For example, the animal is presented with a neutral stimulus (e.g. a visual signal that does not per se elicit a response from the horse) and this is followed by a biologically relevant stimulus (e.g. an aversive stimulus such as pain or a pleasant stimulus such as food or freedom) and the animal links them together. In the future the neutral stimulus is responded to by the horse. In equitation, classical conditioning describes situations where horses respond to light cues or signals given by the rider or handler. When first used, these must be carefully paired with the signal known to already elicit the response for the initial association to occur. For example, a verbal command can be used to slow/stop the horse if the command is paired with a rein signal to which the horse has already learned to slow/stop. After the association has been created the verbal command can be used without the rein signal to stop/slow the horse. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: The misuse of pressure/discomfort has the potential for serious welfare implications. Training Principle 3 – Train easy-to-discriminate cues DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: that operant and classically conditioned signals are easily discriminated? Because of a large number of responses required in horse training, (especially under-saddle), it is important that all signals are as clear and as different as possible to enable the horse to discriminate them. This is important in order to avoid confusing the horse, which can result in undesired behaviours and stress. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: Not using clear and separate signals can lead to confusion and stress and consequently horse responses that compromise performance and rider safety. Training Principle 4 – Shape responses and movements DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: that, for any trained behaviour, training begins by reinforcing basic attempts at the target behaviour and then gradually improving approximations of that behaviour? It is important to have a plan when training a horse to perform a new response. The horse’s initial responses should be rewarded. As training progresses the horse should only be rewarded for responses that become more and more similar to the ultimate goal. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: Poor use of shaping can lead to confusion and responses that compromise equine understanding and performance. Training Principle 5 – Elicit responses one-at-a-time DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: that individual cues/signals are separated in time from each other? Giving the horse multiple signals at the same time can result in a reduction in responding of any required behaviour. This is because the horse is unable to process two or more signals concurrently as both compete for the horse’s attention. Especially the use of opposite signals (such as acceleration and deceleration) at the same time should be avoided. In the early stages of training, signals should be well separated however eventually they can be given closer together. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: The use of opposite signals at the same time can confuse the horse, through weakening the trained link between signal and behaviour/response, and quickly lead to stress and consequently responses that compromise horse performance and welfare, and rider safety. Training Principle 6 – Train only one response per signal DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: that each signal elicits a single response? While each response may be elicited by a variety of signals (i.e. rein cue or lead rope) it is most important that each signal elicits only one response. If the same signal is used to elicit more than one response, confusion begins to set in as predictability decreases. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: The use of ambiguous rein and leg signals lead to confusion, stress and responses that compromise performance and rider safety. Training Principle 7 – Form consistent habits DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: consistency? When training new responses, it is important that the same signals are used on the same part of the horse’s body, or in the same location relative to the horse’s body and that all contextual aspects such as place, equipment and person are kept constant. This is because during the acquisition of new responses, all contextual information is initially included in the array of stimuli associated with the particular response, and maintaining consistency promotes efficient uptake of the associated cue and avoids excessive stress of prolonged training. Once each response is reliably given in response to the signal used, contextual aspects can be gradually removed. Similarly, when training inter-gait and intra-gait transitions, consistency in both the delivery of associated signals and the timeframe in which the responses are elicited and reinforced is essential to promote efficient learning and to avoid confusion. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: Inconsistent training can lead to dull responses that compromise understanding and clarity and therefore result in stress and confusion and/or lead the rider to use stronger rather than lighter cues. Training Principle 8 – Train persistence of responses (self-carriage) DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: the continuation of locomotor responses so that the horse learns to ‘keep going’ in speed, line and posture to avoid any need for constant rein or leg signalling and reduce the risk of the horse stopping responding to the signals. This outcome is an important goal in shaping of equitation responses. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: The consequences of a lack of self-carriage range from dull responses to hyper-reactive responses that compromise welfare, performance, and rider safety. Training Principle 9 – Avoid and dissociate flight responses DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: an absence of flight responses? Flight responses have unique characteristics. They tend to be difficult or even impossible to remove and may reappear spontaneously. Training processes that involves systematic/deliberate triggering of fear responses should be avoided because fear inhibits learning and reduces equine welfare. Flight response behaviours are often accompanied by: • Increased HPA-axis activity (raised catecholamine (e.g. adrenaline) and glucocorticoid (e.g. cortisol) levels) • Increased muscle tone – preparedness for flight/escape • Aggression related behaviour • Displacement behaviours and • Behaviours arising from confusion and stress A horse that frequently shows flight responses tends to be stressed. Frequent and/or chronic stress can lead to one or more of the following: • Learning and memory deficits • Compromised immunity • Digestive disturbances • Redirected aggression • Ritualisation of the original behaviours indicative of stress (possibly developing into stereotypes) Horse training should not result in flight responses. Stress results in problem behaviours (including escape and aggression). Both acute and chronic stress have a negative impact on horse welfare. Training Principle 10 – Demonstrate minimum levels of arousal sufficient for training DOES YOUR TRAINING DEMONSTRATE: appropriate relaxation? Trainers should be able to show that the horse is as relaxed as possible during training. Whilst it is widely agreed that certain levels of physical and mental arousal (e.g. muscle tone and attentiveness) are necessary for learning to take place, it is important these levels are not exceeded resulting in a negative impact on learning, training and horse welfare. WELFARE IMPLICATIONS: Whilst insufficient arousal may lead to lack of motivation for learning, excessive arousal may compromise welfare and be related to stress (acute and/or chronic) with associated behaviours such as aggression, flight or learned helplessness).

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YASS RIDING SCHOOL
138 Manton Road
Manton NSW 2582
Australia

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Mobile: 0402 596 252
Email: susan@yassridingschool.com.au