Worksheet 3

Looking at the World Through your Horse's Eyes

Books at this level become a little more personal and what I found useful might not be right for you. Here are some I liked:

  • Minding Animals - Marc Bekoff
  • Empty Cages - Tom Regan
  • If a Lion could talk - Stephen Budiansky
  • When Elephants weep - J. Masson & S. McCarthy

Think about the answers to these questions. They are deliberately challenging so that you can assess your understanding and develop your "feel". You won't find the answers in any book - this is about you and the horse. Gradually expand these examples to life in general.

  • Think about the implications of free-shaping. How is it different from "normal" training? (Clue: think about decision-making, trust, personality). Why would it be unethical to combine free-shaping with some method based on punishment?

  • Try wearing your watch on the opposite wrist from normal. How do you feel each time you look at the wrong wrist? How would you feel if you were being punished each time you made a mistake?

  • Go to watch some different trainers give demonstrations, workshops etc. Do they "walk the talk"? If any "bad" behaviour takes place, could the trainer have avoided pushing the horse to such a limit? Learn to recognise when the horse is being pushed beyond its comfort zone and think up shaping programmes so that you could still ultimately achieve the same goals. Think about what the horses are learning, as opposed to doing.

  • How do you feel when you are criticised for something? How does your behaviour change? Defensiveness? Upset? Laugh it off? How would you feel if this reaction was denied to you? Can you see how we often do this to our horses?

  • Think about why a horse might bite/kick/bolt/not stand for the farrier etc. You should have a list of reasons for each behaviour. How might you deal with these problems using positive reinforcement? (Clue: think back to Don't Shoot the Dog and "changing the motivation")

  • Think about the concept of "Empty Cages" (see both Tom Regan's book and my article). Are there areas of your horse management and/or training that could be improved, even if there is no obvious problem?

  • Think of an occasion when fear and/or nerves have let you down - for example an exam, a show, a dressage test etc. Would it have helped if someone had shouted at you, nagged you, hit you? Do you see how we often expect horses to do as they're told, despite being afraid?

Please feel free to contact me if there is anything you are not sure about. Maybe you disagree with me and want to debate it! I am here to help as well as to challenge!