For a horse-human relationship based on reciprocal expression

Posts tagged ‘equine science’

Horse Culture: Learn by watching others

In this article titled Horse Culture, we don’t talk about equestrian culture: classical riding, saddle, bit, spur, western riding, ricreative riding, history of equitation, horsemanship, natural horsemanship or other disciplines.

In this article we talk about the horse and hìs culture.

In the wild, horses live in a social context. Or better, they live their every day life in a social experience and learning context. As has been observed in other species, also in a horse bands there is a cultural transmission, in which every horse learns from the other. Knowing eachother, especially in a family group, makes it possible for a horse to read the details in what another horse is doing, being able to pick up on it’s intentions and learn and create a shared  culture, by watching and by doing.

It is interesting when a young horse learns from observing an adult experienced horse, but it is even more interesting when horses share an experience and learn together from and with each other.

Most horses in our society do not have family connections. Their social experience and learning context can be stimulated by helping them share experiences. Two young horses for example: A one year old Welsh Cob and a two year old Haflinger/Quarter living together since several months. Facilitating them in the exploration of a novel object, they initially show different timing and different ways in approaching. The Haflinger/Quarter uses more his hoofs and the Welsh Cob more his mouth, but after some moments they begin to explore together in the same way.  The Haflinger/Quarter also with his mouth and the Welsh Cob also with the hoofs. In that moment together, they share their own exploring intents and enrich eachother by experimenting alternatives, creating their own exploring culture.

It is not that one is better than the other in exploring, but simply different. The more important aspect is that they both learn by watching the other.

Konstanze Krueger, one of the world’s most respected scientific experts in equine behaviour, writes: “Since horses constitute a highly social species much of their cognitive abilities might be connected to social experiences. By incorporating social aspects into learning trials it will be possible to gain insight into horses` social learning abilities.”

And more: Horses that live in an anthropic dimension, that live near human, can learn watching human.  Horses watch us, probably more than we watch horses. They learn through human and they create their own idea about human.

Social learning is cognitive learning and cognitive learning improves welfare and wellness.

Writer:  Francesco De Giorgio, equine cognitive ethologist



The inner emotional/cognitive world of the horse

The inner world of the horse includes all the mental dimension, as opposed to a reductionist idea of this animal, as well as others species.

The horse has always been considered a simple organism that responds to linear dynamics, such as stimulus-response or input (stimulation)-output (behaviour).  For example, in all phases of traditional but also “natural” training, the approach has a deterministic, mechanistic, linear, anthropocentric conception.

The cognitive approach does not give space to a reductionist image of the horse, but rather puts him on a level of complexity. These animals with a sophisticated system of mental processing, have the ability to create their own input, their own intention, based on experience that they live. In fact, when talking about cognitive training of the horse, we do not talk about a mere stimulation, but focus on building experiences together.

If we look at the process of horse training, even the most gentle, positive or “natural”, we can immediately understand how the trainer is used to work in a linear and one-way process of stimulation, with no or very few elements of dialogism and cognitive process. In this case the horse is the object of a series of stimuli, in order to obtain a desired behaviour which is often expressed in more or less invasive pressure. In this way the animal is not given the opportunity to significantly creates his personal input and to elaborate his surroundings creating his own perception. This way he does not create its mental/cognitive map, based on own experience, its own species and individual characteristics.

The cognitive-relationship co-training of the horse and also of the trainer, is based on non-linear, non-schematic and not predetermined processes.

In this kind of training, there is no focus on a particular behaviour or result, but on the way the horse elaborates the experience. In fact main characteristic of cognitive learning is the presence of a latency time. You cannot always see what the horse is learning.

Learning means to give new fields of expression of subjectivity, both as experiential capacity, both as interpretative ability, both as operational capability, both as self-perception.

The balanced and sound self-expression of the horse can only be developed in training and interactions where we favour an open and non-linear enviroment, in which the horse builds experience through free exploration both with other horses as with human.

Only this way we can ensure growth and alignment of the inner world of a horse, developing welfare, wellness and a profound relationship between man and horse.

The greatest form of respect towards the horses is to highlight their natural cognitive skills.

Text: Francesco De Giorgio | Photo: José Maria Schoorl

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