LIMA explained. (least intrusive minimally aversive)
Every aspect of horse and animal care and what we want from our pets is changing and the methodology is under vast scrutiny these days. Training protocols are at the top of the list with humane methods taking precedence over the old ways of using punishment. Science is the reason for all this change and as science moves on, so must we!
The dog world is leading the way with respect to change. Universities are actively teaching “Learning theory” and the use of LIMA when students are learning animal behaviour and training. Their skillset will then be taken into in the vast world of pet training, Zoo training, rescue and rehabilitation training, service dog training, seeking dog training and so on. Happily, and hopefully, gone are the days of Caesar Millan’s highly publicised vicious training methods of punching dogs in the neck or picking them up by their ears and shaking them to train away unwanted behaviour. We want to build trust accounts with our pets which puts our relationship first, not have them fear us.
The horse world is sadly lacking in this education and must be addressed by the governing bodies who educate our future grooms, yard staff, riders and trainers. Importantly the governing competition bodies need to follow suit with horse’s emotional well-being at the forefront. The BSJA (British Show Jumping Association), BHS (The British Horse Society) itself, British Dressage and the British Racing Industry all need to take stock of the basic criteria of results versus training methods. Do horses really have to continue being our slaves where the use of the whip still dictates terms? We stopped using whips on people when Slavery ended. We no longer allow circuses to abuse animals for our entertainment. We are slowly shifting progressively into more humane farming practices because social media has high- lighted the barbaric practice of caged hens for eggs, intensive living for rearing pigs, skin, feather and fur farming, fois gras and veal production etc. Its time more animal (and especially horse) training moved forward with the times. The education system for our young people going into horses as a career must take heed because change must happen and education is always the way forward.
So, what is LIMA and how does it affect horse owning and training? Simply put, it is a strategy where a trainer or behaviour consultant uses the least intrusive, minimally aversive training choices for the learner. There are a whole set of tactics available to the skilled, educated practitioner where absolutely no punishment is used. We have positive reinforcement and marker training (Clicker) skills so we can shape future behaviours built on reward instead. We understand the environment and how it can trigger unwanted behaviour and emotions in our animals so we know how best to use and control the environment to produce success. This may mean the use of classical or operant conditioning, systematic desensitising and/or counter conditioning. We have everything in our arsenal which we could possibly need to train horses (or any animal) to produce calm emotions and brilliant behaviour. By differentially reinforcing an alternative behaviour which is incompatible to the unwanted one is just one little bullet inside the whole arsenal.
One point very often missed by an owner or a client is the simple fact of behaviour replacement. We literally replace one behaviour with another. Your horse is always doing something- so what is that something you wish for- in opposition to the unwanted actions being performed?
The other thing which confuses most owners is understanding what is the difference between a trainer and a behaviour consultant/trainer. Anyone can be a trainer, there are no specific educational qualifications. When Consultancy with a behaviour expert is needed, they must have a whole line of learning proof and or degrees specific to Behavioural science expertise.
I came into crossing over into the science of Animal Learning and Behaviour via the Zoos. I have studied hard from world-renowned experts- Dr Susan Friedman, Ken Ramirez, Steve Martin, Barbara Heidenreich, Chirag Patel, Thad Lacinak and Rosie Milwood to name but a few. I have attended conferences and seminars and countless workshops to hone my knowledge and my skills. I have joined and I learn from Professional organisations IAABC, ABMA, PPG-BI. I recently attended the 3 days Karen Pryor Clicker Expo Luminos. There is always new information as science moves forward.
I spend a lot of time on social media highlighting the use of positive reinforcement in training horses. It really should be the first line in training for behaviour change. It elicits seeking and learning without fear or aggression. It changes avoidance into cooperation and communication. It will not elicit fear behaviours which lead to aggression. We need to give the horses as much choice as is possible so with this comes their right for full control. That one statement cause the most upset for the old ways who do not agree with giving horses any choice what so ever because they know it will backfire on them. Based on the certified trainer understanding that one horse in front of it- its breed, age, sex, historical associations and memories, the environmental triggers, the actual behaviours being displayed, what the reinforcement history is and why it is being repeated etc. Changes in management may be needed along the way.
It is such a fascinating world, this world of animal behaviour. I am deeply immersed in it and am doing my best to help people and their horses find harmony where there is disquiet. I can only do this one person at a time and only one horse at a time. Our education system could influence 1000’s and make the future for ethical horse management and training a real possibility.
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