Monday, 18 June 2012

Making the Connection

source: horsemagazine
The Scales of Training section of our wiki is now complete, though we will still add relevant content. One of our members posted a video of a GP Dressage horse working in a bitless bridle, which made me ponder: is it possible to demonstrate 'Contact' without a bit?

If we take a literal defnition of contact to be 'the soft, steady connection between the rider's hand and the horse's mouth', then this would be difficult without a bit. But if we are looking more at the overall  back-to-front connection then maybe this is possible?

The issue of whether the FEI should allow riders to compete in bitless bridles was discussed at the 2011 Global Dressage Forum and you can read the report by Eurodressage here: Bitless or Not, it's about Having the Choice.

The Ridden Horse Behaviour project is focussed on assessing and describing the observable behaviour of ridden horses rather than training methods, so we are sitting on the fence with this one! Do feel free to post your own opinions below though, but watch the video first!

(It is not possible to embed this video, so please click on the link)

Uta Gräf riding bitless: video

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


As a  follow on to the introductory article on the origins of horse behaviour:  Why Does My Horse...? I have started to look a little more into individual differences between horses. In humans, this is referred to as 'personality', but is it appropriate to use this term when referring to horses? I don't think so, as 'personality' defines characteristics belonging to a 'person'. The word 'horsonality' is even worse: what is a horson? It sounds like a horse-person hybrid! If we must coin a word to refer to a horse's unique  characteristics then 'horsality' or 'equineality' is probably more correct.

Semantics apart, are there likely to be measurable  individual 'personality' differences between horses? Well yes, It does seem as if there are. But  these are more likely to be behavioural differences rather than what the horse actually 'thinks'.

Some research has attempted to adapt human psychometrics for horses. But as the horses can't complete the tests themselves, the results may be affected to some extent by the personality of the assessor.  In one study, handlers were asked to rate horses according to the Big Five factors. One of the major theories of personality states that all individual differences can be described according to how you score on each of the  'Big 5' traits.

These are:
  • Conscienciousness
  • Openness to Exerience
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism.

You can read the results of the study here:

Can Judges Agree on the Personality of Horses?

If you are interested in the human application of these traits, please check out the 'Psychology Articles' page of this blog for some fun interactve articles where you can explore your own personality traits.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Nature vs Nurture

The  'Why Does My Horse.....'  feature has not attracted any questions yet, so I've written a slightly more in depth article to get you all thinking!

image source:
There are two approaches to a horse that's displaying undesired behaviour under saddle. One approach is to ask "why is this happening?"  whereas another is  "how can I stop this happening?".

Now while the latter might lead to a quicker response and possibly nip some genuine disobedence in the bud, my thought is that it's always wise to consider the root of the issue and go for a 'bottom up'  approach. Anyway, if you'd like to read more on this the full article is here: Why Does My Horse...?

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Training Pyramid

The 'Scales of Training' section of our teaching and learning resource is now complete, though as it is a 'wiki' there is plenty of scope to adapt and add to it continually.

Please let us know what you think!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Rhythm vs Relaxation: the verdict!

Thanks to all of you who took part in the poll, and added comments to my previous post. There were also some very interesting contributions on this thread on the British Dressage Forum.

The poll will remain open on our wiki, but here are the results so far:

Interesting results? If you have any further comments or observations, do please feel free to post them below:

Monday, 21 May 2012

Getting in the Rhythm

I've been working on the 'Scales of Training' section of our Ridden Horse Behaviour Wiki, and pondering over the first two elements of the scale: rhythm and relaxation. Now, I think most of us would agree that without relaxation, trying to work on any other training aspect is futile. Yet, the German Scales of Training normally quote rhythm as the first element. Is this because there are two schools of thought? I don't think so. I think it is more with the translation of the terms. We tend to think of relaxation as referring to mental relaxation, but the German term 'Losgelassenheit' encompasses the physical aspect as well, and includes looseness and suppleness . Maybe we should think of mental suppleness rather than relaxation?

So which do we think is the most important thing to establish first in a young horse's training? Read a bit more about it here and / or take our simple poll to compare your opinion with that of others!

If you can't activate the poll below, it's also available  here: Rhythm or Relaxation poll

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Horses in the media

I apologise in advance that this post only has a tenuous link with ridden horse behaviour, and is largely full of trivia!

The 'Britain's Got Talent' victory of Ashleigh and Pudsey over and above an operatic singer and a male voice choir got me thinking about our relationship with animals and how this is exploited in the media. If any of you missed their amazing winning performance you can view it here:

There are rumours that the winning duo are now Hollywood bound, and are likely to be offered a lucrative advertising contract. The use of animals in media campaigns has always fascinated me. I can understand when they are used to sell things like dog food, but they are often used to promote completely unrelated items. What is the psychology behind this? Why are horses good at selling beer?!

I am sure I'm not alone in wondering if one of my horses could learn some tricks in time for next year's program as £500,000 would fund a fair few sets of horse-shoes. Meanwhile you can see my own particular favourite 'horses in the media', including some brilliant cross-discipline ridden horse behaviour,  here.

I promise that the next post will be back on track!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Spring Grass!

The grass is starting to look very green in the UK after all the rain we've had recently, and several people are commenting that their horses are a bit full of themselves as a result. Is there actually any truth behind this connection or is it just an excuse? 

The most obvious thing to note is that your horse may simply be consuming more grass and consequently has more energy. Fast growing grass does not necessarily have a higher sugar content: in fact as a percentage it might actually be lower than when the grass is 'stressed' such as during a drought. However the sheer volume of consumption may over-ride this. Eating too much 'rich' grass is just like any other starch overload in the horse: the digestive system is overwhelmed leading to excess fermentation and toxic by products. This digestive disturbance may well cause behavioural problems in some horses, and of course is a pre-cursor to the dreaded laminitis in susceptible horses and ponies (article on digestive supplements here)

Secondly, spring grass is often deficient in Magnesium. Magnesium plays an important role in the functioning of the nervous and muscular systems, so a deficiency could cause behavioural as well as physical issues. This is why many calmers are based on Magnesium. Supplementing with Magnesium is only likely to help if there is a deficiency, but if your horse does display nervous or excitable behaviour connected with spring grass, it's definitely worth trying.

Finally, spring grass may have higher levels of oestrogens, especially if it contains certain types of clover. This can disrupt the horse's hormonal balance. Some mares will run milk at this time of year, and I've known a few geldings get a bit fruity!

So, if your horses is a bit full of itself at the moment, yes, it may well be the spring grass!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Launch of Article Series

My post on Learned Helplessness created quite a debate on the British Dressage forum. The thread did quickly go off topic, which seems to be quite a common occurence! Anything that creates a healthy discussion is good though, and I'm sure it's because we are all essentially passionate about ridden horse welfare.

To answer some of the points that were raised, I've expanded my post into a full article, which you can access here. I hope this will be the first of a series of articles to discuss the application of scientific theory to ridden horse behaviour, using easy to understand language. The next article will expand on how ridden horses learn. If you have ideas for further topics please post them below.

Due to a limit on the number of pages a blog can host, the articles will be on a separate web platform, but you will see that there is a new page on the left side bar where they can all be accessed. To maintain free hosting, this site does have avertisements, which I hope you will not find too distracting (or expensive!)

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Why does my horse...?

We are starting a new  feature enabling you to ask your own questions about  ridden horse behaviour. Each month we will answer the best or most popular one. Your question can be quite specific, like 'Why does my horse spook at dock leaves?' or more general, like 'Why do horses bolt?' The behaviour you ask about can be quite subtle, or extreme , like this one!

A bit of background... 
Most ridden behaviour is comprised of one or more of these 4 elements:

Innate species specific behaviour
This refers to behaviour ingrained in all horses (indeed all equids)  which has developed by natural selection to maximise survival. Examples are herd behaviour and flight responses. These innate tendencies are so strong that they may still affect horses under saddle despite centuries of domestication.

Breed/ line specific behaviour
These are behavioural tendencies that have  developed through artificial selection. These tendencies may be breed specific or line specific. So your horse’s temperament is to some extent  ‘pre-wired’ , which can affect how it responds to training.

Learned behaviour
pain related behaviour
This is what we tend to think of as ‘training’. However horses do not distinguish between formal or informal training sessions: every time you ride your horse it is learning. Hence the need for consistency .

Physiological or pain- related behaviour.
Horses are generally quite stoic about pain, but this often underlies what are perceived to be behavioural or training difficulties.

Each month we will take one question, and look at how each of these factors may play a part in creating the observed behaviour. To ask your question, please join our facebook community by liking our page on the left sidebar, and then add your question to the post on our page. Simples!