As the caregiver of a mare who used to stand solely on her hind feet for the majority of her shoeing and a pony who came prepared to harm himself and others resisting medical care, I am familiar with how medical or husbandry procedures can become dangerous and generate suffering to all involved.
These horses are not “bad” nor “dominant” or “headstrong” but rather animals facing a stressful situation who are feeling and expressing themselves in the only way they know to defend themselves. It is our responsibility to familiarise and teach them how to behave under these scenarios. But this is also an amazing opportunity to establish kinship, build trust and enrich our shared language.
Studies have shown that having the power to choose and influence (gain control) is essential to both humans and animals’ health. It has a reinforcing value and it is an inherent part of real cooperation.
Sharing control with horses during medical or husbandry procedures can help transform an aversive stimulus (stressful/unpleasant) like receiving an injection, applying ointment, or lifting a leg for hoof care (or whatever has previously scared our horse off) into a reinforcing stimulus (desirable/pleasant).
Adding control to the horse will eliminate or reduce stress and can be revolutionary for both horses and humans.
It’s much more than just kindness alleviating our horse’s suffering; it also has a very practical aspect: We are all affected by stress on a cellular level. Stress can cause secondary health damage like ulcers, colic, and slow healing process. It will hinder treatment, it can even alter and affect the accuracy of blood tests results (as stress affects cortisol and other hormones), and stress can lead to avoidance or conflictive behaviours that can pose danger to the caregivers and the horse itself.
This does not mean that the horses are the only ones “controlling” the procedure. It means that both humans and horses have a way to influence in these circumstances and can work in true partnership, which is the actual meaning of ‘co-operative care’.
Learn how to facilitate breathtaking transformation and gain inspiring cooperation with your horse:
Change the way your horse perceives and behaves in husbandry and medical care scenarios. Deepen your shared language, reduce stress and train horses to be active, willing participants while using control (choice and influence) both as a reinforcer and an indicator to influence training and real time procedures.
Gain deeper understanding of concepts and fluency in applying techniques and tools for training and enable better welfare. Build trust and confidence in both you and your horse and minimise safety risks for all.
Some of the skills and concepts taught in the course:
Both you and your horse need to be clicker savvy, having some experience with targeting, shaping and adding cues to behaviours.
(In Cooperative care with horses Part 2: you will train varied behaviours for hoof care)
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