Excerpt from Chapter Two: A Clear Picture is Worth a Thousand Cues


Several years ago I met a young man in his early twenties at a horse show. Being an intense and athletic sort of guy he was intrigued by the kind of horses that participated in reining events. He talked at great length to other trainers about the nature and style of a horse that would be able to run reining patterns with great precision and speed. Duly impressed, the young man decided he would enjoy riding this type of equine athlete. He set off in search of the best reining horse prospect he could afford.

Soon after he purchase a green-broke gray filly with a sound mind and a natural ability to do well in reining. Then the problems began. The young trainer entered the filly in a reining competition. Riding into the arena, he began to ask the filly to perform in the manner of other finished reining horses. He knew the filly was not trained to perform in a winning fashion but he believed that if he rode her repetitively through the various reining patterns she would become increasingly more responsive and correct in the maneuvers.

This was not the case. A horse cannot comprehend a whole pattern when it does not understand each of the parts.

At first the filly tried to respond to the barrage of signals she was receiving from the rider. Before she could decipher one cue the next one was upon her. There was no relief, no reward for the effort. Consequently, the filly finally gave up trying to figure out of the task. She began to look for an escape. Her solution was to try and run through the bit and away from her tormentor. The young trainer snatched her head off. Driven into frustration, the young horse found no escape. Thus began the destruction of a nice filly.

This is actually a good way to push a horse into what behaviorists call learned helplessness or laboratory neurosis. As the name implies, learned helplessness is a state in which the horse learns through several attempts that it cannot supply the proper response to a situation. It is helpless to avoid punishment. pics/..pics/...

(copyright, 1988. Dr. Jim and Lynda McCall)

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