The benefits of equine learning and psychology in training
It is demonstrated that mental health and well-being in athletes are essential to good performance, but common research still lacks in the equine population. Additionally, horseback riding is the sport with the highest rate of injuries and many horses are “lost” because of behavioural problems. This motivates us to train and manage our horses more consciously. This review summarizes the actual scientific and practical knowledge of equine learning as guidelines to enhance the physical and psychological welfare of horse and trainer.
One of the findings of this study is that the use of pressure to communicate with horses should be adjusted to every horse at every moment. The time interval between the given aid and the required behaviour determines how the horse interprets the aid. Besides, too many stimuli at the same time make the horse choose his response himself. In order to effectively train a horse with habituation, stimuli must be offered equal and constant throughout the training plus stimuli must be applied sequentially following the shaping procedure to achieve the required final behaviour.
Furthermore, it is established that positive reinforcement is more likely to make the horse display the target behaviour and show increased motivation. The negative reinforcement of incorrect behaviours should be avoided as this cultivates the behaviour. Moreover, punishment can lead to dangerous reactions or reduce spontaneous activity, which are associated with decreased attention and learning, a negative perception of the environment and depressive-like disorders.
Expert opinion by Isabeau Deckers
Horse trainers should carefully take all factors into account affecting the welfare of their horses. A balanced relationship between horse and men is essential for the psychological component and this can be managed by the practices of equine learning and psychology. Factors such as the timing, intensity and sequence of training stimuli should be deeply understood by all individuals working with horses and implied in their daily practices. Positive reinforcement should be considered as favoured communication tool and positive punishment should be avoided in all times. This review acts as useful guidelines to attain the psychological, physical and economic benefits of these practices.
> From: Baragli et al., Annali dell'Istituto Superiore di Sanità 51 (2015) 40-51. All rights reserved to P. Baragli. Click here for the online summary.