Education: How do horses learn?

All the behavior that can be observed in our horses is motivated only by their desire to optimize their own condition. Only on this basis (meeting needs and avoiding harm are innate to the horse) do educational elements such as “praise” and “blame” work. Horses don't do certain things on command because they love us so much or because they recognize us as "boss." They react to our signals because they have learned that it is worth reacting to them individually. 

The common term "education" is usually applied to the process by which a living being learns to integrate into a particular society and its rules. But as a behavioral therapist and trainer, I say it's not enough to tell my horse: "It's fine. There's no danger." My horse will only be willing to give up a behavior that has been useful to him for millions of years if he is truly convinced that there is no danger. I want my horse to learn to trust me and to understand and associate my signal for the all-clear. So I have to choose a form of communication that the horse understands. You probably know that as a rider you communicate most intensively with your horse when you train or work with him. However, even if you are just there and the horse can perceive you, you are communicating (often unconsciously) with your horse. A horse always pays attention to expressive behavior in the form of body language and facial expressions. Communication via noise is absolutely secondary.

As a horse trainer, I unfortunately always see badly behaved horses.

That's why I appeal as often as possible: Careful training from the young horse onwards as well as loving, calm and patient, clear training are absolutely essential. An badly behaved horse is not only negligence, but can clearly be life-threatening for us humans! By education I don't mean stupid training, but rather I want to promote the horse's individual talents so that it develops an understanding of what it does. For me, raising or training a horse means letting it learn what I think is relevant (related to safety, health, gymnastics).

Because the horse doesn't know how to ride or what exercise keeps it healthy. For me, training means teaching the horse certain, very specific actions/behaviors in response to specific signals. Such a signal can be a vocal signal such as "Hoooohhh!" be, the associated action behavior would be, the horse stops. But it can also be a tactile signal (touch), such as a leg help or weight shift and the associated action would be to change the gait or direction of movement. In my opinion, communication only really works when both communication partners associate a specific signal with exactly the same information content. Horses and people must know what this means. Since I, as a person and trainer, give the signals, it is my job to teach the horse their meaning.

"Learning always serves to optimize one's own condition." Anyone who has studied horse learning behavior knows this sentence. Horses (and other animals) must be able to learn in order, for example, to be able to avoid another encounter with the enemy at a certain time and at a certain place in the territory in the future. Or they also have to learn where the best weed is.

Horses learn mainly through associations (linking individual events), but habitations (habituation processes) also occur. This involves unlearning a specific behavioral reaction based on a specific stimulus.

In order for our horse's brain to learn, it naturally needs communication, an exchange of messages in which an understanding takes place. Communication always takes place because we constantly receive signals from the environment every second. Every rider e.g. B. communicates consciously and intensively with his horse during training. But often completely unconsciously.

For me, training always means a form of intensive social contact. If we as horse people do not pay attention to the importance of the horse's expressive behavior, errors in communication can creep in and then, of course, problems in training or in interactions in general follow at some point.

So how do horses learn? Learning can only take place parallel to intensive communication. Because without some form of message exchange it won't work. The horse learns information about the environment and connections between certain things. Horses are constantly learning - always. They adapt to situations and their surroundings every day. They respond to both what we humans do and what we don't do. When our horses learn, they don't think, they react. They are real naturals when it comes to linking stimuli with reactions. The horse is always learning - whether we humans are aware of what we are teaching him or not.

Horses have the ability to associate, so they can link action and reaction as well as stimulus and response very well.

Association skills are my key to training horses because horses want to avoid corrections and receive praise and positivity.

Horses are true creatures of harmony!

Equestrian culture, equestrian tact and what is the truth?

Riding culture, riding tact and what is the truth?

Where did the culture go? Where else can you find equestrian culture? In other areas too, the sense of culture, of the beautiful and the artistic, has somehow been lost. Everything has to be either practical, or quick, or cheap.

But what about the intense connection to the horse? The intense connection of trust and respect, which you have to work for, is not given to you by the horse.

Equestrian culture also requires knowledge. Knowledge of the horse - and by that I don't mean scientific knowledge. But knowledge about the spirituality of the horse, the horse's soul.

And riding culture requires tact. No, I don't mean the timing in the movement, but the tact. And the tactfulness that I, as a person, have towards my horse and, at the same time, towards my fellow human beings.

Where did it all go? Isn't that taught anywhere anymore? The answer is: Hardly.

Riding is culture is a school of life.

By the way, for me, riding begins with entering the stable, with entering the box. I take my time. Time to say hello to my horse, see how he's doing. I'll groom it in peace. Carefully and already perceiving so many things here: Are there any wounds, what is his mood like? What does it take today? Of course I have thought about what I would like to practice or develop with my horse today. But I'm checking very carefully whether these plans also fit today. And even when I'm in the saddle or when I'm working by hand - I have to be able to recognize that and I have to know what I'm doing. Whether what I'm doing makes sense. Whether I really help my horse with it or whether I just "sit down" and have my thoughts somewhere else. That would be disrespectful. Simply disrespectful.

That's the way it is and let's be completely honest and straightforward: Most - and I'm talking about 90% - of the riders or horse people do not know what they are doing and why. Regardless of whether they know what equestrian tact or riding culture is. And they don't always do that on purpose. They just learned it that way, from the countless coaches they have already hired, the countless books that they have read a little or from the stable friends who do things exactly that way.

It also has to do with respect and culture if I educate myself or not? And properly. Fully. And it has to do with respect if I groom my horse attentively every day in order to decide what to practice or develop with him today - or not?

Perhaps this lack of culture in the equestrian world is a phenomenon that has completely different causes. Maybe it's a "don't want to see the truth". The truth is not always pleasant. The truth can be quite frustrating and also harrowing. Our horses show us the truth. Always. Whether we can really see them and above all WANT to see them is up to us. We have to learn to look the truth in the eye, we must not close ourselves off from it, neither duck away nor deal with other (supposedly lighter) lies for the sake of simplicity.

For me, riding and riding culture have something to do with spirituality. With the opening of my mind - with development.

I learn something new every day, I develop myself and with it my horses - because I have decided to do it. I am open to development.

But how do we know the truth?

The answer is: We recognize them by our horses. Our horses show truth to us, every day.