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How Horses Learn

Tina Chappell

Having previously attended several courses provided by XLVets Equine and Hook

Norton Veterinary Group, my vet, Sally Hodgson, suggested an upcoming course

called ‘How Horses Learn’ may help me with ‘Archie’, my ten year old Appaloosa

cross gelding

(figure one).


Figure one. Tina and Archie

Figure two. The practical sessions begin with demonstrations

Figure three. We all learnt plenty of

practical techniques to overcome our

individual difficulties

Despite being very sweet natured, ‘Archie’

could be very strong and stubborn on the

ground when he didn’t want to do something

or when receiving injections and having blood

taken. Under Sally’s instructions, we had

already started clicker training and whilst this

was proving to be successful, loading was still

very problematic and took the enjoyment out

of going anywhere.


The day began with a classroom session at

Hook Norton where we were asked to briefly

sum up what we wanted to get out of the

course. We were also then asked to describe

our horse in a few words - my word was

‘ratbag’! Over the course of the morning, we

learnt the theory behind how a horse learns

both good and bad behaviours, as well as

methods to overcome this bad behaviour and

reinforce good behaviour.

This included:

positive reinforcement

negative reinforcement

aversive stimulus


Following a light lunch, we commenced the

practical side of the day

(figure two)

. I had

dropped ‘Archie’ off at the venue earlier in the

day and one of the great things about the

course was that several of us had brought our

horses. This allowed us to use the theory we

had learnt in the morning and put it into

practice on a variety of horses with different

behavioural issues such as:

mounting problems

ridden issues and the use of aids

negative behaviour in-hand

fear of injections

fear of whips

In mine and ‘Archie’s’ case, we were focussed

on overcoming his fear of needles, as well as

learning how to encourage him to load.

Previously, he would plant himself at the

bottom of the trailer ramp or worse still, pull

backwards and put me off balance to the

point where I would lose hold of the

lead-rope, putting both of us in a dangerous

situation. To help resolve these problems we

were taught the techniques of overshadowing,

back-up and park. I have since used back-up

and park when loading to distract him from

planting himself at the bottom of the ramp with

great success.

What did the group take from the day



behaviour can be changed with patience,

understanding and repetition of an action until

it becomes a learned response

(figure three)


Would I recommend this and other courses run

by XLVets Equine and Hook Norton Veterinary



Definitely, they are good value for

money and you get access to professionals

you might not normally meet.