How Horses Learn

How Horses Learn

How Horses Learn
Before we start working with the horse, it is important for you as the horse’s trainer and teacher, to understand how the horse learns. This will allow you to present ideas to the horse in a way that makes it easy for the horse to understand. It will also allow you to problem solve, and come up with your own solutions should the need arise. There are many ways to teach the horse the same thing, this is important to remember, so if you are not having success with one method, find another.
Not all horses are the same so you will need to adjust your training to suit the horse and to allow the horse to progress at a rate that suits them. Don’t ever try and rush the horse. Never be in a hurry to get to your goal. Just keep it in your mind and chip away at it a little by little.
You will be surprised how quickly the horse can learn when you allow it to “take the time it takes”, to learn something.
As I said before not all horses are the same, the way a horse reacts to pressure and changes in its environment is an individual thing, and previously learned responses and habits may require a slightly different approach for each horse. However the principles of training do not change from horse to horse. This is because all horses learn through the same basic mechanisms, which have been ingrained in the horse for many thousands of years, and have allowed the species to survive.

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Originally horses lived out on the open plains, as herbivores they foraged for food, lived in herds and
traveled many miles each day while grazing. As seasons changed and grass died off, the herd would move to find new grass and other types of shrubbery. The main threat to their survival was predators, that could sneak up on them, if they were not constantly on the lookout.

Unlike predators, horses as prey animals did not need to have reasoning skills to be able to plan ahead, consider or visualize in the minds eye. These skills were only developed by predators and omnivores that needed to know how to find herds of prey animals, work as a pack, and hunt down their prey.
Scientists believe that this can explain why horses brains have not developed a “Prefrontal Cortex” which is believed to be responsible for reasoning abilities in humans and other predators and omnivores.
This indicates that horses have little or no ability to plan ahead, consider events or visualize in the minds eye. Instead their behavior is controlled by responses learned previously by trial and error, the horse has also developed the ability for learned responses to quickly form into habits.
Especially if there is an association with a large amount of fear or flight response.
So it is the actual occurrence of the stimulus that triggers the horse to remember how it solved the problem last time.

Living in herds, meant more sets of eyes and ears on the alert for danger, and staying with the herd could mean the difference between life and death, because at least in the herd there is always the chance that the predator will eat someone else. The horse’s long legs, made for a fast getaway, and running away, was their main method of escaping a certain death in the jaws of a predator.
This type of existence has shaped the evolution of the horses brain, as they needed an excellent memory for what types of plants were edible, where they could be found throughout the different seasons.
They also developed a remarkable visual memory, which allowed them to notice subtle changes in their environment. A branch that had fallen, a log that wasn’t there last time, a rock that had moved, it was essential for the horse to notice these things because they could indicate the nearby presence of a predator.
They also needed highly tuned sensory systems to allow them to detect sights, sounds, movements or smells that indicate an approaching predator.
Horses became very adept at learning by association, if rustling in the bushes was followed by the sight of a predator, the brain would instantly associate the rustling sound, with the sight of the predator.
This meant that the next time the horse heard the rustling sound, the brain would automatically associate it with the predator it had not yet seen, triggering the flight response (running away) before the predator even appeared, allowing more time to make a getaway and increasing the chances of survival.

So it is the actual occurrence of the stimulus that triggers the horse to remember how it solved the problem last time.
It is important that the trainer is aware of the horses basic natural instincts, the flight response, and the three main ways through which horses learn. At first glance it seems as if there are as many training methods and systems as there are trainers to think them up. However, scientists have revealed that all training methods and systems can be explained by the three main ways through which horses learn, these are:

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