Our principal responsibility as the guardian/caretaker, the one in charge, the one in control and the supposedly more intelligent of the two species must be to always ask WHY before making any judgment of a horse’s actions (or using any type of reactionary punishment to what we consider an improper action that a horse has made).
To do otherwise, could very well be considered by some as arrogant, blind abuse of the worst kind that will truly foretell the age-old adage: “You reap what you sow.”
Equine Funktionslust is not just an expression. Nor is Total Equine Environmental Enrichment.
They are a combined philosophy and way of life that develops not only a day-to-day, highly functional working partnership but also acquiring the optimum levels of an intimate interspecies friendship between the human and equine species.
Give then every opportunity possible to enjoy their work without pain, fear or resentment. You will never regret it. For the questions are NOT, “How can I make them DO something?” nor… “How can I make them NOT do something?” The real questions are; “How can I make them feel like he is the greatest Horse that ever lived?” “How can I modify their perception of me from being just another controlling human to a trusted friend that will never put him in harm’s way?”
“How can I alter their regard for our mounted activities from monotonous drudgery to scintillating adventurous achievement?” “How can I endear their mind to embrace their spirit, instead of diminishing it?” In short, “How can I win their heart?”
Possible reasons for a horse “acting out” when being saddled and/or ridden.
- Sore back. Poor saddle fit, in sufficient or worn pad, vertebrae out of alignment, etc. (Reference #16).
- Girth sores, insect bites or a minor injury where girth or saddle is positioned (or sensitivity from same).
- Mouth sensitivity. Includes (but not limited to) mouth/tongue/lip injury or sores, hot spot from bit or sharp spot on bit, abusive/improper use of the reins (commonly referred to as ‘bad hands’) bad tooth/teeth and/or wolf teeth, ‘tongue-over bit’ or a horse that is unaccustomed to the restricted breathing/choking sensation of the bit. (Reference #16.)
- Diminished visibility due to old age, temporary infection or injury that is not immediately obvious, which would increase apprehension/fear due to the horse’s diminished ability to survive insofar as detecting a predator attack.
- Too little regular association/interaction, exercise and/or no habit or pattern established of doing even limited riding on a fairly regular basis to imprint a positive Life Pattern.
- Too much and/or too “hot/rich” of a supplemental feed. (Excessive energy patterns, etc.)
- Internal ulcers, trauma, (whether chronic or acute) etc, that the horse tolerates under less stressful, normal living conditions but is forced to exhibit displeasure when engaged in mounted activities.
- Growth spurt causing a young horse to test and possibly reestablish himself to a higher herd rank than his rider. (The “Terrible Twos and Threes.”)
- Emergent Emotional Intelligence/Maturity. While two and three year old horses may look physically fit to carry a rider and tack, the equine bone structure does not mature until it is six or seven years old. Their back is the last part of his bone structure to mature. This is directly proportionate to his emotional maturity and would be comparable to expecting the average four-year-old human to sit attentively through an entire opera without once squirming or squiggling in impatience and/or distractive inattention. (If this is the case, you are riding a horse that is not physically or emotionally mature enough to be ridden.)
- Abnormal need for ascension in herd rank (genotype). This is exemplified when a small horse of low herd rank is constantly seen with injuries caused by his continuous, insistent challenging horses of higher herd rank that are forced to wreak physical punishment for CONTINUALLY challenging them.
- Abnormal aggressiveness (genotype) as displayed by an Alpha’s constant physical attacks on other horses of lower herd rank for no apparent reason. While genetic in origin, it may also be aggravated by a lack of confidence in maintaining present herd rank (much like the proverbial grade school bully).
- The horse lacks self-confidence in the rider and feels that his herd rank, position and/or very survival is threatened by absolute submission to the rider. (Reference #18.)
- Bipolar disorder, (and/or other possible neurological disease/injury-trauma.)
- A mare’s overreaction and abnormal sensitivity to estrous.
- An adverse drug reaction, (oral or subcutaneous /intravenous injection) consumption of toxic plants or contaminated hay/feed may cause chronic and/or acute pain and/or sudden mood changes.
- Previous life experiences associated with a negative stimuli implanting a fear imprint on the Amygdala. Either abusive handling, abusive mounted activities and/or a mild injury in what the horse deemed a deadly, life-threatening situation. Associative situational circumstance activates an abnormal oppositional or fear/flight response (similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in humans.) This can be triggered by a situational environmental stimuli as well as a physical touch to a specific part of the body, a specific sound or a specific scent.
- Positive Response trigger/imprint is not deep enough to control and/or calm horse with a verbal Calm Down’ cue when the horse feels excitation of a severe apprehensive survival/stress situation (cortical override of a fear/flight reaction of a negative stimuli induced by an Amygdala fear imprint).
- Insufficient relationship/trust factors. Suppressive imprint is inadequate to instill cortical override and nullify previous fear imprints and/or separation anxiety disorder. Inadequate trust factors and nonreciprocal communication levels result in a confrontational relationship versus a harmonious partnership. This results in minimal (if at all) Peer Attachment/Pair Bond relationship shared by the horse and rider and a complete absence of the ‘Herd of two within the herd’ symbiotic, co- dependent relationship.
- Emotional trauma (oppositional defiance disorder) caused by excessive stalling, isolation and/or disassociation and lack of interaction with other horses and/or natural freedom of movement 24/7.
- Fear imprint triggered by association to the specific scent (cologne/deodorant) or apparel/accessory such as a particular hat, coat, etc.
- (Rider induced lameness, soreness or discomfort caused by a rider that is unfamiliar with the biomechanics of the horse’s body in movement carrying a rider. (Reference #16.) Inexperienced or apprehensive/fearful rider that has not acquired the necessary balance and confidence.
- Fear imprint reaction actuated by tolerating the emotional pressure of a specific situational environment (being ridden). This may have been caused by the present rider on his back or a previous rider that exhibited unfair treatment and/or physical punishment.
- Stimulus Stacking. Stimulus Stacking occurs when several milder causals previously listed are experienced in a short period of time. While any one by itself in particular may not cause nociceptive reactions, the combination of several at one time surpasses the horse’s tolerance.
- Traditional training relies on intimidation and fear. When something more fearful presents itself, the horse will do anything to escape including removing the rider from their back. This could easily have been prevented using reward-based training.
- *I have also heard that the girth can press on the Vagus nerve of some horses causing an irregular heartbeat that results in extreme “cinchiness” and or bucking when first mounted. The Vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve. It is a mixed sensory and motor nerve.
It is my understanding that the neurological system is divided into central and peripheral areas – the brain and spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System (CNS). There are 12 cranial nerves that originate in the brainstem to innervate the organs of sight, smell, and hearing, the muscles of swallowing and mastication, the tongue, sensation of the face, and use of the eye and facial muscles. Abnormalities of these nerves will produce changes in head carriage, balance, eye position, ear and eyelid tone and position, vision, smell, hearing, and problems prehending, chewing, and swallowing food. The 10th cranial nerve, the Vagus nerve, also affects cardiac function, respiratory function, and GI motility.
Given the horse’s incapability to communicate using traditional training formats, he has little choice but to disobey by jigging around and/or bucking when, in HIS judgment, due to fear, apprehension, pain, discomfort and/or frustration as HE thinks the situation warrants.
*Any of the preceding (or any combination thereof to any degree) could very well result in the “spooking at nothing” of an obviously familiar object to jigging and actual bucking in an attempt to dislodge the rider as well as a seemingly ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality.
This is traditionally viewed as “bad behavior” when in fact it is a complete lack of insight, knowledge and understanding on the part of the rider.
There are several key factors involved; Communication, Understanding, Trust and Intimacy.
Communication: If the horse has not been given the opportunity to communicate his feelings in what the human feels is acceptable, then his only recourse is to communicate his feelings the only way he can (by jigging, spooking or bucking). If a horse bucks in a manner that may possibly dislodge his rider, he is literally screaming at his rider that something is terribly wrong (either with their relationship and/or external stimuli). His “inappropriate actions” are directly due in great part to not having an acceptable mode of communication (i.e., no reciprocal communication allowed).
Understanding: An extensive knowledge base of the Equine species instinctual, emotional, intellectual and physiological facets would be an essential prerequisite. This would give one in-depth judgment factors in determining the extremity (if any) of the specific personality traits of an individual horse and “why he acts the way he does.” Thus it not an initial requisite of the behavior modification of the Horse, but rather the needed perception modification of the human.
Intimacy: To develop the highest possible level of Intimacy, one would need to know the exact steps that all horses use to establish and nurture Equine Friendship (Peer Attachment) with just one other horse in the herd. We cannot instill our values of friendship and camaraderie in the Horse. He has his own and has refined them for thousands/millions of years. It would therefore seem logical to use his judgment and value system (if one desired to reach the highest possible levels of an intimate interspecies friendship).
Trust: Trust is directly proportionate to the established levels of Communication, Understanding and Intimacy. If we cannot clearly communicate our intentions, there is no basis for establishing any appreciable level of Understanding or Intimacy. We would never think of asking a stranger from a foreign land to completely trust us with his life in what to him would be potentially deadly situations. Yet we constantly expect this of the Horse from the first moment we touch him. Our human culture is filled with idiosyncrasies. In America, it is customary when meeting someone to shake hands. Yet in India, shaking hands with a woman would be considered rude. In Japan, one would bow instead of ‘shaking hands.’Just as International businesses must learn each other’s cultural mannerisms to communicate and establish a rapport, we must also learn the cultural mannerisms of the Horse (if we desire those unequivocal levels of Trust, Understanding, Communication and an intimate Friendship).None of the above take into account the possible extremes of abnormal sensory sensitivity of any particular horse nor their predominant Basic Origin.