Studying for my Masters degree at Hartpury has opened my eyes to how much more there is to learn. I am a BHS Stage 4 coach in complete horsemanship, I have ridden since I was two, I have owned horses for a large proportion of my life and have competed in numerous disciplines, I have been an equine college lecturer, and consider myself quite knowledgeable. Part of my decision in doing this degree was to update my knowledge in part so that I can pass it onto equine distance learning students. I was envious of my children learning so much every day at school and had a thirst for more knowledge.
David Marlin did a really interesting piece of research looking at horse owners perceived versus actual knowledge and he discovered that “all equestrians had an inflated confidence in their equine related knowledge indicating that equine related individuals have only moderate insight into their abilities”. Another study was done by Visser et al (2011) and after questioning over 4000 equestrian enthusiasts, she found that ‘new’ horse enthusiasts seem to lack correct knowledge, beliefs and daily practices to ensure welfare of horses, and ‘old’ horse enthusiasts tend to be less receptive to new insights and are reluctant to change their habits. In essence, horse owners think they know more than they do and are reluctant to change the way they do things whether it is managing or training their horse. They tend to use methods passed down to them from other ‘experts’, even if they are methods that are not actually correct. Are you one of these people?
Another common problem with horse owners is that they are anthropomorphic and they think that their horse feels and thinks in the same way as they do. An example thought may be "Its cold and rainy this week so I will keep my horse stabled to keep him warm and dry.". The horse is actually thinking "I wish I would be out in the field displaying my natural behaviours: moving, foraging and socialising. Being kept in my stable makes me stressed". Another example, "My horse has been really well behaved this week so I will give him some extra concentrate feed." This will only make him crave high starch food more, making him more stressed and susceptible to gastric ulcers and stereotypic behaviour. If I was to give you one piece of advice when deciding upon how to manage your horse, it would be to always bear in mind that the horse will be happiest when he has access to freedom of movement, if he is able to socialise with other horses, and if he has lots of forage available to eat.
With recent research on learning theory and how the horses brain works, many old fashioned and tried and tested methods of training or keeping horses are being questioned for the sake of the horse’s welfare. Dr. Sue Dyson has come up with a facial and ridden ethogram of behaviours so that horse owners, vets, saddlers and farriers can identify when a horse is in pain. She is so frustrated that many horses say their horses are being ‘naughty’ or that they are capable of manipulating or planning to be difficult, but their brains are simply not capable of thinking in this way. Horses literally live in the moment. Many horses that owners describe as ‘naughty’ are actually in pain. Hopefully the ethogram that Sue has created will help horses to be understood better and stop them being given positive punishment when they are actually in pain.
My advice to you is to never stop learning but be careful where you choose to get information from. “Susie the yard expert” is probably not as much as an expert as she thinks!