Understanding how fear driven behaviours are formed.
No one wants unwanted behaviour from our horses and ponies. It happens whether we like it or not because horses are not machines. They are sentient beings who are fragile emotionally and are affected by every single experience they encounter. Depending on how that memory feels, will dictate how the horse reacts when faced with the same situation or environment in the future. It all boils down to the fact that horses are a prey species. They are potential food for something else. It is a hard driven, innate character in all horses. They have evolved to see everything. Hear everything and react to anything it feels may be life threatening. They have developed long legs to run away fast. They have sideways set on eyes so they can see 360 degrees around themselves. All movements are seen and inwardly digested as threat or not. They do not have thick skin, big teeth and claws, they are flight animals. This is their only real defence in order to stay alive.
Think about what your horse loves doing or where it loves being and then think of the things, items or situations which create fear, nervousness or any avoidance behaviours.
Competition horses and ponies are very often brilliant at the actual jumping or dressage moves but are very influenced by noises and movements around them. This can create problems and make you ride them far more aggressively to keep them on track. Every time this happens it creates another aversive memory in your horse and so the reactions actually get worse and worse over time. The pony will make connections which become the precursor to what it knows it will have to face. It’s called classical conditioning.
Examples of how this can start to work against you is when the pony knows that going into that horsebox will mean it is going jumping. It may well be a brilliant jumping superstar once there but the loading part takes it there. Therefore, your partner may well start to become fearful of loading where it once used to be awesome. It may start to work even farther back than that. Being plaited up may become more of a problem. The pony knows that being plaited up means the horse box, which means the show ground etc. It has put 2 and 2 together and starts to show stress and fear signs. It won’t stand still making plaiting harder to accomplish so you get cross with it. This always makes things worse for the pony and starts to put it in a bad place in its head, which then increases unwanted behaviour down the line.
Have any of you experienced this?
Fear out on the roads can do the same thing. They have a scare in traffic or something else out there while out on the roads. The pony may start to avoid that direction once out and hesitate. You ride it aggressively at that point and force it to go. Pony only feels more threatened. You may even hurt the pony with harsh riding or the use of a whip on its body, and so it goes on. Pony then starts to nap going out of the yard because it fears all the memories it has experienced before, including the ones which you have added.