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Horse Science, Horse Sense

ISBN: 9781521238509
Publisher: Independently published
Publication Date: 2017-05-15
Number of pages: 708
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  • Regular price $41.16

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This book focuses on what science has learned about horses and horse-human interaction. It is not a book about riding, diet, illness, shoeing or showing. It is more about how horses work than about how to work them, more about what they want to do than what you can make them do. In my time with my horse and mule, I've heard a lot of stuff again and again, stuff that just didn't seem right to me. In search of the truth, I did what everyone else does: I talked to other riders, hired trainers, attended clinics, bought books, subscribed to magazines, explored websites. These sources all seemed to agree with each other, but things still didn't seem right. So I turned to science, in hopes that there would be some better information here. I was surprised by what I found. Science has much to say about horses, but it tells a very different story than does our dogma about horses. After reading about 1,500 studies and writing this book, I can now say that very little of what the world believes about horses turns out to be true. Science doesn’t always support our intuitions or dogma. For instance, there is dogma that “horses need leadership”. In fact, they don't have leaders, don't understand leadership as humans do, and get along just fine without it. Leadership in horses comes about through “collective decision making”, the same principle used by fish and birds in their schools and flocks. Science also challenges our notions of “respect”, “natural horsemanship”, “dominance” and “partnership”. And no scientist will ever claim that imprinting takes place in foals – or any other mammal. We have let conventional explanations confuse us. For instance, horses don’t “move away from pressure”. A draft horse will happily pull a cart, leaning into its harness. Horses move away from discomfort and pain. This makes them no different than any other animal capable of movement. And why would a horse move away from your heel? Scientists know that a horse's flank is more sensitive to pain than your calf. Horses don’t respect humans. They are comfortable maintaining a very small personal space when with those they trust, and humans confuse this natural crowding with a lack of respect. Horses can be punished when they approach, but this doesn’t build a bond — it tears it down. We confuse respect with fear. Horses have no idea that they are “prey animals”. They band together because they feel comfort when near those they know, and insecure when they are alone. This makes them no different than goldfish or starlings. Our everyday interactions with our horse are confused by the dogma of trainers, clinicians, books, and magazines. For example, efforts in the round pen do not change your horse's behavior outside the round pen: whatever is learned in the round pen stays in the round pen. Underlying the magical power of horse whisperers is this simple fact: horses don’t like to be chased. Our efforts to train a horse are full of bumbling. Few seem to know that the way to your horse’s heart is through his stomach, not his withers, and that carrots work far better than scratches or rubbing as a reward in training. Few seem to know that very mild punishment seems quicker at changing behavior, and reward is better at maintaining behavior. Few seem to understand the importance of timing in delivering rewards. This book addresses current horse dogma using experimental horse research, ethological studies of feral horses, comparative biology, social psychology, and common sense. It covers many topics: Pleasure, pain, learning, social behavior, personality, communication, mood and emotion, flight, fight, freeze, early learning and imprinting, mental illness, learned helplessness, vision, hearing, smell, and touch. I hope that I can bring together the neglected literature of equine science with the good intentions of the horse world, and serve horses and their humans better than we now do with good intentions alone.

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