Turnout causes injury.
The behavior of all animals – even humans – is shaped by the consequences that follow it. If the consequences are desirable, the behavior will likely happen again. If the consequences are undesirable, the behavior won’t likely happen again.
This simple rule of learning can affect how we work with and manage our horses, sometimes in negative ways. For example, people often limit the amount of turnout a horse receives, believing that horses who are turned out are more likely to injure themselves. Their beliefs may even appear to be evidence-based and justified: they turned their stalled (and sound) horse out, and she bronced her way around the paddock before pulling up lame. Who could blame people for believing that turnout causes injury, when faced with this scenario? Injury is clearly undesirable, and this consequence will likely change the future behavior of the horse’s owner.
But horses haven’t evolved to be confined. They have evolved to move almost continuously – up to 100 miles per day. When horses are confined they become physically and psychologically frustrated. It is common for them to display an over-abundance of activity when turned out again, such as bucking and rearing – all of which greatly predispose the horse’s unprepared muscles, tendons, and ligaments to injury. If you or I got off the couch and tried to do gymnastics, cold, we would likely injure ourselves too. In either case, the cause of the injury isn’t the free-choice exercise; it’s lack of a warm-up and body preparedness, which results from an abnormal inhibition of movement.
Don’t believe everything you think
While the same rules of learning apply to us as to our horses, we humans are fortunate to possess the additional cognitive ability to challenge and test our beliefs. Unfortunately this ability doesn’t always come easy; it’s a skill, like any other, and it must be practiced to develop.
Like many skills worth having, the effort to acquire it – and the occasional psychological discomfort that results from challenging beliefs – is worth it. Thinking critically requires an open mind, and an open mind is naturally more receptive to new ideas, information, and ways of perceiving. Being able to question beliefs and think critically will not only enhance your skills as a horse trainer, it will make your journey that much more interesting.
If you would like to learn more about adding this valuable skill to your training toolbox, check out this article on developing critical thinking skills.
Happy horse training.
Lauren Fraser, CHBC offers relationship-based horse training that blends the art of horsemanship with behavioral science and the practical application of learning theory. She provides horsemanship coaching, behavioral consultations, solutions to problem behaviors, foundation training, clinics, and educational presentations.
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True narcolepsy is rare in horses, but sleep deprivation is not.
This video shows an older mare who is sleep deprived, falling into REM sleep while standing. Horses must lay down to achieve REM sleep, and when deprived from doing so it may manifest as the behaviors you see here. Sleep deprivation is harmful to the health of all animals, so it is very important that your horse has the ability to lay down each day, and feels safe to do so.
Horses won't lay down to sleep for a number of reasons such as pain, lack of suitable resting sites, or when they don't feel safe to lay down. It's reported that two factors resulted in this mare not laying down to sleep - the arrival of a new horse, and undiagnosed arthritis pain ... See MoreSee Less
Sleep Disorder Case : Horses require 30mins/day REM sleep. Siri is a 22 year old Arab X mare. Last summer after a new, dominant horse was introduced to the herd, she lost weight and was seen to have frequent episodes of partial collapse, once falling onto her side. The episodes resolved, but a couple of weeks ago the same behaviour was observed again and New Forest Equine Vets were called in to investigate. Collapse in horses is fortunately uncommon, but when it does occur can obviously be hazardous to both horse and handlers. Three types of 'collapsing' are seen in horses; seizures, syncope (fainting) and sleep disorders. Siri underwent a very thorough clinical examination including neurological and musculoskeletal assessments, and had a range of blood tests performed. The most significant findings were; The original association of the behaviour with the arrival of a new field-mate. A low grade right hind lameness, with severe persistent right hind pain with flexion tests. The gradual lowering of the head, before the front legs buckle. We also found a cardiac arrhythmia; Siri has a second degree AV block, but this is a normal finding in horses and would not cause fainting. Siri's condition is a Sleep Disorder. True narcolepsy can occur in horses, and is usually associated with events like grooming or saddling. Siri is most likely suffering from sleep deprivation. Horses require 30 minutes of REM sleep per day and although they can doze standing up, they need to lie down for REM sleep. We expect that when the new dominant herd-mate arrived, Siri was not comfortable to lie down in the field with him. Now she has lameness and finds it painful to flex her right hindlimb, which is likely to be preventing her from wanting to lie down to sleep. She is currently on a bute (pain relief) trial, and her owner has made her a lovely deep stable bed that she is coming into daily to encourage her to lie down – so far, no further collapsing episodes have been seen. A very interesting case and a good reminder of how important it is for horses to feel comfortable, physically and psychologically in their herd/environment, so that they don't miss out on their REM sleep.
3 days ago ·