Monthly Archives: October 2005

Learning Patterns

The behavior and learning patterns of a horse play a major role in the training process. These patterns are established by instincts, genetic makeup, and environment. We are not in total control of these patterns but we can to some degree help or hinder the direction they go in. These patterns are set at an early age but I believe that we can affect how they develop if we are aware of what they are and how we can use them in our daily training.
A horses behavior patterns are based on the horse’s natural instincts for survival and his ability to process information. A horse is a prey animal that uses flight, as it’s primary survival mechanism, and horses are defensive by nature. The horses lack of desire for confrontation tells us that he does not deal well with stress. He would rather run now and think later. We can encourage the horses decision making ability by employing the horses motivating factors as stimulus. We present something to a horse and we either encourage or discourage his response.
Learning patterns are established through the environment a horse lives in. This is where the quality and quantity of handling or training will directly affect how a horse behaves. The herd establishes these learning patterns initially, and it is continually developing as a horse matures. When we train a horse we can use the patterns that have been established if we understand what motivates a horse to act the way they do, and can we change that behavior if we understand how to motivate them in different ways?
Horses are motivated by fear and by comfort. There are other things like food and libido that do motivate some horses but they are not motivators that we can use effectively in an average training program.
As a prey animal a horse is always aware of potential danger and given a choice will remove itself from a fearful situation. Many domestic horses do not have that choice as a viable option. If a horse has no way to deal with fear they learn less effectively because they are sincerely afraid and nothing learns well under that kind of stress. Horses that form a fear based learning pattern will be more reactive and often become over achievers. They learn not because they feel good but because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they do not perform. They are essentially working under duress.
A horse that has comfort as a motivator will often be more confident, and more deliberate in him movements. If there is always a reward when they try to perform a horse will continue to try. When the horse is motivated to try it is only a matter of time until he performs correctly because he has been encouraged to feel good about what he is doing.
A horses ability to make a decision is often over ridden by his instinct to react first and think second. The more afraid a horse becomes the less capable he is of making a decision about how best to deal with the situation he finds himself in. The decision making process needs to be developed as it is not a tool that horses rely on to keep them alive.