I have been working with Olivia Turner B.Sc Hons, Animal Behaviour Consultant & Equine Bitting Specialist since 2015, where has the time gone? Our discussions are always interesting and it’s worth having a read of her guest post on Dr David Marlin’s FB page. As with everything it is how things are used and the ability of the person on the end of the leadrope that is key. It is so very easy to train the wrong behaviour into your horse or dog without realising it due to just a minute delay in response time from you. Ensure you stay well informed and well prepared. Seek a professional to assist you and regularly review your timing.
Olivia teaches for us at Animal Osteopathy International, find more about us and our courses at Animal Osteopathy International or online at www.animalosteopathyinternational.com

Here is her post below:


Handling issues are very common in the horse world and there are many gadgets and training aids available which claim to fix the problem, but what effect do these have on equine emotional state and behaviour? The gadgets utilise pressure, the more pressure you apply, the more uncomfortable it becomes for the horse. The goal being that the pressure motivates the horse to perform the right behaviour, then the handler releases that pressure.

This method of pressure and release is called negative reinforcement. A stimulus is removed to increase the performance of a behaviour, e.g. applying pressure on a headcollar (HC) for a horse to stop, then releasing the pressure the second the horse stops. The horse will learn on the release of that pressure, so if your timing isn’t accurate the horse will find it harder to learn what you intend it to. Techniques (such as pressure and release) are only deemed ethical if they are proportionate to the desired response, are predictable for the horse and are released immediately upon the correct response (McLean and McGreevy, 2010). The context of the situation is very important when we’re thinking about using aversive stimuli. In a fearful situation what we really want is for the horse to relax, listen and learn something positive about what’s frightening them. Applying increasing amounts of pressure that is magnified by a training HC might get the job done, but at what cost to the emotional welfare of your horse? If you’re frightened and someone puts pressure on you, what’s your first response and how does it make you feel?

There is a level where pressure becomes a punisher and it’s something I see a lot of when watching people train in training HC’s. The horse doesn’t offer the right behaviour, so they ramp up the pressure very quickly or hold it for a longer duration. What they fail to notice are the early indicators given by the horse that it wasn’t coping in that situation. Now the pressure has been escalated and they’ve made the horse feel worse about what’s going on, rather than teaching it the desired response in a more ethical way. So, the horse might perform the desired behaviour, but is experiencing emotional conflict, stress and discomfort while doing so. For example: your horse is frightened of the trailer, forcing it on by increasing aversive pressure will eventually work. However, you haven’t made the experience positive or enjoyable. Your horse is ‘behaving’ as a result of active punishment and discomfort, not because it’s truly happy at walking onto the trailer.

There are a number of training HC’s on the market, perhaps the most common is the Dually Headcollar, designed by Monty Roberts. This magnifies the pressure a handler can apply in a normal headcollar and concentrates it on the nose and subsequently will create some poll pressure. Research by Iijichi et al, 2018 looked at the effects on compliance, discomfort and stress in naïve horses trained with a Dually and a normal HC in 2 novel handling tests. Their results showed that the Dually didn’t increase compliance compared to a standard HC and it caused an increase in discomfort as measured by the Horse Grimace Scale (HGS).

Other similar HC’s on the market are the Ezy Loader, the Eskadron Control Headcollar and the Be Nice Halter. All give the handler a mechanical advantage and apply escalating pressure to the horse. Research has already proven that high pressures on the nose and poll caused by tight bridles and nosebands increase stress, handler avoidance, tissue damage and head shyness (Doherty et al, 2016; Fenner et al, 2016; Hockenhull and Creighton, 2013 and McGreevy et al, 2012). All things we want to avoid when teaching horses to be safe and relaxed when being handled by us on the ground. It would be interesting to see what pressures on the facial tissues are actually being exerted by these HC’s and to assess the consequences on equine emotional state and welfare.

Once we understand why a horse isn’t doing a behaviour that we want, we can see things from their perspective and know which area of training needs more practice. All horses are individuals and will respond differently to various training methods, just make sure your timing is correct and you’re rewarding your horse for the behaviours you want!

* Increasing aversive pressure will only increase discomfort, stress, fear and pain. You might get the behaviour you want, but your horse was in a negative emotional state and therefore won’t have made a positive memory at performing that behaviour.
* Identify why your horse won’t do something and focus on re-training the behaviours needed to do it.
* Aim to train your horse to respond to a light aid and proof that behavioural response by practising it in a variety of situations.
* Make sure your timing is accurate and reward the ‘try’ if your horse is struggling.
* Be predictable for your horse and make it easy for them to get the answer right.
* If your horse is struggling with something scary like trailer loading, then be realistic with what they can manage in any one session. That competition you’ve got planned might need to wait!
* Don’t rush anything, be relaxed and go at the pace your horse is comfortable with.
* Interested in scoring equine facial expressions for yourself? Then download the HGS app: https://awin-project-hgs.en.aptoide.com/

Docherty, O., Casey, V., Arkins, S., 2016. An investigation into noseband tightness levels on competition horses. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 15,pp.78-95.
Fenner, K., Yoon, S., White, P., Starling, M., McGreevy, P., 2016. The Effect of Noseband Tightening on Horses’ Behaviour, Eye Temperature, and Cardiac Responses. PLoS ONE. 1:5,pp. 1-20.
Hockenhull, J. and Creighton, E., 2013. Training horses: Positive reinforcement, positive punishment, and ridden behaviour problems. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 8,pp. 245-252.
Iijchi, C., Tunstall, S., Putt, E., Squibb, K., 2018. Dually Noted: The effects of a pressure headcollar on compliance, discomfort and stress in horses during handling. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 205,pp.68-73.
McGreevy, P., Warren-Smith, A., Gruisard, Y., 2012. The effect of double bridles and jaw-clamping crank nosebands on temperature of eyes and facial skin of horses. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 7, pp. 142-148.
McLean, A., McGreevy, P., 2010. Ethical equitation: Capping the price horses pay for human glory. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 5,pp. 203-209.

Published by Herdwick & Goose Limited

Founder and Programme Director of Animal Osteopathy International (Herdwick & Goose Limited)

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