Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Researcher: Strive to Recognize Happy Horse Behavior

Researcher: Strive to Recognize Happy Horse Behavior

Happy horses live longer and are more likely not to injure their owners. That's my theory, anyway.  I'm just glad that someone with more cachet than I possess is trying to quantify equine happiness signals.

Happy now?

I don't think it would take a researcher to look at the photo above and determine that no one is happy.  Not I, and certainly not Dakota.  For comparison's sake, try this one:

Why we shouldn't buy horses as gifts,,,
Dakota is thrilled with all the attention.  Cliff, on the other hand,
was hoping for a new snowmobile.


Now, here's number 3:

Again, no degree required.  He might just be happy I got off, but
it's obvious that joy abounds in this photo.


It can't be a coincidence that inquiries into horse happiness quotients come at the height of the overabundance of horses on the market and the flooding of rescues with unwanted animals, many of which are perfectly sound but totally useless to their last owners of record.  Their uselessness could well be nothing of their own making.  Back to my theory, if a horse is unhappy, and his owner is unable to figure that out, there's going to be conflict.  And horses have memories.  Loooooong memories.  And they weigh a lot.   As my shoer always says, "Why would you piss off something that weighs a thousand pounds and can remember what you did?"  Point made.

There was a bit of confusion a few years ago about whether "mouthing" was a good or a bad sign.  The Natural Horsemanship advocates insisted that chewing meant relaxation.  Get that "green light" from your horse, and you know it's safe to move on to the next step in the training process.  But there was another side to the question.  Horse advocates using other means of determining relaxation level (like a cocked hind foot, not in a menacing, "Get away from me before I take your head off" way) decided that chewing was a sign of the lessening of stress.  They argued that pressure from "Natural" training methods was so intense, that the release of that pressure caused the horse to chew in a "OMG!  I'm still alive!" reaction rather than a "Gee! That was totally cool!" one.

As it will, time has passed, and that argument has become moot as technology improved and researchers became able to track heart rates, respiration, muscle heat and tension and so on.  Now it's possible to say definitively that , chewing or not, a horse whose respiration and heart rate remain within normal ranges are happier than those having a panic attack at the prospect of whatever it is their rider/trainer is asking of them.  And to make life easier for the rest of us, they created a wikisite (you know how I usually love those, but this is an exception to my No Wiki rule) that allows riders/owners/trainers to actually see horses in varying conditions of happiness and unhappiness and to submit videos of their own.  I'm going to credit the researchers at Nottingham Trent University with the wisdom to determine the veracity of the vids that are submitted and do a reasonably intelligent assessment thereof.

In fact, I will go out on a limb and actually "like" their Facebook page.  From what I've seen, these folks actually do get the difference between negative reinforcement and punishment, which is huge in the non-psychology-trained tribes.  I've spent many an hour trying to explain this.  They do a fine job without resorting to epithets and gin chasers.

And while you're about it, try their Ridden Horse Behavior blog.  I'm fascinated by the way they've applied human psychological constructs to equine behavior.  Very cool.  In fact, stop reading this and go there now.  Make a cup of tea first, as you're going to be there a while.

Happy Horses Make Happy Horsemen!

1 comment:

Debra Schroer said...

Love a happy horse! Great post, thanks!