Friday, 6 November 2009


We all want our horses to develop with us, we want their brains to be sharp enough to take on all that we teach them. But is our management affecting the effectiveness of our training?

Much research has been done looking at the horses brain, how it develops and how horses learn. The circuits within their brain need to be stimulated in a positive way, they need to explore their environment, learn and develop every day.

But do our management practices impose in the development of our horses?

In an unrestricted environment, our horses would be ....
  • Grazing a variety of herbage and browsing and foraging for around 18 hours per 24 hour period.
  • Grooming and being groomed, with other horses on and off for 24 hours a day.
  • Playing with objects and other horses on and off for 24 hours a day.
  • Exploring their environment to learn and adapt to all that is around, throughout the 24 hour period.
  • With regards to sleeping behaviour, for the adult horse, studies have found that they will choose to be fully awake for around 20 hours out of each 24 hour period. The 4 hours remaining largely constitutes drowsing periods, with this prey species alert, only fully sleeping for around 2 hours, broken up into periods of sleeping for minutes at a time.

To Put This Into Practical Terms
Here is one example of a typical yard routine ...
7am hard feed in morning
9am turned out to graze
5pm returned to yard, groomed and ridden
6pm stabled overnight
7pm hard feed and haynet with 2/3 sections

What Does This Mean?
10 ½ hrs eating (15 min am feed/8hrs grazing/15 min pm feed, hay lasts max. 2 hrs)
20 mins grooming, tacking up
40 mins exercise

and then sleeping…
only 4 hours spent sleeping and drowsing on and off.... this accounts for 15 ½ hours – but there are 8 ½ hours with the horse in a stable with nothing to do.

Many researchers, across all species, have noted that when not stimulated, the brain does not develop as well as it should. if your horses brain is not as well developed as it could be, you will not be able to achieve as much as you would be able to.

So What Can We Do
The simple answer is turnout, as much as you can, if possible with other horses. There are Barn Management Systems that can be implemented to allow even the finest TB to be allowed 24 access to turnout throughout the winter months.

However we all know that sometimes this is not an option, and in that case there are some really simple enrichment ideas that can be brought into the stable, encouraging exploration and brain development. Here are a few to get you started...
  • Hang ‘kebabs’, throw carrots in loose hay and provide Swedes for exploration.
  • Hang branches in a corner of the stable. Add licks, carrots, slices of apple.
  • Allow companion horse to live next door.
  • Attach a door mat to the stable walls to enable self-grooming maintenance.
  • Provide different varieties of hay and herbage, scattered loose on the floor.
  • Produce a new variety of vegetable for each day of the week.
  • Scatter feeds as well as hay piles on the floor, amongst carrots and more
  • Explore a range of treats and lick-its

McDonnell, S. (2003) A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behaviour: The Equid Ethogram, The Blood Horse Inc., United States
Pavlov, I. P. (1927-1960) Conditional Reflexes, Dover Publications, New York
Rees, L. (1984) The Horse’s Mind, Stanley Paul Ltd., United Kingdom

Katie B Wade is a fully qualified and experienced animal behaviourist, working alongside veterinary clinics, rescue centres, societies, breeders as well as individual owners to assist with various aspects of animal behaviour and training. With professional experience handling, training, breeding and rehabilitating the competition horse, Katie went on to study a degree in Psychology and then on to specialise in Equine Behaviour with The Natural Animal Centre. Katie provides scientifically sound advice to the general public, building a bridge between academic research and practical horse ownership.

Katie B Wade

Friday, 18 September 2009

Separation Anxiety and your Pet

Separation Anxiety and your Pet

Separation anxiety is a psychological condition in which an individual experiences heightened levels of anxiety regarding separation from others to whom the individual has a strong attachment to (1)

Separation anxiety is an enormous problem with the domestic animal, whether it is a prey species such as the horse or predators such as the dog and cat. It can lead to dangerous situations, re-homing and poor health and so needs to be resolved quickly and effectively with every species.

Before a problem can be fixed completely, it needs to be understood.

The Cat

Separation Anxiety is well recognised in dogs, but not so much when it comes to the cat. Contrary to popular belief, cats are also highly social creatures, instinctually living in large colonies, grooming, resting, playing and so on together…even nursing each others young! And again, where there is a lack of other cats to ‘befriend’ they will form strong bonds with people and with other animals to fill this innate desire for social contact.

The Dog

Looking at separation anxiety from your dogs’ perspective, the canine is a pack animal and the cat would and therefore a highly social creature. Instinctually relying on the pack to survive, finding food, water, reproducing, staying warm and safe and so on. Where there is a lack of other dogs to ‘befriend’ they will form strong bonds with people and with other animals to fill this innate desire for social contact.

The Horse

We all know that horses are a social species, designed to live in a herd. As their brains are ‘hardwired’ through millions of years of evolution telling them that staying with other horses is the way to survive, it is understandable that we come across problems when trying to ride our horses out alone. They too will accept even a sheep as a herd member as they are so in need of companionship for 24 hours a day.

In Both Cases…

Although much more research needs to be done in this area to understand the causes of separation anxiety in the domestic animal, there is evidence for both genetic and environmental factors to be involved. Being weaned early, moving yards or homes, previously being kennelled, sudden traumas or not being socialised (and this means to members of their own species) gradually and appropriately earlier in life are all common triggers.

This syndrome could be an important consideration for dealing with (2) …

- Excessive vocalisation
- Flight behaviours such as bolting, rearing, spinning and so on
- Panic Disorders
- Stable vices
- Destructive behaviour
- Inappropriate Urinating and House Soiling
- Self Mutilation and Over-Grooming
- Escaping
- Diarrhoea
- Loss Of Appetite
- Vomiting and Fabric Chewing


Take action before any signs of anxiety develop.

1. Socialising your pet gradually and appropriately helps them to develop a broad ‘safety base’ and therefore cope better with changes during adulthood. PLEASE NOTE: This is not through common ‘puppy socialisation’ classes as this can cause heightened deep-set fear in many cases, please contact a positive behaviourist for details.

2. Maintaining a natural environment within the home, i.e. allowing appropriate exploration, exercise, eating, grooming and sleeping behaviours, as the animal would in the wild. This simple enrichment relieves restriction and therefore stress within the home, having calming affects deep within the body.

3. Keep the same routine as much as possible, allowing your pet to predict what will happen in his or her environment. This will maintain feelings of safety and help build a safe base to be able to cope with the domestic world more effectively.

Overcoming Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety is a deep-set behavioural problem and needs to be worked through gradually with a detailed understanding of the ethology of the species and underlying physiology involved. It takes time and unfortunately there is no quick answer.

Many veterinary surgeons prescribe anti-anxiety medications, which can be effective in the short-term, however long-term use brings with it severe side-effects to health and mind and therefore would never be an advisable option.

The Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Approach (3) is the most effective and indeed healthier option to take. Opting for a step-by-step method with a qualified animal behaviourist is the best way to ensure life-long success.

To give a brief example, although the treatment will depend on the species the severity of the problem and the individual, after ensuring that an appropriately enriched environment is set-up and anxiety is stabilised, you can begin to gradually expose your pet to brief separations.

After every brief separation, initially for only seconds, reward your pet through positive reinforcement to teach him or her that it is ok, in fact good, to be away for short periods. Little by little extend this separation time and distance spent apart, rewarding any signs of relaxation.

Be sure to stick with it and don’t expect any immediate results and make sure you receive detailed advice from a qualified behaviourist using positive reinforcement rather than punishment techniques.

For more detailed information and a step-by-step plan to guide you to success, please do not hesitate to contact me as I am always happy to help.



1.Bowlby, J. (1960) Separation Anxiety, Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 41, pp.89-113
2.Gittelman R, Klein DF. (1984) Relationship between separation anxiety and panic and agoraphobic disorders, Psychopathology. 17 Suppl 1, pp.56-65
3.Beck, A. (1976) Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders, International Universities Press, United States


Katie B Wade is a fully qualified and experienced animal behaviourist, working alongside veterinary clinics, rescue centres, societies, breeders as well as individual owners to assist with various aspects of animal behaviour and training. With professional experience handling, training, breeding and rehabilitating the competition horse, Katie went on to study a degree in Psychology and then on to specialise in Equine Behaviour with The Natural Animal Centre. Katie provides scientifically sound advice to the general public, building a bridge between academic research and practical horse ownership.

Katie B Wade

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Managing More Than One Cat

As well as the vast range of vocalisation methods that we so frequently hear, the cat makes great use of their superior olfactory systems to communicate through scent deposition.

We can use these systems to our advantage within the home. Here is just a on...


From the tree-dwelling Cimolestes 65 million years ago, the domestic cat has evolved to use his claws as an adaptable tool for climbing, hunting, killing, eating, defence as well as communication.

Fragments of claw and claw sheath are often found embedded within the vertical surfaces scratched upon, causing experts to initially think that the purpose of scratching is to maintain healthy claws. However if this was true, we would be regularly witnessing the cat scratch with its hind feet too.

Instead these highly social animals are using their claws to communicate, the chemical messengers deposited from the sebaceous glands of the front paws into the fence post for example. The passing cat learns the age, gender and health of that depositing cat.


Spraying behaviour is an overt display, with his tail quivering the cat will back up to a vertical surface, emitting a stream of urine. Developed over millions of years, the cat has learnt that when patrolling the periphery of his territory, spraying in this way enables communication to any passing cats, mapping his territory and providing vital information about him self. As well as being extremely useful for avoiding confrontation, this behaviour helps with the mating process and regulates hunting behaviour within the area.


Depositing small pools of urine, marking is an abnormal behaviour, not present within the cats’ normal repertoire of behaviours and is often triggered by changes in environment or restricted behavioural patterns, leading to stress.

How Will this Help?

With such complexities, many owners come up against problems with the management of multi-cat households or introducing new pets to your home.

Now that you can see how your cat communicates with others, you can use this to your advantage!

When introducing any new member to the existing colony a step-by-step approach should be taken every time, gradually introducing the scent of one cat to the other and vice versa. This is what would happen in the wild and so this is what their instincts tell them to do.

TOP TIP – Before introducing the cats face-to-face visually, introduce an old rag that smells of the other cat to each others area and make sure that they are happy at this level initially.

If two cats have already spent time living together but are aggressive, marking or generally unhappy in each others company, re-introducing them appropriately, using the cats own methods of communication, will go a long way.

For more detailed information and a step-by-step plan to guide you to success, please do not hesitate to contact me as I am always happy to help.


Monday, 8 June 2009

Instincts or Personality?

I went to a show this Sunday and was approached by a wonderful lady who wanted to know how I could group horses together when analysing their behaviour, as surely each horse is an individual.

It is great that people are challenging and asking such questions as this is how we learn. I thought that my response might benefit others, so here goes...

Over millions of years the horse has evolved to behave in a certain way to survive and stay happy and healthy. Being domesticated by humans over a few thousand years, the horse has had a relatively short time to adapt to the radical changes from a herd animal on the plains to social isolation in a stable for example.

Just as our basic instincts have stuck with us from caveman times, these essential behaviours are 'hard wired' within the brains of our domestic horses, forming a ‘blueprint’ as to how they should react in certain situations.

Above these shared underlying drives, then lies personality. These secondary individual traits are shaped through the different experiences that our horses have, positive or negative.

To become a better horse owner, we must acknowledge that certain behaviours are essential to every horse that we meet. Although it is true that each horse is an individual on one level, we must always remember that every horse has these same basic instincts underlying and defining the way they act.

To maintain a positive and relaxed horse, we need to teach things in a gradual manner with no pressure and reinforcement of fear, if not he will react in one of four ways; flight, fiddle, freeze or fight depending on his personality - just as all humans would.

So, Instincts or personality?…In the end it comes down to both.

I don't expect people to 'just swallow what I say' so if you have any queries or comments please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Wishes


Thursday, 28 May 2009


Although there is a tremendous amount of behavioural research within the academic field, not a lot of it filters through to us owners to use in a practical way. Without this scientifically proven knowledge helping us to understand how our horses develop their behaviour appropriately, we are left to rely on magazines and common belief, benefitting neither us nor our horses in the long term.

Looking at local classified adverts I am extremely concerned about the foals that are offered for sale, now finding them ‘weaned and ready to go’ as young as three months. So here is a bit of information about weaning and the early experiences of the domestic horse to help you understand h
ow your horse may develop behavioural problems from foal to adulthood.

into how humans learn initially began on animals being tested, from the mouse to the cat, the horse, pig, monkey and so on. Through these studies, evidence shows that we all start learning from within the womb right through to death, building either positive or negative associations between themselves and the objects, people or situations that they come across.

In the wild the young horse will not leave its mother until it has developed a full understanding of ‘how to be a horse’ and built up enough confidence to feel safe with the change into another part of the herd. This will not be until they are 2-3 years of age through an extremely gradual process.

With this new understanding we can therefore see how much stress we are putting on a foal of three months, tearing him from his dam, the safety figure, and flooding him with a range of new horses, people, routines, and so many more sights, sounds, tastes and smells.

Just because an animal is physically capable of living without protection does not mean it is mentally able to cope under such pressure, he is prone to colic and developing stable vices, severely lacking in social skills, and not open to learning as much as he would be able to.

Although there is much more to this area of equine behaviour, the underlying mechanisms within the body and indeed welfare, I hope that this is enough to start your new thinking through the eyes of your horses of any age. Remember that over 80% of domestic horses are weaned too soon, memories of which are held for life.

You may wish to challenge and query what I say which is great, start thinking and questioning all that you hear…”Does that make sense”… I am always happy to provide references to the original studies for all I write, just ask me.

Take Care


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Horse Training - For True Understanding

There are many unqualified behaviourists, trainers, whisperers and counsellors, using a range of training methods within the animal industry today. Unfortunately although heavily marketed as 'natural' and 'free' when we delve into the science behind many of the techniques used today we find a very different story.

Without a language that us humans can understand life becomes very difficult for domestic animals, in relation to both management and training. This is why a detailed understanding of ethology, learning theory and physiology are so important in our day-to -day interaction with our beloved companions.

Devoting my career to the improvement of the welfare and well-being of the domestic animal, I have found that the only truly 'ethical', 'natural' and 'free' approach to work in a gradual, STEP-BY-STEP manner using only POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.

Used for years within the dog training field, positive reinforcement training (more commonly understood as clicker training) has been proven to be the most successful method, creating a tremedous motivation to engage with the task that has been set. However with our horses our society relies upon gadgets and punishment, nagging and even chasing around round-pens for hours to teach our horses about our expectations of them by way of fear and supression.

Scientists have shown for decades that any living being is more likely to learn behaviours that result in positive rewards rather than negative threat or worse. Clicker training uses a ‘POSITIVE-REINFORCEMENT-BASED SYSTEM OF TRAINING’ where the trainer provides a reward in exchange for a requested behaviour.

Developing confidence with the control they have over the consequences of their actions, your animal becomes motivated and enthusiastic due to their expectation for further pleasurable rewards. this makes learning faster and more effective as well as improving his outlook and well-being.

With an understanding of your horses needs in day-to-day management along with knowledge of positive reinforcement in training, you will be set up to win in every situation that you both encounter.

For more detail please do not hesitate to ask any thoughts, ideas or comments are welcomed.


Best Wishes


Friday, 8 May 2009

Cat Behaviour - Elimination in the Home

Although elimination within the house can be explained in terms of NORMAL cat behaviour, such as ‘spraying’ due to hormonal changes, or as a result of a medical problem, one major causes of eliminating within the home is STRESS.

Spraying is part of the cats normal set of behaviours, an overt display where he or she backs up to a vertical surface, emitting a fine stream of urine, often with the tail quivering. This is a complex method of communication, secreting chemical messengers to convey important messages to other cats who may pass.

This behaviour although often occurring at higher frequency in Toms, is not completely dependant on sexual hormones. This is because the brain has a large influence on such behaviour, with 10% of males and 5% of females spraying even after neutering.

Whilst spraying is usually associated with a normal behaviour, it can still become abnormal as an anxiety based behaviour occurring as a result of either threatened or direct aggression from other cats.. For example, often occurring in multi-cat households, a cat will spray to communicate his desire not to confront or become involved in any conflict. Where anxiety does play a role in spraying social changes need to be fully assessed.

Marking is where puddles of urine are deposited behind furniture, or on objects. Although spraying behaviour is part of the cats' normal set of behaviours, marking is an indicator of abnormally high stress levels within the cat, communicating feeling of anxiety and insecurity.

Triggers of this marking behaviour ranges from new cats entering the home, to neighbouring cats intruding on your garden...or even bringing a pair of new shoes into your home! Cats are highly territorial and this needs to be kept in mind when we bring them in to our homes.

In each case, if you as the owner feels that there is a problem with your cat, it is vital that you consult with your vet and speak to a qualified animal behaviourist. Core issues must be identified and assessed to provide a life-long, drug free solution.

For help or advice, or just for a chat, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Wishes