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White Horse



Trust is hard earnt and easily lost

A brief review on the consequences of our actions in relation to the operant quadrants. (Our choices in shaping future behaviour)

Negative reinforcement R-, Negative punishment P-, Positive punishment P+ and Positive reinforcement R+ - how do they affect equines?

Have you ever sat back and thought that you just handled a situation in the wrong way? The realisation that you just messed up. Regretting the words you chose or the actions you just took? What will be the consequence of that moment in time and how will it affect the future relationship and behaviour with that person, child or colleague?

What did you actually do? Was it harsh and hurtful words that hurt the receiver emotionally? Were you lying about something? (Resource guarding) Was it that you took something away from the other person which you knew would feel punishing? (P-) Was it physical action where you lashed out, struck, hit, poked or worse? Every single one of us knows that physical abuse hurts in 2 ways- through the actual pain inflicted as well as emotional pain and fallout. (P+)

Thinking back on your actions, assess how your choice made you feel at the time? Were you dominating because you could? Did it stem from frustration or fear on your part? Were you protecting something or someone else? (Resource guarding) Were you with-holding something from someone on purpose, knowing that it would have a desired, punishing effect? Were you reacting to something they did to you or that you had perceived that they had done to you? Were you trying to make that person do something against their will? (R-)


Now think about how much choice you had. Was the situation in your control or was it the fear of losing control which instigated your choices in reaction? What exactly made you want to gain power over that other person?

Turn all this around into the place of the receiver. Has this happened to you? How did it make you feel?

Does the memory still haunt you even after years have passed by? Given a similar environment or stimuli, will it make you behave in a certain way? (classical conditioning)

All these scenarios are happening in our human world all of the time. How we treat each other, how we react to situations we find ourselves in? What reactions spring to mind when you feel unfairly treated, have had something taken off you with no choice, feel like someone is bullying or dominating you or feel the need to protect something or someone? Does it make you feel fear, grief or rage?

The choices we make will always have a ripple effect when it comes to future relationships, interactions and behaviour. Trust is hard earnt and easily lost.

In my world of horse (and animal) training, I see all of the above scenarios running all of the time with how we treat our pets - especially the domineering way horses are endemically treated and trained. I see how the historical experiences and associations drive unwanted behaviour in horses all the time. I see how badly humans handle a horse who is reactive, scared, angry or frustrated. The hard held belief that we need to master or dominate horses, is the main criteria endemic world-wide. Why do we humans feel the need to behave this way- BECAUSE WE CAN!

I’m saddened by how very common it is for the human to perceive that the horse is simply being “awkward”, “stupid”, “doing it on purpose” or “naughty”, when none of those labels are true in behaviour terms.  Absolutely none of that terminology applies to animals. It is not in their psyche to think in those anthropomorphic ways. They react to environments immediately associated with its consequence to them based on primal survival drive, self-protection or historical associations (memories).

The more violent we humans are with horses, the more harm we cause and the worse the predictable future behaviour will become. Somehow we still have the right to carry and use whips on horses. The racing industry is all about legal abuse by its allowed use of “riding out with whips” to the finish post. Heaven forbid you ever see humans being whipped to make them work harder or see a dog being beaten as you drive by. Those scenarios are illegal.

 Humans are such a dominant species- just look at our histories of war making and killing. The rape of our planet for money, to which we are now really starting to pay the price for, despite decades of unheeded warnings. Every single day 100 species are being wiped off the face of the earth forever. What gives us the right?

 Animals do not make war. They do not behave as we do yet they suffer the outcomes of our dominance in every single way, all of the time because they have no power. Our processes in farming animals for their meat, especially live transport abroad and the whole mass slaughter industry is endemically cruel, all based on profit. They have no choice.

This article is about giving you all some food for thought. Can we change our behaviour enough to make the lives of our helpless animals better? All animals everywhere are powerless because it is we who hold all the power.

How about animal sentience and the law? There was a huge public push towards that goal and following much pressure the Animal Welfare (Sentience) bill became law in 2022.  However, in May 2023, the Kept Animals Bill was dropped – a significant backward step for many species.  Change in favour of animal welfare meets much resistance from our politicians, who refuse to listen because it will cost the country too much money. Granting all animals in our care the recognition of sentiency is the one most amazing and massive outcomes which would make a huge difference to the quality of life to all our animals- the whole pet industry, the entire farmed animal process and the entire equine industry. However, the fact that the Kept Animals Bill has been dropped, it seems contraindicative to the Animal Welfare (Sentience) legislation. We need to strengthen welfare laws enormously and increase magistrates’ power for sentencing offenders.

Could we ever give power to our most vulnerable species to enable all animals to the same rights of a safe, pleasurable and pain free life as we human overlords?

Image Credits (top to bottom): Wix, Jerzy Gorecki, Wix


Melanie runs her yard in Skidby, Yorkshire, UK, where she helps horses with an array of emotional difficulties which have led to behavioural 'problems'.  She works exclusively with positive reinforcement and all her work is completely horse-led.  Melanie is available to visit you for a behaviour or training consultation, and also offers web-based calls.

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