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Knowing Your Horse: A Guide to Equine Learning, Training and Behaviour



Knowing Your Horse: A Guide to Equine Learning, Training and Behaviour

Emma Lethbridge

ISBN: 978-1-444-31602-5 September 2009 Wiley-Blackwell 208 Pages

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Is your horse afraid of the farrier? Are you both struggling during training sessions? Do you want to use clicker training but don’t know where to begin?

If you understand how your horse learns and why your training is effective, you can train faster, more ethically, and more sympathetically. Knowing Your Horse will be a key resource if you want to better understand your horse’s behaviour and make the most of that understanding to improve your training techniques.

Knowing Your Horse gives you a range of practical tools to employ in solving equine behaviour problems, and training tasks and case studies demonstrate these tools in use. Emma Lethbridge thoroughly but simply explains learning theory as applied to horses, and offers practical advice on reward systems, positive and negative reinforcement, and overcoming fears and phobias. If it’s not horses but humans that are causing you problems in training, this book will also help you to explain the concepts to other people. Learning recaps offer quick summaries and training logs are provided for your own training notes.





Chapter 1 The Principles of Good Horse Training

Ten Basic Principles of Good Horsemanship

Learning recap

Chapter 2 Does Classical Conditioning Ring a Bell?

Different Stimuli and Response Terms

Training Task: How to Classically Condition Your Horse

Specific Training Situations

Learning recap

My training log

Chapter 3 Living With the Consequences

Operant Conditioning

Applying Simple Operant Conditioning

Training Task: ‘Don’t Mug Me’ Training

Learning recap

My training log

Chapter 4 All Possible Consequences

Defining Positive and Negative Consequences



Which Consequence?

Learning recap

Chapter 5 Other Laws and Factors in Learning

The Final Law – Extinction

Understanding Generalisation and Discrimination Learning in Training

Learning recap

Chapter 6 The Power of Positive Reinforcement

What Can Be a Positive Reinforcer?

Which Reinforcer Should I Use?

When to Reward

Training Using Positive Reinforcement

Learning recap

Training Task: Using Positive Reinforcement to Teach the Back, the Heel, the Stay, the Recall and the Yield

Training Task: Teaching the Head Down and Placement using the Target Lure

My training log

Chapter 7 The Sound of Learning – Clicker Training

What is Clicker Training?

The Training Game

Target Training

The Secrets of Clicker Success

Learning recap

Training Task: Using Clicker Training

My training log

Chapter 8 Negative Reinforcement – Reinforcement Through Escape

Pressure-Release Training

The Important Factors for Applying Negative Reinforcement Ethically

When Not to Use Negative Conditioning

Avoidance Learning

Is Every Physical Contact with the Horse Negative Reinforcement?

Combining Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Adding Cues and Commands

Learning recap

Training Task: Using Negative Reinforcement Through Pressure-Release

My training log

Chapter 9 Understanding Punishment

The Side Effects and Problems of Punishment

Applying Punishment (Minimising the Side Effects)

Is it Possible to Train a Horse Without the Use of Punishment?

Learning recap

Chapter 10 How to Deal with Unwanted Behaviours Without Using Punishment

The Simplest and Hardest Option – Ignoring the Horse

Counter Conditioning

Driven to Distraction

A Final Note

Learning recap

Case Studies: Alternative Ways to Correct Unwanted Behaviour

My training log

Chapter 11 Step by Step



Applying Shaping

Training Task: Shaping

Training Task: More Complicated Shaping – Teaching the Spanish Walk

Applying Chaining


Learning recap

My training log

Chapter 12 Overcoming Fears and Phobias

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Overcoming Established Fears and Phobias



Systematic Desensitisation

Counter Conditioning

Combining Systematic Desensitisation and Counter Conditioning

Learning recap

Case Studies: Helping Horses Overcome Their Fears

My training log

Chapter 13 Learning with Character

Does the Sex of the Horse Affect Learning Ability?

The Effect of Age on Learning Ability

Does Social Status Affect Learning?

Nature Verses Nurture

Learning recap

References and Furthern Reading.


This book is for owners who not only care about their horse, but also are willing to make a little effort to discover the true potential of their relationship. I can assure you your efforts will be more than rewarded. This book blends good science effortlessly with practice, so that the reader can soon become a more skilled trainer… If you understand the principles, then you are only limited by your imagination, and as you discover the many joys of training you will inevitably develop a deeper appreciation of horses… Emma is a passionate horse lover who genuinely takes the welfare of horses to heart, and she is also a scientist who understands both the theory and practice of learning and training. Perhaps what is less obvious is how rare it is to find this combination of characteristics in an individual who can write so clearly. She has brought together a wealth of knowledge with some of the latest research findings, to create an easy to read text.
Professor Daniel S. Mills, RCVS Recognised & European Specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine, University of Lincoln, UK

Instead of punishing what many perceive to be the horse ‘misbehaving’, often it is the horse trying to communicate that he is in pain, or is being blocked by the rider. Far from being able to carry out the rider’s wishes, it may be impossible for the horse to do so, but because, unlike a dog, he cannot cry out, he is punished for merely trying to communicate his pain or fear. It therefore behoves us to understand how the horse learns, and how his mind works. Scientific in thinking, Knowing Your Horse is nonetheless very readable. This book should be on the bookshelves of all who ride or train horses.
Heather Moffett, classical dressage trainer and founder of Enlightened Equitation, Devon UK

  • Helps owners to understand their horse’s behaviour and thereby improve their training techniques.
  • Provides thorough but clear explanations of learning theory.

  • Explains how to apply the theory in ways that are both efficient for training and hold the horse’s welfare paramount.
  • Offers a range of practical tools to use in solving horse behaviour problems.