With a new horse, we first let them settle in. We like to let the herd look after them at first and show them how wonderful it is to live at our Centre. Depending on the horse, we may even start by just rewarding them for paying us attention, as Claire did here with Valiente:
As the new horse finds her place in the herd and starts to relax, we like to start interacting closer to them if possible. We want to build friendship and trust, so typically we’ll simply be with them without asking them to engage if they prefer to stay away. Here Hope felt so comfortable with Claire, she stayed snoozing while Claire came close. Segura, Claire’s mare was used to having a snooze beside Claire and you can see how she joined in, which reassured Hope that Claire was OK.
We like to use enrichment exercises, such as hiding feed in buckets and among obstacles to help our new horses to explore their new environment. It also mimics natural; foraging behaviour and is a great way to relax horses. From there we also work to empower them to become more self-confident, as you see here with Leonera:
Once our new horse is settled in enough and beginning to trust us, we start to train using positive reinforcement. This means that we reward them for giving us behaviours that we want. We usually train them to target first…this means to touch a cone with their nose. We can use that behaviour to ask them to stand still at the cone or to follow a hand-held target. So we get these two basic behaviours without using fear or force, just good communication and a rewarding connection. Claire’s daughter Eva explains the basics here:
As you see, we never push horses into engaging with us. If the horse is particularly anxious, we will work behind a barrier so that they feel comfortable to leave us if they need to. You can see that this still allows all the necessary training and contributes to trusting relationships.
Once we have these basics established, we use the same process to train or re-train all the necessary handling and health-care procedures. Here are some examples:
Preparing horses for re-homing requires attention to more advanced behaviours, such as being mounted and ridden. We use the same positive approach and tale a lot of care and time to ensure our horses love being ridden. This makes them safer to ride and means that riding is enriching for them. After all, feral horses spend many hours per day moving about and exploring their environment. It is very healthy for horse to get out and about, getting lots of good movement and enriching their lives.
We start on the ground building communication, connection and relaxation.
For physical rehabilitation we use poles, pedestals and other body-awareness exercises in the arena:
We do a lot of walking out in hand using physical terrain to build strength and suppleness. This also helps the horses to learn to leave the rest of the herd and rely on their bond with their human partner.
Preparation for Riding
Breath Connection Under Saddle
Our work is not "our method" or "our system". It was developed scientifically in the early 20th Century and found it's way into horse training via marine mammal training, in the 1990's.
The origins arise from the behavioural work of scientists like B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. However, modern neuroscience has added a much bigger dimension to this work by demonstrating
scientifically that mammals do experience emotions and are sentient beings. Rachel has studied this neuroscience closely and applied it to our understanding of horses. This supports the way we
respect, keep and train horses. The work of Jaak Panksepp in particular has informed our
Rachel produced a series of videos explaining his emotional systems and how they apply to horses and horse training. Many people have followed these videos and incorporated them into their learning and teaching.
Rachel has also studied equine ethology for over 20 years, learning from great teachers such as Marthe Kiley-Worthington and Lucy Rees. Recently she has studied Language Signs and Calming Signals with Rachael Draaisma and they have toured together giving joint seminars on these topics.
Here are a selection of Rachel's videos explaining horse behaviour and learning from these perspectives.
Rachel is the co-author of the highly successful manual, Connection Training. The
book is a comprehensive guide to keeping horses ethically and training using positive, force-free methods. The book is excellent in its own right and is linked to Connection Training’s
comprehensive online Courses resource.
The online courses are available FREE for any Registered Equine Charity anywhere in the world. It provides step-by-step guidelines from starting with positive reinforcement training, through daily handling, training for medical procedures right through to training under saddle. Currently there are around 30 Equine Charities who have signed up for this free education.
If you represent a Registered Equine Charity, you can email here to apply for access to the full Connection Training Online Site. Claire and Rachel are both Coaches for students there and will be able to support you through the Forum, Monthly Live Q&A Sessions, and the dedicated Facebook Group.
Positive Horse Training Spain
Calle Cortijo del Amo, 3
Cacin, Spain 18129
Mobile: 0034 / 6966 72477
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Registered Charity Number: G19707751
Photo Credits: Our photos come from a range of people but we would like to thank Ni Dhunn Imagery and Jacqueline Sheedy in particular for supplying so many of them.