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