Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts on horsemanship

"Only recently have we begun to understand that animals really do have intelligence. Gradually, new perceptions of animals are coming to the fore. Newsweek Magazine in a May 1988 cover story entitled "How Smart Are Animals?" reported that:

'Creatures as different as pigeons and primates are dazzling scientists with their capacity for thought. Comparative psychologists have gone from wondering whether apes can comprehend symbols to detailing the ways in which they acquire and use them. Others scientists are documenting similar abilities in sea mammals. Still others are finding that birds can form abstract concepts. The news isn't just that animals can master many of the tasks experimenters design for them, however. There's a growing sense that many creatures - from free ranging monkeys to domestic dogs - know things on their own that are as interesting as anything we can teach them.'

Recognizing that horses are individual personalities with individual mental and emotional responses to the world opens us to a new way of perceiving animal intelligence and therefore of influencing behavior. For instance, knowing whether a horse is a slow or a fast learner allows the trainer to choose the most appropriate teaching method. Not only does an intelligent horse need less repetition than a duller one, too much repetition often bores the clever horse, and he will think up ways of 'amusing' himself (sometimes by resistance) that his trainer will probably not find equally entertaining.

Understanding our horses doesn't mean we become 'permissive' or that we don't use firmness and discipline when required. It means rather that we open the door to cooperation rather than confrontation, an attitude that leads to successful performance so much more quickly, easily and joyfully than does domination through fear or submission. Such a humane viewpoint often has the unexpected side effect of enriching our whole lives."

"Getting in TTouch" by Linda Tellington-Jones


  1. Good Quote!

    Animals ARE a lot smarter than we often give them credit for.

    As for slow vs. fast learner, with horses and people, I think we often assume this is an "innate" quality.

    However, I think it has a lot more to do with the animal's past training history, as well as the skill of the trainer.

    I've approached things some ways, and had really slow progress. And found when I change my approach or change something I was doing, the horse very quickly learns what I was trying to teach.


  2. You bring up a good point. I find when I teach rock climbing that I need at least 3 different ways to explain any technique I'm trying to teach for exactly this reason. What makes sense to one person is complete gibberish to somebody else.

  3. Arabians are known to be fast learners and I can tell you from first hand experience can and do get bored easily and love looking for ways to occupy themselves. Short schooling sessions and changing things up are important with them.

  4. I'd love to have an arabian again someday, preferably one with a saucy character, for that reason. I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to mix it up for them.

  5. Very interesting post. My Appaloosa sure knows how to entertain himself :)

  6. I agree! I like the "cooperation rather than confrontation." I always train my horses with the thought of "teaching" them rather than "forcing" them. They most definitely have the capacity to learn and for independent thought, so why not build on those qualities? :)

  7. Hi Carol, he must be quite entertaining, and yet so many people badmouth appaloosas. It just goes to show that no breed has the market cornered on "smart."

    Exactly right, Jessie, are you familiar with TTouch?

  8. Good article. LA and I noticed this about Gem fairly quickly: "...too much repetition often bores the clever horse, and he will think up ways of 'amusing' himself..." :-) Thanks for sharing!

  9. It kind of makes you sad though, doesn't it? There are so many horses out there labeled as "bad" who are just smart.

    The more I read about LA the more I think you and Gem are lucky to have found her!

  10. I've had some really smart horses who would look to amuse themselves when things were too boring for them. My philosophy when training is to mix it up and not drill the same thing over and over. We may work on circles for a day, do a trail ride, do some cavelletti, go back to circles etc. My quarter horses Dusty and Blue and in the past Lifeguard won't stand for repetition like my Dutch Warmblood did. Not to say he wasn't smart but he didn't do too much thinking on his own and preferred to be directed. All horse personalities are different and need to be addressed on an individual basis in my opinion.

    p.s anytime you're ready for a lovely Arabian, Sami would love to meet you and your herd. He's bored here just hanging out with his friends.

  11. GHM I'm going to stick that little nugget in the back of my mind for later. We might have found a great opportunity to purchase some land and move this year so the quarters might be needing a buddy in a couple months.