From Discovery News, by Jennifer Viegas:
Horses not only remember people who have treated them well, they also understand words better than expected, research shows….
(click on link to read article)
Check it out, it’s an interesting read. The part in which test horses respond strongly and positively to handlers with food treats doesn’t surprise me.
After all, I respond strongly and more positively to people who have food treats!
It made me think about Tiny, the big draft horse that Lily rescued, and the problems he came with. Part of Tiny’s unconventional rehab program was to receive cookies from his rider after he executed a rider’s request, while she was still in the saddle.
In Tiny’s case, the request was: “walk, please”.
He’d been so over-used as a school horse that he completely shut down. Put a rider on his back, and he refused to move. Not an inch. He didn’t do one bad thing: no bucking, no whirling, no head tossing, no backing up, no rearing. He simply shut down, planted, and endured.
Lily, on a hunch, fully aware that this was considered very bad horsemanship, stuffed her pockets with cookies. When Tiny took his first step forward off her leg and stopped, she held out a cookie, which he politely reached around and took from her.
It was the beginning of every positive change for Tiny. Contrary to what we all expected, including Lily, Tiny did not train us to give him cookies before he’d do anything. He started trying to please, was rewarded, and tried harder. Instead of needing more and more cookies, he needed less and less, until he was simply getting a few at the end of the ride.
I don’t recommend this as a general training method, but it worked for Tiny.
Nice to read the science behind food rewards: how it syncs to horses trusting people, and creating a stronger emotional bond between horse and human.
I believe the Discovery article was written in reference to this paper, and the work, in France, of these scientists. Click for abstract: Positive interactions lead to lasting positive memories in horses, Equus caballus.
Paper is available for purchase, but not to read online in it’s entirety….