For a horse-human relationship based on reciprocal expression

Comments on: "The spontaneous horse" (9)

  1. I think this is all so true. Time for observation of horses without expectations or judgement is key and so often this time does not exist for owners, riders, and trainers. All they are really interested in is using the horse for some end and then off to the next horse or something else. It is really sad for both the horse and rider because both miss out on so much quality of relationship.

  2. Excellent article. I occasionally introduce new objects to my horse and though I normally have him in a halter with lead rope, I let him approach and investigate the object(s). He has always been curious and I try to encourage him as much as possible. Prefer to keep him inquisitive rather than spooking and fleeing when seeing something new. much safer for both of us!

  3. I absolutely love your work and am so glad I have found your site. These have been my thoughts for a long time, just didn’t know how to put it succinctly! Am working on a MSc in Equine Ethology and I know that your work will greatly influence mine. Thank you for what you are doing for the horses! 🙂

  4. I really enjoyed your article. My husband and I have been working together for over 20 years as dolphin “trainers”. We of course use operant conditioning, and the marine mammal industry uses positive reinforcement as well. That said, we have seen such an advance in how handlers manage their animal’s well being through more progressive methods including enrichment. Environmental enrichment (now standard operating procedure in zoos and aquariums in the U.S.) is meant to stimulate animals mentally, allowing them to investigate novel objects, smells, visual objects etc. This is allowing them to be spontaneous and be “themselves” wothout any expectations. In addition, many new school trainers want to avoid frustrating their animals and will often try to make sessions with their animals fun. Unfortunately, many trainers overlook the subtleties of animal communication and miss what the animal is trying to tell them. They fail to make a connection with the animal.
    In an attempt to work with the dolphins in our care more harmoneously, we developed a method of tactile reinforcement. Touch, and in particular, pectoral fin rubs are essential for bonding and reassurance with both whales and dolphins. We incorporated this into our program as well as allowing the dolphins to come to us on their own terms for tactile rub downs. They were not reinforcesd with food for this and were not required to come to us.
    Finally, we would enter the water with the dolphins and just start swimming. We would not swim after them, but rather, gave the dolphins the opportunity to join us if they wished to swim all together as one big pod. The bond and relationship we built up with the dolphins in the end proved to be extremely valuable, and even though we still “trained” the dolphins we had much more cooperation and a better quality behavior because we felt we were working as a team and not as a dominant person over a subdominant animal.

    • Thank you so much for giving us this very clear and interesting feedback. What you write about the swimming seems to be very similar as experience towards our riding approach. We are very happy to know that you made it possible to enrich and deepen your relationship with the dolphins. When we exchange in congress environmnet (e.g. minding animals) the dolphin is often named as operant condition example, and we wondered if there would not have been a development. Beautiful the tactile rub downs example. Enjoy the good work and relationships!
      Francesco & José

      • Thanks for your prompt response! Interestingly enough, my husband and I often compare dolphin’s social dynamics to horses. I was so excited to see your post and will be looking into the work you are doing in more depth. I think you have hit on a very important element in animal/human interactions. I am in the process of starting a blog about working with dolphins and I want to touch more on working with animals on a higher, more nuanced level. There seems to me to be a deep connection that can be forged between humans and animals and it can be hard to teach trainers this connection, being that it is more abstract as you know. I thank you again and am facinated with all you are doing!!!

      • Sarah Reagan said:

        Liz – can you post the link to your blog? Even though my work is with horses, I would be very interested in following your work with the dolphins. thanks!

      • Hi Sarah, I will post my link to this blog soon and will keep you posted. Thanks for asking about it. Take care. Liz

  5. 😀 Reminds me of an occassion during my field study recording feral pony behaviour. The foals gathered around me while I sat on a rock with my clip board to take the notes. The foals were very curious to see, smell and touch my notes too. I’d been following them for several weeks and had become part of their day to day scene. So good to share your similar experiences and how we can participate with horses 😀

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